By Kayla Becoats
In the midst of the Wednesday morning rush at 7th Street Market, Chef
Greg Collier and his wife, Subrina, are nestled comfortably side by side sipping lattes in the new home of their wildly popular farm-to-table breakfast restaurant, The Yolk. This moment feels personal. Not only is it a testament to the duo’s hard work, individual expertise and personal sacrifices, it is a celebration of their core principles and Chef Collier’s humble beginnings growing up in Memphis coming to fruition.
“Being in my granny’s house…The earliest kitchen memory I remember is sitting under a table on a green-and-white checkerboard floor with super dark, old cabinets…And seeing flour drop on the floor,” Collier says.
In fact, he credits his grandmother for the birth of his culinary passion: “What I didn’t think at first was that there was any connection…I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a long time. I got to a place where I realized it was cooking, then I got to a place where I realized I was going to be good, and then I got to a place where growing food became important in my mind. I started to find out these were some of the things she was doing. I think she was always trying to connect with me on a spiritual level.”
Whether it was eating her famous butter rolls, a treat he likens to a cinnamon roll without cinnamon, or planting peach pits in the backyard together, Collier’s connection to his grandmother’s memory has yielded a harvest beyond his wildest imagination. “It just took me a while to realize that my childhood was already set up that way. My aunts, uncles and cousins were like, for whatever reason, you were always in the kitchen…I just think it’s because I was a fat kid…I just wanted to be in the kitchen,” he continues.
His rise to culinary acclaim is no coincidence. From his first kitchen job at a hot wing joint in Memphis, where he met his business-savvy wife, or his studies at the Scottsdale Community College culinary program in Arizona, Collier has mastered the art of cultivating his destiny, and The Yolk is his latest proof. It was formerly located in neighboring Rock Hill. The decision to move The Yolk to 7th Street Market was necessary for the Colliers’ mission to cultivate an environment that celebrates the benefits of a farm-to-table restaurant experience.
For Chef Collier, it is important that his ideas are just as fresh as his ingredients. “We actually cook everything from scratch,” he says. “There aren’t any cans in the restaurant,” and his reasoning is simple: “I wanted to use everything local. I just felt like if we can support local businesses and have an ecosystem from the farm to what we were cooking, not only would my food be better, but I would be able to use different products and have a different game.”
When he steps into the kitchen, he operates with the same level of precision as an artist; the only difference is being his canvas. “We try to find a way to use everything…I don’t think that thought process goes into a lot of breakfast restaurants…The specials we do on the weekends, there might be grits and there might be eggs, but I don’t even look at them like breakfast. Like the pancake dishes that we do or the waffle dishes we do, we look at them like desserts. So when we put stuff together, we’re putting flavors and concepts together versus saying, what kind of pancake can I do? What kind of waffle can I do?”
His attention to detail is not only intentional, but also reflective of his penchant for nostalgia. One of his most popular dishes, the 2 If By Land, is the perfect example. “This place called Crystals (in Memphis) had a scrambler. It’s like a cheap Styrofoam cup with grits, cheese, egg and meat on top. I could not go to work without eating this.” His version, a cast iron full of yellow and white corn grits with cheddar cheese, a choice of bacon, sausage or ham and two local, free-range eggs on top pays homage to both his grandmother and his culinary journey. He continues by saying, “All the food that I cook puts me in a place, and I’ve been trying to see if I could get somebody else to be in a similar place, wherever that is.”
The Yolk may be the new kid on the block, but Greg and Subrina Collier are confident. In awe of her husband’s creativity, Subrina says their food is “going to make you feel about breakfast the same way you feel about dinner,” and to that Charlotte says, challenge accepted.
Food Photo by Shawn Cetrone