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QMy sisters and I were celebrating a birthday at the Clover and the Bee the other day and I had an excellent soup and salad lunch. Would the chef care to share the recipe for the cauliflower soup? — Mary Lee Burlemann, Sunset Hills

A • This creamy soup combines several favorite ingredients in one dish — the soft richness of fontina cheese, the nutty bite of roasted cauliflower, the piquancy of smoked paprika and the umami of classic Parmigiano-Reggiano. It seems almost predestined to be a hit with customers.

“Who doesn’t love a bunch of cauliflower and cheese together?” executive chef Mike Risk says. “We were looking to do something seasonal when we opened. We were looking for that one soup that would be a staple.” The cheesy comforting soup that made its debut in a winter of maddeningly cold weekends just made sense, as our reader noted in her request.

At the Clover and the Bee, everything is made fresh, from fine ingredients, many imported from Italy as the modern Italian fare at this bright neighborhood restaurant dictates, but the soup incorporates one cheese you wouldn’t expect. “I love using American cheese in cream sauces. Whenever you make mac and cheese or a cheesy soup, American is a great choice. I think it’s so underrated. We use it because it works,” Risk says. In this soup, white American blends well with color of the cauliflower. Then Risk shakes things up a bit and adds a ruddy tint.

“The only real spice I use in the soup is smoked paprika. I wanted something smoky, with a little bit of kick,” he says.

The Clover and the Bee sits beside Olive + Oak in the heart of Webster Groves. The two restaurants share the same ownership and the same passion for fine foods served in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The Clover and the Bee began as a breakfast and lunch place with an emphasis on modern Italian specialties, but soon evolved into dinner service as well.

Risk cooked for 12 years at Trattoria Marcella, the iconic southside Italian restaurant. He then opened the 9th Street Deli in Soulard and a favorite casual place in Southhampton, the Mack. His move back into finer foods, with an emphasis on fresh Italian, came about when a friend at Olive + Oak needed a little help.

“He called me and said ‘I (know) you haven’t cooked like this in years, but we’re getting ready to open and could use your help.’ So I went, and I enjoyed the work,” Risk says.

“I still keep my partnership in the Mack. I’m there nearly every morning early, and my sister, Leslie Roesch, who has worked with me at each place during my whole career, is there, so it’s a good mix, and it works.”

Risk’s experiences in fine Italian cooking and in casual restaurants shine through in the menu of inventive foods served in a welcoming neighborhood space that’s beautiful without being overdone or pretentious.

The move benefited Risk in his personal life as well. “I met Jesse Mendica,” he says. Mendica, who is the executive chef at Olive + Oak, soon became more than a boss and a work friend. “Jesse and I are engaged now. We work well together. It makes sense for us to be together. We bought a house in the neighborhood, and we walk to work. People greet us as we pass, ‘hey, chefs!’ — and it’s nice,” he says.


The Clover and the Bee

100 West Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves

314- 942-1216; thecloverandthebee.com

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