Vista Ramen's Chris Bork.
Chris Bork, the executive chef and co-owner of Vista Ramen (2609 Cherokee Street; 314-797-8250), grew up loving food made by his New Orleans native parents and enjoyed the rush of his first gigs cooking on a line. The real reason he went to cooking school had nothing to do with all that, though — he did it for a girl.
"The whole wanting to be a professional cook thing happened by accident," Bork explains. "I had a girlfriend at the time who had dual [British and American] citizenship, and she got into school in London. I went there and hung out for six months and applied to cooking school as a way to stay in England. Once I got in, I thought, 'Alright. I guess I'm doing this.'"
Cooking was a natural fit for Bork, who first came into the kitchen by way of a dishwashing gig. A longtime soccer player, he gravitated to the team aspect of cooking and the rush that came from pulling together on particularly challenging nights.
After culinary school, Bork stayed in London for about a year but had to return to the U.S. because his student visa expired. He came back to St. Louis while waiting for his work visa application to process and was excited by what he saw happening in the local food scene. "That's when Gerard [Craft] had opened Niche," he recalls, "and I went there and thought, 'Wow. St. Louis has come a long way and really might be going somewhere.'"
That realization helped temper his disappointment when his work visa was denied. Instead of returning to London as he had hoped, Bork jumped right into the St. Louis restaurant scene, garnering a name for himself as the executive chef of the acclaimed members-only restaurant Blood and Sand. He'd always had his eye on opening a place of his own, so when his friends and former employers at the Mud House said they were opening a ramen spot, he knew it was his chance.
Now, Bork is running one of the town's hottest kitchens, a place where his culinary prowess goes far beyond ramen. It's not across the pond like he'd envisioned, but he feels like he landed in the right spot.
And the girl? "Heck no, it didn't last," laughs Bork. "I was getting up for school at 4 or 5 a.m. and then going directly from there to my job where I worked until midnight. She was smart and got out."
Bork took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the St. Louis restaurant community, his advice to aspiring restaurateurs and why St. Louis needs a good place for doner kebab.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I have terrible handwriting.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Hug my dog, Anchovy.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
Casual dining — understanding that great service can exist without being pretentious. Also, pop-ups. They are great. I recommend them to anyone planning on opening a restaurant.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
Doner kebabs and more Indian food — the two things I miss most about London.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Patch from Fork & Stix.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
John Messbarger [of the Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.].
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Chartering boats in the British Virgin Islands.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
What is your after work hangout?
The Whiskey Ring.
What is your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Imitation crab sticks.
What would be your last meal on earth?
My mom's chicken and stuffing with canned cranberry sauce.
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