Beats + Eats
Chef Tyler Davis
Davis values creativity and originality, something that drew him to both the worlds of music and food.
Story • Brian amick
Photos • Cory Weaver
If you’re looking for someone who understands the intersection of music and food, look no further than pastry chef Tyler Davis. The former classical music major at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville was a cellist before his current career, and he continues to play the instrument in his spare time to decompress after his busy days with his online business Alchemy Bakery and the newly opened The Chocolate Pig.
The latter is where we sat down with Davis to cover his career, background and musical/artistic in uences in the city. The Chocolate Pig opened in November, combining a farm-to-table, “nose to tail” menu with upscale desserts that straddle the line between nostalgia and innovation. Davis values creativity and originality, something that drew him to both the worlds of music and food.
He started his cooking career as a chef in 2010 at The Crossing. Following that, he worked in various positions at many St. Louis restaurants, including DeMun Oyster Bar, Vino Nadoz, Bon Appetit, Ernesto’s Wine Bar, Tavern of Fine Arts, and Element Restaurant and Lounge.
In order to get in the right state of mind for dessert preparation, Davis and his team listen to a wide range of musical genres. He doesn’t like to limit himself, whether it be with food or with entertainment. He also uses music and art to in uence his creativity.
Watching him in the kitchen is like watching a great artist at work. Attention to detail is key, but so is coloring outside the lines. He uses unconventional things like liquid nitrogen to turn his desserts into elaborate works of art.
The dessert he’s most proud of at The Chocolate Pig is the Peanut Butter Bomb. The dish features dark chocolate, peanut butter mousse, nitro berries, peanut butter cookie crumble and mixed berry compote.
When a warm berry sauce is poured over the dessert, it perfectly melts the chocolate to reveal the insides. It tastes like the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you’ve ever eaten and is truly a marvel to see in person.
That’s just one example of Chef Davis’ fusion of art and food, which he discussed along with the role music plays in both his career and personal life.
Have you always been interested in food as a career, or is that something you developed later on?
Food is always something that’s been near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a household that didn’t have a lot of money, so that’s how my mom would show her love and appreciation for us. Instead of buying gifts, that’s what we did. So that instilled a much fonder appreciation for food and made food special for me, so I’ve always carried that with me. But I never thought about being a chef. I wanted to be a medical illustrator or a professional classical musician. But after being in school and looking at the market, I needed a different route.
You’ve had experience with a lot of different restaurants in the area. Has that in uenced your cooking style?
I think because I’m self-taught, I kind of already have my own style. Originality is one of the things that doesn’t really exist too much because there’s always someone that’s done it before you, but at the same time I don’t want people to think, “Oh, he’s just trying to be like this person.” So, I get my inspiration from the people that work around me, from my experiences, and from other places where I see things I really loved and enjoyed and then I do my own take on those.
What about outside the food world? Do you get inspiration from other forms of art, especially music?
Music is a very big part of me and who I am as a person. I listen to everything: country, classical, alternative. I love klezmer music. It’s all over the place. I take bits and pieces of that. But for the most part, I like to take things that I really enjoy or bring a sense of nostalgia or a fond memory to me. I try to convey that in the dish so other people can have that same experience that I had. I think that all my experiences meld together and make me into the person that I am now.
What music do you like to play throughout the restaurant as well as where you’re prepping?
It’s all different. It’s based on the energy for the day. I’m big on chakras, so if I come in and it feels like a somber, low-energy environment, then I’ll throw on some Janelle Monae, Michael Jackson or Daft Punk. Something that’s upbeat to get my team moving. If I know we’re going to have a really chill day, we’ll listen to soul music. I love for the work environment to be fun. It’s just food that we’re doing—if you take it too seriously then it becomes much more difficult.
It sounds like you all have a pretty eclectic taste as a group.
Yeah, it’s a collaborative effort, so my team conceptualizes things together, we cook together. I tell them, “You have music you want to play, play it.” Because variety is the spice of life. What I listen to might not be what you enjoy listening to and vice versa. It’s a good way to get a cool understanding of people. Music shows you what people are like. It’s very personal.
A study from earlier in 2018 found that people are more likely to choose indulgent food items than healthful items when loud background music is playing. Do you think high-volume music influences your customers?
We usually have one main playlist for the restaurant, but from time to time we do switch it up. For example,
if there’s an ‘80s station playing, we’ve noticed the bar lls up and people are more prone to order the more experimental things on the menu. It creates this experience. If we have upbeat or synthy music, it matches our type of client. You might have this big Peanut Butter Bomb in front of you that’s all blinged-out, and it makes it more like a show. You won’t walk into The Chocolate Pig and hear Vivaldi or Bach—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Do you have a favorite music venue in St. Louis?
The Pageant is always a good place. I love going there. Any place that will have a really good concert. I love dive bars. If you have a show and you want me to come to the Crack Fox or something like that, I’ll be there. Ready Room, I’m going to be there if it’s a good show. I frequent the symphony very often. I think we have one of the best symphonies here in St. Louis.
What about specific artists here in town?
I like Brian Owens because I think he’s one of the best musicians in town. Kim Massie, she’s always killing it. Another one that’s blowing up right now is Beth Bombara.
I love her. She does really great work and she’s really pushed herself. I love her perseverance.
Who are your favorite mainstream, national artists?
I would say Janelle Monae is one of my top ones, because her music is amazing and her overall personality and style is like she gives zero f*cks. I’m a really big Robyn fan, especially when she came out with her album with Royksopp —that was amazing. I like electronic music that has a good ambient vibe or strong bass. Anything that makes you get up and dance. I really love anything that Daft Punk does or Chromeo. I like Jaden Smith—I think a lot of his music has really good messages.
That’s what I look for. I think a lot of music right now lacks a little depth unless you nd those artists that are sending a message out while trying to make good music at the same time. I also really like old school. I listen to the divas from the past, like Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle. Anything with soul. And I like real instruments, so the Commodores or Earth, Wind & Fire. I like Bruno Mars, because of the live band. That’s my jam.