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60 Years of Stories! Tony Gee-Salter

Tony Gee-Salter, a 2015 graduate of St. Louis Community College in culinary arts, sitting in a hotel lobby in downtown Chicago with a view of the skyline at night.

“I liked my capstone class at STLCC-Forest Park, which provided valuable restaurant experience. With the capstone, each person in the class would take turns handling different roles in a restaurant, like servers and bussers, and chefs. That gave me a very hands-on feeling of what a real restaurant experience would be like. When you were the chef, you had to come up with your own three-course menu. You had to invite all your friends and sell tickets to come in. It was a really cool experience.”

~Tony Gee-Salter, culinary arts, St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, 2012-2015

Tony Gee-Salter is a chef at the Gwen Hotel, a luxury hotel on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue. Over the course of his career, he has honed his skills under the tutelage of four different James Beard award-winning chefs at some of the top restaurants in St. Louis and Chicago. But his journey began with a basic necessity - he was a college kid living away from home for the first time, and he got hungry. So, he started doing some cooking. Little did he know that was the start of something big.

Gee-Salter grew up in St. Louis near Lafayette Square. He graduated from Crossroads College Preparatory School and went to Loyola University Chicago. It was in the dorm that he first tried his hand at cooking. But after two years at Loyola, he wasn’t sure what path he wanted to take. He returned to St. Louis and enrolled in general studies at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park.

“After about a year of doing general studies, I realized that I enjoyed cooking and also working out a lot,” he said. “That's when I decided I wanted to pursue either personal training or culinary arts, and I chose culinary arts.”

Once Gee-Salter committed to the culinary arts program, he was off and running. “The culinary arts program at STLCC really gives you the background and the science behind cooking. When you’re hired as a chef, the kitchen isn’t going to go over things like the ratio for a roux, for example. They'll just say, ‘You need to make a roux, and here are the ingredients.’ I learned a lot at STLCC about the science and the technical part of how things are cooked.”

While at STLCC, Gee-Salter worked at The Tavern of Fine Arts at DeBaliviere Place. It was a small restaurant, just him and Tyler Davis, head chef. The Tavern of Fine Arts hosted pop-up events such as book readings and live chamber music and had rotating art displays. From there, he went to Quincy Street Bistro, opened by James Beard-nominee Rick Lewis, and learned a lot of kitchen techniques.

After working at Quincy Street Bistro for about a year and a half, Gee-Salter wanted to increase his income, so he took on a second job. “I went to work for Gerard Craft at Porano Pasta. It was Gerard’s first quick-casual concept, and it was a decently big hit. But it was in downtown St. Louis, and we mostly got lunch crowds. There weren't many people coming in for dinner, and it ended up closing.”

Gee-Salter graduated from STLCC-Forest Park in 2015 with the tools necessary to make his mark in the culinary world. The career training he received at STLCC was invaluable as he continued to climb the ladder as a chef.

Around the time he graduated from STLCC, he preferred working in the morning better than late into the night, so he headed over to Moonrise Hotel in the Loop. But a friend was heading back to Chicago for law school and asked if he wanted to move back to Chicago, too. Gee-Salter took the leap, returned to Chicago, and got a job at another James Beard “shop,” Monteverde Restaurant and Pastificio, where he worked under chef Sarah Grueneberg.

“I learned a lot at Monteverde,” he said. “In St. Louis, I thought I was at the top of the totem pole; I felt like a big fish in a small pond. Once I got to Chicago, I realized there were many more levels to this cooking game. I got humbled a little bit, but I took it with a grain of salt. I learned a lot and kept my head down and tried to absorb as much information as I could.”

Tony Gee-Salter representing Terzo restaurant in Chicago.In 2019, he became junior sous chef at Terzo Piano, a restaurant at the Chicago Art Institute. “I was there up until COVID hit. We shut down, and they said, ‘We'll be back in two weeks.’ You know how that goes. Eventually, I was laid off from that job because they never reopened the restaurant. I was on unemployment for a year during COVID.”

When restaurants reopened, he again landed with a James Beard award-winning chef Debbie Gould at Found Kitchen and Social in Evanston, Illinois. 

Today, Gee-Salter is enjoying his life and career balance at the Gwen Hotel.

As for his dreams for the future, he could see himself opening a gastropub in London, right next to his favorite soccer team Chelsea F.C. He’d specialize in steaks and burgers and anything protein based. But for now, thanks to a lot of hard work and the comprehensive education he received at St. Louis Community College, Gee-Salter is happily living in the moment.

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