“I never really thought of it as something I could do forever,” St. Denis said. “I kept just getting more involved in it, more interested in it and by the time I graduated from the university I was like, “oh I’m already doing what I want to do.””
From Florida to Oregon to Ohio
St. Denis grew up mostly in the south, but considers himself a Florida native because that’s where he lived in his teens through late 20s. He had originally planned to be a professor and majored in English literature and minored in art history at the University of South Florida. At that time, he was heavily involved in music — traveling and touring with indie rock bands.
In his mid-20s he was also managing restaurants, but didn’t discover the creative, more exciting side of food until he moved to Portland, Oregon. He recalled working at a concert venue called the Doug Fir that had a restaurant attached to it.
“That was one of the first places that I kind of saw food as something you could be more creative with,” St. Denis said.
After almost 10 years in Oregon, he moved to Ohio to be closer to family. He said his mom is originally from Kettering and she moved back here after they had lived in Florida.
“I came here for six months to try it out and that was about 10 years ago,” St. Denis said.
Local influences on career
One of his first jobs in the Dayton area that had a huge influence on who he is as a chef today was at the Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs. St. Denis said it was an amazing experience not only because of the creative aspect, but the idea of using seasonal ingredients available from local farmers.
He recalled the owner of the Winds Cafe having a picture in her office that read, “You’re only as good as your last show.”
St. Denis said the quote is true in life and in the kitchen. He sees a lot of overlap in terms of how he thinks about food and music.
“I think I’ve always sort of seen it as the performance aspect of it,” St Denis said. “What do I think our customers in the Oregon District would enjoy?”
Another local influence on his career was his experience at Coldwater Café in Tipp City. He said that’s where he learned the work ethic it takes to run a kitchen. As an executive chef, St. Denis has to be fluid about product and staffing issues, while working in a chaotic environment. He also has to find good people to surround himself with that are excited about what they’re doing and want to learn.
St. Denis ended up at the Corner Kitchen, located at 613 E. Fifth St. in Dayton’s Oregon District, after he saw an ad for what he assumed was a chef de cuisine position under the former owners Jack and Natalie Skilliter. He recalled thinking it was strange that Jack was hiring a chef de cuisine because he was a really good chef, but he had a lot of respect for them and was excited for the opportunity.
He learned they had sold the restaurant to the One Esca Group, a Dallas restaurant management company, but he joined the team anyway and the restaurant reopened in 2022.
New menu coming soon
St. Denis is excited about the restaurant’s new menu. He described it as more of a format change with a few new dishes.
About a year ago, Corner Kitchen started offering a small plates menu throughout the week and now it will be part of the main menu. St. Denis said they are offering a lot more half orders of dishes.
Other plans he has is expanding their steak offerings, especially after having a great response to their dry aging program. He plans to bring in more interesting cuts of meat like wagyu. They also want to expand their pasta offerings.
“The great thing about the Oregon District and this part of downtown is everybody kind of has their own niche,” St. Denis said. “I kind of feel like our niche can be sort of contemporary steakhouse that does small plates.”
With the new menu format, St. Denis said they want to change it up every four to five weeks. This will allow him to challenge his team to make new things and get them more involved in the creative aspect.
“Part of it for me is to be able to use the small platform I have to kind of do stuff I wish people would have done for me when I was coming up,” St. Denis said.
Favorites on the menu
His favorite new dish on the menu is the sea bass they rolled out during restaurant week. It’s a butter-seared sea bass with a warm beet and kale salad that’s top with pistachio gremolata. He’s also obsessed with their prime ribeye, but that’s always been his favorite cut of meat.
St. Denis is a huge fan of using beets throughout his dishes. He is planning to have a beet risotto with goat cheese croquettes for Valentine’s Day.
Other ingredients St. Denis loves to use include pickled onions and cilantro. He said ingredients like these help give the menu overall unity.
Other dishes to check out at the restaurant include:
- Short Rib — Three hour braised short rib with a black garlic and cherry demi glace, garlic mashed potatoes, pickled onion and cilantro
- Steak Frites — A 7 oz. petite tender filet with garlic herb fries and a southern-style bacon gravy with mushrooms in it
- Chorizo Ala Vodka — Buckeye Vodka tomato cream reduction, cilantro pistou, parmesan reggiano and rigatoni from Grist served with grilled foccaccia
When St. Denis is not at Corner Kitchen, you can catch him and his partner, Cindy, eating at Speakeasy Ramen in Springfield, Lola’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedarville or Wheat Penny Oven & Bar in Dayton.
For more information about Corner Kitchen, visit cornerkitchendayton.com or the restaurant’s Facebook or Instagram pages.