Rob Connoley is the chef and owner of Bulrush, a restaurant in St. Louis that seeks to put the traditional cooking and foodways of the Ozark region — northern Arkansas, southern Missouri and parts of Kansas and Oklahoma — into a fine-dining restaurant context. That has meant a lot of research into family journals and letters from the 19th century, as well as extensive work with the Osage community and local Black communities, a lot of experimentation in Bulrush’s kitchen, and a great deal of foraging.
But Connoley has other missions as well. Bulrush is a zero-waste restaurant, and so the chef and his team have developed or borrowed processes for things like fermenting stems and turning them into sauces or condiments. He also has made it part of his business model to pay all of his staff a living wage, and to provide them with health insurance and other perks.
There are social justice aspects to Connoley’s approach to running his business, including amplifying the voices of native, Black and other communities who are often left out of our national culinary conversation as well as other conversations.
Connoley recently discussed his perspective and approach with Restaurant Hospitality.