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Chef opens new kind of venture

Fredericktown native Carson Burks gained a passion for the culinary arts from a young age in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, a passion which he has harnessed to carve out a unique career most recently including a new culinary venture in Cottleville near St. Louis.

When he was 15, Burks got his first job in the food industry at the Cherokee Pass Restaurant as a dishwasher. Burks worked his way up from that first job to being a successful chef in St. Louis at some of the city’s most reputable clubs.

“I was always in the kitchen with my mom and grandma,” Burks said. “I learned a lot from them. Then I decided that I liked to do it and that I wanted to be a chef, so I moved to St. Louis and went to culinary school up here.”

Burks and his wife Morgan eventually moved to St. Louis permanently, she working in education and he at a restaurant called Jimmy’s on the Park. From there, Burks moved to a position at the St. Louis Club, in a kitchen headed by an executive chef who had previously worked in the White House, preparing food for high-end clientele like senators.

“It was a French kitchen and very serious,” Burks said. “There was no talking, you had to shave every day and show up right on time. It was intense, let’s just say that.”

After the St. Louis Club, Burks ran a kitchen at the Seven Gables Inn in Clayton, leaving after deciding he didn’t like the corporate side of the business. He moved to the Algonquin Country Club where he worked as a sous-chef.

“While I was there, I was on the ACF (American Culinary Federation) competition team,” he said. “We won first place in Missouri. While I was there, I trained under another master chef — I think there’s only two or three in Missouri and I’ve trained under two of them.”

After the Algonquin, Burks worked at another club that had recently changed ownership. Burks was tasked with building the kitchen up from scratch, increasing the club’s membership from zero to more than 500 by the time he left. An investor at that club approached Burks about going into business together in their own venture.

What came from the relationship is a business called the Dinner Bell, a modern take on meal prep. The Dinner Bell is not a restaurant, but a place to prepare quality meals with provided ingredients for menu items. After making a reservation and selecting the meals to prepare, an individual goes to the Dinner Bell and prepares their chosen meal with assistance from Burks and his staff.

“It’s more of a food-prep assembly,” Burks said. “I do offer food to go, and I’d eventually like to have shipments down to Fredericktown for family and friends. I think the main concept that I want people to know is what we don’t want to be.”

Burks said a lot of busy families end up going to the supermarket and buying easy, frozen meals that are packed with preservatives and aren’t necessarily the healthiest thing to feed to one’s family.

“We want to stay away from all that,” he said. ”We want to go healthy — bring the family together and have great, simple food with some options. We’ll have 14 different items on the menu each month.”

The Dinner Bell hasn’t had its grand opening yet, but when it happens, Burks said a portion of the proceeds will go to a St. Louis charity.

“The day hasn’t been announced yet,” said Burks. “But we’ll do a thing where if someone buys four meals, the fifth one will go to the Ronald McDonald House. We want to help the community. I think that’s huge.”

Burks said the decision to transition from the traditional restaurant business is largely because of the amount of time it required him to be away from home, which will be eased by the setup of the Dinner Bell.

“When I was working 70 hours a week in country club, I never saw my wife or my child,” he said. “And every holiday I’d have to work. So for the last 10 years, I’ve missed holidays and that starts to wear on you. Plus, I have a two year old named Stella — I just feel like my number one priority is my family. So that’s the main reason.”

Additionally, Burks said the online reservation process allows him to shed a lot of stress that comes from working in the traditional kitchen.

“Because this is all online-based, I know exactly what’s coming at me, as far as food prep,” he said. “The whole thing sounded so much better. Plus, as an owner I’ll benefit if the place does well.”

Burks said he uses skills and work ethic that he learned from being raised in Fredericktown on a daily basis to achieve his goals.

“Down there, people work a little bit harder, honestly,” he said. “I grew up on a farm down there. You learn the simple things in life and how much they matter. I knew that if I continued to work hard in my career and with my family that it would just get better. You get what you give.”

For more information about the Dinner Bell, call 636-387-7377.

Fredericktown native Carson Burks' new culinary venture in Cottleville will open in coming weeks, offering the opportunity for individuals to prepare healthy meals curated by Burks.

Fredericktown native Carson Burks’ new culinary venture in Cottleville will open in coming weeks, offering the opportunity for individuals to prepare healthy meals curated by Burks.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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