For a relatively young guy, Gerard Craft has been on a long, strange trip. A self-admitted “problem child,” the Washington, DC, native got in trouble with the law as a youngster and found himself marooned in Idaho at a “boarding school.” Afterward, he had little luck in Salt Lake City at college, where he quickly dropped out. That led to a job washing cars; then washing dishes at a pool hall. Eventually he found his way into the pool hall kitchen. It was a moment of clarity that illuminated the one path he could see himself following—cooking. Craft eventually worked his way into some big-name kitchens, including the ones at Chateau Marmont in L.A. and Ryland Inn in New Jersey. And then the problem child, age 25, seemingly went off the rails again—buying a St. Louis restaurant sight-unseen on Craigslist. “It was advertised as a wine bar, but it had dirt floors and no electricity,” he said. “Perfect,” he told his then- girlfriend and now wife. “She looked at me like I was crazy.” That hole in the wall eventually became his first restaurant, Niche, which won Craft a Best New Chef award from Food & Wine for his new American cuisine. Now, 35, he’s created a mini-empire in St. Louis with the addition of three other restaurants—Brasserie by Niche, Taste by Niche and Pastaria. Craft may soon be headed back to Salt Lake and DC to turn old defeats into new victories by establishing outposts of his ultra cool Italian concept, Pastaria. It appears Craft’s long strange trip has come to an end, and there’s nothing but blue skies ahead.