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Up-And-Coming Chefs Evy Swoboda, Dakota Williams Discuss Life In The Kitchen, Love For Industry

Dakota Williams (at left) and Evy Swoboda, both in their 20s, have each made their mark on the St. Louis restaurant scene.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Twenty-four-year-old Dakota Williams has quickly worked his way up to a sought-after position – executive sous chef – at one of St. Louis’ top-notch restaurants. But the primary reason Williams gives for his choice of career isn’t all that sophisticated.

“I’m constantly hungry, so I knew when I was younger that I would have to find a job that I could eat at, because when I get angry it’s all because of hunger,” the Sardella standout told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh in a conversation that aired Monday. “And everybody knows that at work, so they just know to feed me.”

One of seven young professionals selected by Sauce magazine as this year’s “Ones to Watch,” Williams shared his journey from starting out at McDonald’s to working with celebrated restaurateur Gerard Craft. Fellow up-and-comer and Niche Food Group colleague Evy Swobody also joined the discussion, as did Sauce managing editor Heather Hughes.

“Every year brings up this question of: How do you predict who is going to make it – what does it take in a professional that you can see when they’re in their early 20s?” Hughes said.

She indicated that narrowing down the magazine’s top picks among the regions many chefs, bartenders and other industry professionals is no easy task, with Hughes and other Sauce staff regularly talking with restaurateurs, chefs and business owners about their observations as well.

“It doesn’t just take talent, and it doesn’t just take being a hard worker … it takes this sort of drive, and we end up talking a lot about personality in making this list,” Hughes added. “So it’s a tough choice every year.”

Like Williams, Swoboda discovered a love for the food industry early in life. One of Sauce’s 2018 picks for “Ones to Watch,” she is now executive chef for the Last Kitchen & Bar, set to open later this year at the forthcoming Last Hotel.

“I’ve always liked to cook – my whole life, since I was very small … it was kind of a creative way to express myself at home,” Swoboda said.

After high school she continued her education “for a little bit” since her father wanted her to, but she also got busy working in the food industry, where she’ mostly learned by doing – and by reading a lot and watching those around her.

“I kind of just pushed myself into the first kitchen,” Swoboda said. “I moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, and then from there I just built a relationship with the chef, and it’s a very small world.”

She and Williams crossed paths themselves as Pastaria in recent years.

Read more about Sauce’s “Ones to Watch” on the magazine’s website, and listen to the full on-air conversation here:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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