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Supporting Local: An Interview with Chef Juwan Rice

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Chef JR

This article was originally published in our fall 2022 newsletter, View 630'.

Last year, Juwan Rice found himself cooking for a yoga event under the Arch hosted by The Collective STL when Camille Brooks of the Foundation, who had helped facilitate the event, tried his food. 

“She was really impressed,” said Rice. “Lo and behold, a couple of weeks later we get a call about Winterfest.” 

A native St. Louisan, Rice grew up cooking, and at age 14 founded JR’s Gourmet as a licensed catering business. From there, he worked in country clubs, casinos and restaurants, receiving mentoring from chefs around the region. In 2020, Rice founded Feeding the Frontline STL. And at age 21, he’s been featured on the Food Network and competed in the World Food Championships. 

Rice will be back for his second year catering Winterfest with big goals to make our Winterfest Café and “Igloo Village” a premier St. Louis holiday experience. He’s also a host committee member for “An Iconic Evening.” 

How was last year’s experience being involved with the Foundation? 

Winterfest was great for us. The best part was obviously working with the Foundation because our missions align, and we really want to provide great experiences for St. Louisans and making our city the best it can be. Making sure our city is seen from a national platform is a goal for both parties. 

What surprised you about the partnership? 

It’s not a traditional business relationship. We’ve been on Zoom calls the last two months pre-planning for Winterfest. And we’ve all become an overall team/family. A lot of times when you’re “outsourced,” you don’t get to be involved in meetings and projects. This year it’s really been a collaborative effort to make sure it’s the best experience. 

Did any new business opportunities come from the partnership? 

Outside of media exposure, we got a lot of corporate gigs that really have expanded our brand and our reach outside of St. Louis. When you tell people you’ve been able to feed 3,000 people a weekend, their eyes light up. So it really helped grow our business from that standpoint. 

What were the most popular items at Winterfest last year? 

Totchos and Louville sliders. For beverages, our top seller was white hot chocolate because that was something people hadn’t seen before. 

What else can we look forward to at the Winterfest Café this year? 

Short-rib totchos, some budget-friendly options and some shared items. Brisket sliders, lots of vegetarian options, as well. I have two pastry chefs on my team who are working on dessert packages. 

For beverages, we’ll have a whole line of hot chocolate options with toppings. We’ll have a separate bar to make sure our lines are slimmed down. Another thing that will be different – we’ll have a service area just focused on igloos. 

What should St. Louisans know about the Foundation? 

We have to be more aware of the efforts people are trying to put into St. Louis and support those efforts. I would want to tell St. Louisans, ‘Hey, start supporting the Foundation as much as you can.’

I really think the Foundation does a lot in offering free events. It takes our city to give back. When there’s a paid event, like the Blues Brunch in August, that’s a way to give back to the Foundation that’s giving so much to us. 

I’m on the host committee for the [Iconic Evening] gala, so we’re making sure we get the ticket sales to make that an amazing event for the Foundation.