William Pauley of Confluence Kombucha.
William Pauley of Confluence Kombucha/the gastroLAB (4507 Manchester Avenue; 314-833-3059) may have been called "Chef Billy" by his sister when he was a kid, but by the time he was old enough to get a real job in the kitchen, he had to start out with a much humbler job description.
"Growing up in a small town, I worked in fast food because that was all that was around us," Pauley recalls. "Working there is just a different way of looking at food — it's not nutritionally rich. I think that's why when I started working at Blood and Sand, I brought up the idea of nourishment as the backbone of what we do in a major conversation we all had. I've always held onto that idea."
Pauley's interest in nourishment and healing began nearly ten years ago when a bleeding ulcer sent him into the ICU. At the time, he had no health insurance, so he began looking at ways to heal himself. He began drinking kombucha for its health benefits, fell in love with the fermented beverage, and eventually began brewing it himself.
Around the same time, he found himself in the restaurant business, first as a dishwasher for Maggiano's and eventually in the hallowed kitchen of the members-only restaurant Blood and Sand, where he trained under the talented Chris Bork. There, as Pauley gained confidence in his cooking abilities, he began to explore the possibilities of fermented foods with the hope of turning his passion into a business.
That passion led to the creation of Confluence Kombucha. At first, his business was limited to farmers markets and yoga studios, but eventually, he and his business partner, Julie Villarini, opened a brick-and-mortar space in the Grove, allowing them to not only showcase their kombucha varieties in a tasting room format, but also giving Pauley the space to showcase his culinary talents in the form of a dining concept called the gastroLAB.
It hasn't always been easy. About three months after opening Confluence Kombucha/the gastroLAB, Pauley got in a serious car accident while leaving work. The incident left him with eleven broken ribs, a broken scapula and a punctured diaphragm. Hospitalized for two weeks and in recovery for a few after that, Pauley was determined to get back into the kitchen, no matter how painful it was.
He succeeded in that goal, returning to work after only a month, though he admits it has been an uphill and painful struggle. However, he looks at the experience with a graceful perspective and sees it as being part of what led him to where he is in the first place.
"The beauty in all of this is that all of what I am doing, in some ways, comes from a lot of pain," Pauley explains. "Before I was in the ICU with a bleeding ulcer, I had ulcers for twenty years. That's what led me to kombucha. It might sound sad to think about, but in the same breath, you need that to grow. I feel blessed that all of this could have been a lot worse — though I have to admit, I'm looking forward to closing the chapter on 2018."
Pauley took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his not-so-secret sweet tooth and his dream of an international feast.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
In grade school, I loved choir.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Morning prayers and stretches.
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?
The move toward more vegetable-centric dining is upon us.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
The Michelin Guide!
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Chris Krzysik has created some of the most thought and palette-provoking food I have experienced. Find him on the weekends at Claverach Farm and other days at Mac’s Local Eats.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Logan Ely of Square1 Project. His approach to food is inspiring, intelligent and unique. If you have not made it to one of his dinners, catch him on Instagram and make a reservation.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which is used to ferment tea to create kombucha. There is a chaotic and perfect harmony between the bacterium and yeasts within the culture. In my personality that represents my deep extremist nature and how opposing entities can co-exist to create balance.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Traveling and creating imagery.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
Anything with gluten.
What is your after-work hangout?
Home. I always have plenty of projects going on, and some time with the guitar is a great way to reset.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
I have always had a bit of a sweet tooth, so definitely ice cream.
What would be your last meal on earth?
A smorgasbord of Thai, Moroccan, Japanese, Ethiopian, Scandinavian and on, and on, and on.
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