Front Street Tacos has become a popular dining spot with its fast-casual dining, and now it has an award-winning chef in the kitchen.
Kore Wilbert, 35, joined the Mexican/Southwestern restaurant in the spring after serving as chef at the Copper Pig in St. Louis for five years. Before that, he served as executive chef at The Garden on Grand for three years. His resume also includes stints at the now-closed Mad Tomato in Clayton, the Hong Kong Express in the South Grand dining district and the Villa Romana Hotel on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy.
Along the way, he picked up several awards, including three from the Taste of St. Louis’ Chef Battle Royale, the executive chef award in 2016 among them.
When he wasn’t cooking at one of the St. Louis restaurants on his resume, Wilbert was performing with the hip-hop group The Royal Illete where he was a producer, rapper and singer.
He said it was the desire for a quieter way of life for his family that brought him to Washington.
Wilbert, his wife SaraBeth, and their five children, Kiyomi, 9; Luka, 7; Kace, 3; Xena, 2; and Xoe, 1, made the move in March.
“We wanted to find an area that had good public school systems and nature opportunities for our kids,” Wilbert said. “City life was just a little chaotic, and we wanted something more kid-friendly.”
Wilbert was still working at the Copper Pig and making the commute to St. Louis every day when he decided to apply at Front Street Tacos.
Co-owner Rick Marquart originally hired him as general manager and then made him executive chef.
Marquart owns the restaurant with Karen Marquart, Sean and Christine Bell. The restaurant changed its name from StreetSide Tacos in January to Front Street Tacos.
Wilbert was an easy choice, Marquart said. “When I hired him he had recently moved to town,” he said. “His personality for the place was great and his experience.
“Now that we are fully staffed, we have a great cast of people to help support Kore and the restaurant,” Marquart said. “He has done a lot to prove himself and has a ton of great ideas.”
Wilbert said he found the perfect fit at Front Street Tacos. “When you walk in (to the restaurant) it is an awesome-looking place and it takes over,” Wilbert said. “The art on the walls is one of a kind.”
He added that the view of the riverfront makes it even more of a special place to work. “This is my workplace (gesturing to the kitchen) and then this is my view (gesturing to the riverfront), it doesn’t get much better than that.”
While Front Street Tacos is a different pace than what Wilbert is used to, he says the change doesn’t bother him. “It is a little bit of a slower pace but I get to take care of customers and provide good food.”
A Passion for Cooking
Wilbert grew up in the U-City area and after attending Crossroads College Preparatory School and University City High School, he attended L’Ecole Culinaire where he studied to become a chef.
He credits his mother and grandmother for helping him develop his passion for cooking.
“My mother taught me how important it is to cook with love and how that impacts the food you make,” Wilbert said. “Some of my best memories are cooking with my mother and grandmother.”
When he was 11, he got a job as a busboy at Bar Italia in the Central West End. “Once the chef realized I was going to show up for work he started taking me under his wing, and he started by showing me how to make my lunch.”
It was then Wilbert knew he was going to be a chef.
Throughout culinary school, Wilbert worked various kitchen jobs at St. Louis area restaurants and did an externship at the Villa Romana Hotel on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Wilbert developed and designed the menu at MX Movies, worked the line at Ernesto’s as the “pizza guy” and then worked at an upscale restaurant in Clayton where he became the sous chef. He later took a job as sous chef at DePaul Health Center.
“It was different. I made food for patients, their families, doctors and nurses,” he said. “I learned a lot about bulk preparation and cooking for thousands of people.”
When he isn’t cooking at Front Street Tacos, Wilbert is teaching parents and their children how to make sushi at the Kitchen Conservatory in St. Louis. He said his dream is to open a restaurant/catering business with his wife, but his focus right now is on a new menu at Front Street Tacos.
“We are going to be developing healthier options, developing a vegan menu and playing around with some different flavors,” Wilbert said. “We are also looking at adding some more seafood options to the menu but how and what that will look like I can’t say for sure.”
Next month, Front Street Tacos will be running new specials every day for customers to try. Wilbert said he anticipates that by October the restaurant will “bust out” the healthy menu with vegan items.