Tara Gallina is the co-owner and GM of Vicia and Winslow's Table, along with her husband, Chef Michael Gallina. She's also mom to Olivia (almost 2) and expecting a son at the end of this month. While juggling two restaurants, soon to be two small children, and making agile moves to keep their business afloat right now, Tara connected with us virtually to share her thoughts on community, memorable dining experiences, and the importance of relationships. Many of the resilient traits of an AUDRA woman.
Last spring, AUDRA had the pleasure of dressing Tara for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, which is around the same time they discovered the similarities in business practices and hurdles. AUDRA is thrilled to congratulate Tara and Michael on the nomination again this year for JBF, Best Chef: Midwest. Together, they're creating a thoughtful appreciation of food and dining, along with inspiring us to take time to be present during our meals together. We think you'll be inspired by Tara as much as we are, and consider cooking one of her favorite dishes for dinner this week.
You and your husband, Michael Gallina, moved to St. Louis in late 2015. What brought you here from New York, and hows living here as a transplant impacted your engagement with the region?
Michael and I had met working at the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, the most magical place that not only brought us together but taught us everything we could ever want to know about sustainable food mixed with magical dining experiences. After getting married in the summer of 2015, we decided that it was time to branch out on our own. Going back to Michael's hometown of St. Louis wasn't necessarily a permanent move (or so we thought) but a place we thought we would explore and test the waters to create our own business. It didn't take long for us to realize that the potential was huge, and the opportunity to connect with an incredible local agriculture movement made it the perfect place to set down roots. Being near family and having a support system was also a considerable factor.
You're visibly committed to the local community, from culinary relationships to food sourcing and growing, can you tell us how this fits into your personal and business priorities?
It's hard to distinguish the difference between where the personal ends and the business begins in a lot of ways. In part, because it's a family business, and those elements blend into my entire life in some way without a clear "off" switch." But ultimately, the idea that sitting down for a meal is a representation of so many elements of our community coming together to make it possible doesn't know the boundary between personal and business. I am fortunate to get to see these relationships first hand in a more intimate way than most.
In St. Louis, especially, we are so fortunate to have access to really delicious food. That starts in the soil, weaves through the farmers and food makers, and winds up in the hands of so many talented chefs in our community that bring it to life at the table. I'm a passionate consumer but also committed to having our businesses support these systems and be the storytellers that hopefully encourage others to get more engaged in their local food system as well.
Through the AUDRA brand, our creative director emphasizes the importance of thoughtful creation and the relationships she has with clients, artisans, and makers. How do aesthetics, relationships, and experience play a role in your restaurants and overarching business mindset?
Those elements live in a circle in my mind; you have to have some aspect of all them in play to create the lasting experience that sets you apart. Dining is a multi-sensory experience: how things look and feel set the tone for what's about to happen, a focus on great service and warm hospitality establishes the quality of the relationship between you and the restaurant, and the flavor experiences that happen when you take a bite should hopefully seal the deal. These elements are something we focus on each, and every day, you need them all to make it work.
Creative expression is rooted in purpose, in both clothing design and fine dining. What is your philosophy on food and dining?
So much of a meal is the company you're with, so whether you're gathered at the fanciest restaurant in town or your family dinner table, dining should be about connection. I love meals that encourage sharing and communal elements, and get us off our phones and looking at and hearing each other.
Our brand is a small business, as is your business, what is the biggest challenge you're facing during these changing times?
Having to close our dining rooms has been a heartbreaking experience. Not being able to support our team and their families the way we are used to, not seeing our guests, not doing what we love, it's s a multifaceted pain. Feeling like everything we have worked so hard for is hanging on by a thread is the biggest challenge, but at the same time, the strength we sourced to start this business in the first place is still inside of us and is pushing us forward as we pivot to stay alive. I have to think that on the other side of this we will be stronger, smarter business people.
How are you taking time for yourself, and your family, amidst the business and global health climate?
My silver lining has most definitely been getting to spend so much quality time with my daughter Olivia and take care of my body during the third trimester of my pregnancy with my son. This would have been a time where I was working a lot with a lot of mental and physical stress, and I'm not very good at slowing down, no matter the circumstance. While this has been a stressful time in a different way, it's also been a really beautiful reconnection with my family and myself that I am grateful for.
What are you cooking right now that brings you joy and comfort?
Cooking at home three meals a day is a lot of work that many of us have discovered during the quarantine - mostly because of all of the cleaning! So finding meals that are more or less one pot/pan and make use of whatever is in the fridge are key to finding joy while entertaining a toddler. We are big fans of rice in our house, particularly the delicious basmati rice grown in southern Missouri by the McKaskle family. We also always make way too much, so last night's rice has an added bonus when you dry it out and crisp it up in a pan with lots of veggies for fried rice. This is one of my favorite seasonal dishes at Vicia and was my go-to order to take home or eat at my desk each night. Cooking this at home has helped us feel connected to the restaurant in many ways. You don't have to use all the same ingredients, use what you have, the principal of cooking is the same. Now that spring is here, it's the perfect time to celebrate asparagus and tender spring onions.