Herbie's executive chef Chris Vomund.
Chris Vomund, the executive chef at Herbie's (8100 Maryland Avenue, Clayton; 314-769-9595),
may run the show at an upscale St. Louis institution, but his entry into the restaurant business was much more humble.
"I came back from college when I was twenty and didn't know what I wanted to do. I realized journalism wasn't my thing, and I needed to figure something out, so I got a job serving at Buffalo Wild Wings," Vomund recalls. "One thing led to another, and all of a sudden I was managing restaurants."
Vomund spent six years working at the sports bar and credits it with instilling in him a passion for the industry, even though the environment wasn't so glamorous. "Working at a corporate restaurant, you have a lot of people dog you about it," Vomund says. "But it really set a foundation for me in terms of systems and consistency. Of course it's just assembling food — not cooking — but it's what got me into the industry and exposed me to kitchen life."
After Buffalo Wild Wings, Vomund went on to work for another chain, Logan's Roadhouse, where he found himself spending more time in the kitchen. Though it wasn't the sort of food he wanted to do, Vomund was inspired to enroll in culinary school at Forest Park Community College, which is where he really began to fall in love with cooking and get an idea of what was possible in the culinary arts.
Culinary school led Vomund to Pi, and then some more corporate gigs — PF Chang's and the Hard Rock Cafe — before he landed at the unique, yet short-lived family spot the Nest. Though the concept didn't take off the way its owners had hoped, the experience there allowed Vomund the opportunity to be in charge of a from-scratch kitchen. He began to develop his vision for the type of chef he wanted to become.
He drew upon that experience when he was approached by chef-owner Aaron Teitelbaum to interview for the executive chef position at Herbie's. "It's basically like someone saying to a musician, 'Hey, here's the place that the Ramones played at — do you want to play there?' I mean, who wouldn't want to play at the Whiskey in L.A? It was an easy decision."
At Herbie's, Vomund finally feels like he has hit his stride, honoring the restaurant's storied legacy while allowing his own vision to shine through. It may be a long way from Buffalo Wild Wings, but Vomund insists he wouldn't be as grateful for where he is if he didn't remember his roots.
"There's nothing worse than cooking corporate burgers and fries for people who have no ties to the food," Vomund says. "It really makes you appreciate getting to cook your own food."
Vomund took a break from the kitchen at Herbie's new Clayton address to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage community, his love of ska and skateboards and why the key to a good workout is a glass of whiskey.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I have the best wife and the best family and friends. Everybody thinks that, but I really do.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Drinking a highly caffeinated beverage and listening to some ska on the drive into work.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Flight, sweet guitar skills or supernatural skateboarding skills.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I love the fun people are having with all of the pop-ups. The "This Is Not a Restaurant" series is so rad.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
Well, Shake Shack is coming, so I don't know what else we are missing.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Always crushing on Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan, Kevin Willmann. I love what Russell Ping is doing at Russell's on Macklind. And Matt Borchardt is doing great stuff with Edibles and Essentials. The crews at Pint Size and Kounter Kulture are the best. I cant forget Katie Collier, the Gallinas, Chris Bork and Ben Grupe.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
How can you pick just one? See the above answer.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Pork... it's reliable and never disappoints. Everybody is like, "Hey Pork is here!" Pork is never too flashy; it's just really good.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
House rehabber, carpenter, or something like that. I would moonlight as the hypeman for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Less Than Jake.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
I haven't found it yet.
What is your after-work hangout?
My couch with my wife, my dog, and a whiskey, or my garage for a quick workout. Sometimes I mix the two and workout while drinking a whiskey.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Ice cream, breakfast cereal (Cap'n Crunch) and pizza.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Sweet potato hash with smoked brisket, some sunnyside-up eggs, and a bourbon on the rocks. Second choice is a triple decker PBJ with bacon, Miss Vickie's chips, ice cold milk ... and also a bourbon on the rocks.
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