Rob Connoley, chef-owner of Bulrush in St. Louis, Mo., through deep research into the region and deft foraging of local ingredients has woven disparate threads into a rich tapestry of Ozark Cuisine.
Connoley has put Bulrush on the national map since opening in 2019, creating a new regional niche.
“The origin story is the Osage Nation,” Connoley said in an interview. “Those indigenous people began interacting with the settlers, and those settlers would often have the enslaved.” The settlers were often of European descent and the slaves were from Africa, and all brought their culinary roots to the food.
“The food we eat today is evolved from that very specific point in time which is the late 18th century early 19th century,” the chef said.
“The three cultures — and of course of subcultures — happened at one particular time, and that’s what evolved into what we know today.”
The restaurant’s name, another moniker for cattails, reflects one of the locally foraged ingredients used nearly year-round at the restaurant — from the hot-dog-shaped flower, to the pollen, the sprouts, the roots and the corms. All figure into the menu as well as Connoley’s book, “Acorns & Cattails: A Modern Foraging Cookbook of Forest, Farm & Field.”
Connoley was born and raised in Ste. Geneviève, Mo., a community founded by the French and then populated by German immigrants — all influences found on Bulrush’s menu.
Connoley’s early career as a grant writer for nonprofit organizations allowed him to work in various U.S. cities before he landed in Silver City, N.M. At 40, he shifted his interests to modern gastronomy and opened The Curious Kumquat, a gourmet market and restaurant. He opened Bulrush after moving back to his home state of Missouri.
Bulrush’s most popular dish remains an acorn donut, served atop a white chocolate-potato mousse with a seasonal root vegetable that’s roasted and tossed in a black-walnut-sap vinegar with a leafy green, such as kale, on top. A special acorn-shaped serving dish and smoke under the lid complete the presentation, he said, with the result being: “crunchy, green, chewy, sweet, sour, salty, bitter.”
Connoley and Bulrush partner with local organizations including the Seed Savers Exchange, Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis Archivist Association and the Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office to discover and preserve Ozark ingredients.