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Chef brings his European-honed skills to the small town of Arcola

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Chef brings his European-honed skills to the small town of Arcola
Gary Maples and Stacia Ozier at the Daily Kneads Cafe in Arcola, Ill., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2008. Kevin Kilhoffer/ Staff Photographer

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Chef Gary Maples of Charleston graduated from a prestigious culinary school in Europe. Today, he plys his trade in Arcola, where the fragrance of baking bread and other delectable aromas waft from the small kitchen of his Daily Kneads Restaurant on Main Street.

“Most people in the area will never have a certified executive chef make things for them, unless they travel,” said Maples, who graduated from culinary school in France and has been a chef for 34 years.

He and his wife Stacia Ozier are owners of the Arcola restaurant, a two-person operation, that is only open during the middle of the day.

“We’re open from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and we stop seating at 1:30 p.m.” Ozier said.

The restaurant, open Tuesday through Sunday, is a bright spot on a dreary winter day. Rough brick walls are hung with art prints and framed posters. There are colorful cloth chair covers, hardwood floors, and fresh flowers on the tables. Classical music provides a nice background.

Among some of the favorites on the menu are Crab and Lobster Rueben Sandwiches on Rye with Swiss, fresh Kraut and Russian Dressing; Gulf Coast Grouper; and Grilled Salmon. There are also Bayside Crab Cake Salad; Tortellini en Brodo, a rich chicken broth with cheese-filled tortellini and diced chicken; Hot Grilled Chicken Salad; Waldorf Chicken Salad; Pastrami Ruebens; Cajun Chicken; and, of course, Maples’ famous rolls.

Carolyn Shobe of Greenup and Madeine Ignazito of Charleston finished their lunch and stopped to chat as they were leaving.

Shobe said the restaurant is where she takes her friends from out of town when they visit and they are always duly impressed.

“The soups are always interesting. If you came every day for three weeks, they would be different every day.”

Ignazito said she particularly likes the crab cakes, and enjoys the flourless chocolate cakes Maples makes.

The couple have owned the restaurant for eight years. He prepares the food; she is the hostess and waits on customers.

Maples formerly owned Daily Kneads Bread Co., operated out of the couple’s Charleston home, and attracted quite a following. Now, in addition to baking all the bread for the restaurant, he still takes special orders; however, bakery items are not available unless ordered in advance.

The couple and their son, Alexander, an eighth-grade student, moved to Charleston 13 years ago to be closer to family.

“That’s where my home is, and it’s fine and dandy. It’s what you make of it for everybody,” Maples said of living in a smaller town, as opposed to living in a larger city.

“And this is my business, although it’s not necessarily representative of my art. That takes thick wallets and educated palates. The two go hand in hand.”

Maples served apprenticeships under various chefs in Europe and the United States.

He said he became a chef originally because of the direction his talents took him.

“I just kind of fell into it because of my talents,” he said. “It takes a certain mindset to survive and do well in this business. It’s not for everybody.

“The hotels and big restaurants take a tremendous amount of drive and determination. Most people who go into it don’t make it 10 years. It’s just too hard.

“They’re not willing to work seven days a week and they’re not willing to work 18-hour days. They’re not willing to do what’s required.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the owner, the maitre d’ or a cook in a nice hotel, you are going to work a lot. They are going to work you if you’re good until you can no longer work.

“If you don’t have determination, don’t have pride in what you do, you’re not going to make it.”

Maples said he doesn’t know what he likes most about his work. He said anymore it is almost second nature.

“I don’t even think about what I’m actually doing.”

Maples said the restaurant’s menu represents fine dining quality on a fast food budget without “a la foam,” as he calls fast food carryout.

“Everything here is made here. It has no preservatives, no additives. Here there’s no margarine; there is only butter that comes with the bread.

“Margarine is a science project. Bottled dressing you don’t need.

“If you want to eat bottled food, that’s fine, but this restaurant is about eating real food.

“We use extra virgin olive oil, and we use a lot of it, but it makes the food taste better.”

Ozier said her husband works “very, very hard to give people a product that, as a general rule, they can’t find outside of big cities, and to give it to them at a price that’s reasonable.

“Last summer I bought our son Alexander dinner at a fast food restaurant after one of his baseball games and I was shocked,” she said. “It cost $10.”

And there was real food at home.

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