Found in what was once a huge, multi-roomed music club called Plush, David Kirkland’s restaurant Turn has received high marks from critics and patrons, alike, for an original approach that, according to the Turn website “represents the convergence of Kirkland’s DJ life and his passion for cooking. He crafts flavor profiles like he mixes beats–layering and blending to create unique experiences.”
Story: Thomas Crone
Photos: Cory Weaver
Kirkland’s resume notes that his career began in earnest “in the early-1990’s, bouncing from the Café at St. Louis Art Museum (Catering St. Louis) to Frazer’s Brown Bag, and then Venice Café. Kirkland learned everything he could from some of the city’s best. In 1996, he moved to San Francisco and began focusing on his music interests, becoming a resident DJ at several clubs throughout the city.” Back at home in St. Louis, he helmed the kitchen at Cafe Osage, beginning a stint there in 2007.
By 2016, he’d open Turn and David Kirkland Catering, where you can often find Kirkland drifting from the kitchen to the expansive, airy dining hall, where he greets guests new and old. An amiable sort, Kirkland’s given over to discussing the guests’ meals, obviously, but there’s also a good chance that you can catch him in conversation about his favorite bands, albums and tracks, one of which might be subtly playing in the background of this acclaimed comfort food restaurant.
At Turn, the music’s always a part of the overall mix. Sometimes, it’s more overtly represented than at other times, such as when deejays are holding down the space. Other times, it’s just the house PA that’s reflecting both Kirkland’s tastes and those of his co-workers, including his son, who increasingly are bringing new sounds to Kirkland’s ears. And you can’t miss the wall of colorful album covers that dominate the space’s southern wall.
We spoke to him recently just a few minutes after a Friday morning opening, watching his room slowly pick up customers in a bright, fun environment, giving it the ideal morning café vibe.
TC: Tell me a little bit about your notions about what you like to hear musically in your front of house.
DK: You know, I kind of let it go for a while. I was kind of playing anything I curated from like a little Pandora list of things that I liked, things that I thought that the customers would like. But now, my son has been creating lists and profile lists and things like that, and it’s been really well-received, with a lot of older stuff and newer stuff like bands I’d never heard of. And now I’m totally into Steve Lacy and things like that. And you know, for the younger crowd that comes in, they really appreciate it and the older people just vibe on it so they don’t really notice a difference.
TC: Do you think restaurants take that part of the experience too lightly or don’t even think about it at all?
DK: I think they don’t think about it at all. Yeah. You know, we really cultivate the idea of this just being my living room and you’re listening to good music.
TC: What are other places that do it well in your mind? Are there places where you know you’ll go in and hear something solid?
DK: So, The Royale, obviously. Takashima does a really, really good job. You know, I was in Yellow Belly the other day and I really enjoyed their music. The crowd’s not there to listen to music, you know, but for music heads it was a really good time.
TC: Wedding the sound with food: is that overstated sometimes? Or can you really kind of make those things work in tandem?
DK: Well, we do. Just because of how we coordinate our monthly Sunday jams. You know, we’ll have a different DJ come in. And as a result, people will make reservations to come in to hear a DJ, whether they know them or not, to be able to enjoy food and listen to good music.
TC: Obviously, this place has great windows, and, yeah, the lighting here can be quite nice. What caught your attention about the space originally?
DK: Having an environment to play with? You know, I didn’t pick this space. I was looking for a space that was on Grand where Miss M’s candy is going and nearer to Big Brothers Big Sisters. And I contacted Ken Kranzberg and said, ‘Hey, is that your spot?’ He goes, ‘No, but I have another space that I’ve been thinking about.’ So he and Chris Hansen (Executive Director, Kranzberg Arts Foundation) met me here and I was like, ‘Oh, this is Plush.’ And I immediately had a little nostalgia because I’d seen some amazing shows here, and I don’t remember it being very bright and…plush. And then I thought about it later. I don’t know why they covered up their windows because the lighting here is so beautiful and so nice. So when we moved into this spot, everything became osmosis, like the design, the idea of the records (on the wall). While we didn’t really have a plan then, it turned out pretty good.
TC: There are places where there is a definite clash between front and back of house on music; I hear that as a customer. Do you ever have that occur?
DK: No, we are a pretty good crew and we all get along really well. We always operate in a team mentality, front and back. So whenever something is a shortcoming, we just back each other up and take care of it. I think it’s a really good fit here.
TC: No metalheads in the kitchen?
DK: Well, it’s in this kitchen, it’s a huge, huge hip-hop world. And sometimes it’ll bleed through and the general manager will come in and tell us to turn the music down. Because when I’m cooking from trying to cook fast you’re turning the heat up and I always like to turn the volume up, too; so they keep me in my place.
TC: A few more things with your schedule. Are you able to see as much live music as you’d like?
DK: Actually, in the last year, my wife took a position at the Sheldon where she’s the program director. And I’ve probably seen in the last year at least a good 20 live shows. Being in the Grand Center Arts District, well…sometimes when you leave work, you just want to go home. But there’s so many good venues down here that I’ve come back down to see shows and deejays at Sophie’s. So it feels like I’m coming back to work. But once I get that idea out of my head, it’s actually really good.
TC: Are there sounds that you picked up on (and this might sound kind of general) but that you maybe wouldn’t have listened to five years ago?
DK: Oh, absolutely. I heard of Rufus Wainwright, you know, but when I saw him live I just went down this rabbit hole, (listened to) everything I could get of him. I never thought I’d get into any kind of bluegrass or anything like that. So yeah, I’ve really changed my ideas on a lot of music.
TC: And just to use that same time frame cooking-wise in the last five years how has your cooking been influenced by new things?
DK: I always follow the trends of herbs. So the opportunity to have something that’s coming out of the ground that’s fresh. There’re a lot of chefs around town and I’ll go and see what they’re doing. Saint Louis is a really good sharing community within the culinary world. People are free to talk about what they’re making and not feel like you’re taking their ideas.
TC: What exactly are you cooking and listening to today on this Friday morning?
DK: Right now I’m making a rustic pear tart with a shortbread crust. And then what I am listening to is new music. It’s ‘new music Friday’ on Spotify. So that’s what we kind of do on Fridays. We listen to all the new tracks that come out and see if we like any of them. It’s a very musical kitchen.