William Mabrey of Yolklore.
Chef William Mabrey, the kitchen manager at Yolklore (8958 Watson Road, Crestwood; 314-270-8538),
was two-and-a-half years into a structural engineering program when it hit him: He was on the wrong path.
Mabrey began his restaurant career working at a pizzeria in coastal South Carolina when he was just sixteen. He was hired as a dishwasher, but quickly worked his way up to the line dressing pizzas and eventually manning the main oven. He enjoyed his work, and probably would have stayed past his four-year tenure, but the pizzeria closed when chains like Pizza Hut and Papa John's came to town. Out of a job, he decided to focus on his studies, though he wouldn't stay away from the industry for long.
"The owner of the pizzeria was friends with the executive chef of a resort in South Carolina, and he got me a job there as a prep guy cutting fruit," Mabrey recalls. "That's where it struck me that I didn't want to be an engineer. Seeing everyone in chef coats and toques and seeing all the camaraderie made me realize that this is where I wanted to be."
Mabrey left engineering school but stayed on at the resort, working his way up to banquets and odd jobs on the line. He was professionally content, but he and his then-girlfriend (now wife) wanted a change of scenery. They moved to St. Louis, where he quickly landed a job at downtown's Flying Saucer Draught House.
"That's where a lot of my line skills come from. I was thrust into a leadership role and had to learn on the fly," Mabrey explains. "And I learned how crazy Cardinals games are really quickly. We would do 1,200 covers on game day. I think on one opening day we went through 300 pounds of ground beef."
Mabrey enjoyed his time at Flying Saucer, but his favorite part of the job was the opportunity to do occasional, small-scale beer dinners. On one occasion, Flying Saucer brought in a guest chef, Chris Vomund, who was the former executive chef of Herbie's, and the two saw how well they collaborated.
Vomund told Mabrey about an opportunity to join him as his sous chef at Herbie's, and he accepted. He worked there for two-and-a-half years, starting in the Central West End and then helping the restaurant move to Clayton.
Mabrey was later introduced to Mary and John Bogacki of Yolklore who were looking for a kitchen manager. At first, he was skeptical.
"Coming from a place that does beef Wellington and roast chickens and Dover sole, I didn't know what to expect," Mabrey says. "I first walked into Yolklore and saw the drive-through and thought, 'Oh man,' but within two hours of working there, I was in love."
Though Yolkore is a daytime-only concept, Mabrey has been impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and creativity the Bogackis apply. "Everything we do here is farm-to-table," he says. "We know where our produce and eggs and milk come from. We make our own mayonnaise. It reminds me of my days back at the resort where our thought was, 'If we can't make it, we don't serve it.'"
Mabrey is proud of what he's been able to do at Yolklore, including bringing classic, evening dishes to daytime, including braised short ribs and grits with chimichurri or a reuben benedict. "Breakfast doesn't have to be a microwaved sausage biscuit from QuikTrip," he says. "Here, we'll farm-to-table you from the drive-through."
Mabrey took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, why he likens himself to an artichoke and the decidedly southern way he begins his day.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Every morning I have a glass of tea to start my day, iced or hot depending on the weather.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would like the ability to control time because, as a chef, sometimes you just need an extra minute or two.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The continued growth of the industry and how many great places continue to open.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
I would have to say us as a family at Yolklore. We put our all into everything we do, and I think it really shows. Everyone should come give us a try and have a great breakfast.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Artichoke. It takes some work to get to know me.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
I was in college to be a structural engineer before I fell in love with the industry so I would probably be behind a desk somewhere.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
Processed foods. If it's not worth the time for you to make, then it's not worthy to be served to your guest.
What is your after-work hangout?
Honestly, I'm a homebody.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Rye whiskey, either in an old fashioned or with a splash of water.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Braised short ribs.
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