John Mabry | Conservatory by Vicari | Corinth
by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace
Raised in Savannah, Tennessee, John Mabry attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville. After graduation he went to the Waldorf Astoria New York, where he decided he should get his culinary degree. He went to France for culinary school, and when he came back to the States, he worked with a slew of hotels, restaurants and special event companies.
About 10 years ago, he moved to Corinth to take care of his mom.
“I said, ‘Well, this is the only thing I know,’” Mabry said.
He opened Vicari Italian Grill, and in October 2020, he opened Conservatory by Vicari kind of as an extension.
“Conservatory is kind of paired with Gingers’ downstairs, if you’re shopping, come up and have lunch or brunch or whatever,” he said. “It’s open at night, it’s a wine bar with small plates.”
Mabry crafted a menu to offer unique twists on staples: Like duck wings instead of chicken and fried fresh pasta instead of standard potato chips. Mabry said Conservatory also serves as an ideal special event venue, perfect for receptions and bridal luncheons.
Can customers expect any seasonal or rotating changes to the Conservatory’s menu?
You know, it’s so new, I haven’t decided. In the big restaurant, in Vicari, we do a lot of seasonal items. The menu changes every six months. But here, I haven’t gotten the feel for it yet to know. I’m just going to let it play out and be what it is and do what it does.
Biggest tips for folks at home?
Stay away from the cookbooks. I mean, let the cookbook be a guide, but give in, just enjoy yourself, and don’t stress about it. Just enjoy – cooking should be enjoyable. If it’s not enjoyable, don’t do it. Go here. Cooking is not rocket science. Now, baking is rocket science – I don’t like to bake. But cooking, really, and grilling and sautéing and sauces – just enjoy yourself.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
At lunchtime Créme Brûlée French toast. The beef tenderloin sliders are really good, too. At night, I like the duck wings and the crab dip – oh, and the tuna sashimi, too. You can’t ask me, I like everything. If I don’t like it, it’s not on the menu.
When you’re home, what do you make?
I do southern, because I grew up in the South. So if I’m cooking at home, it’s probably fried chicken and green beans and mashed potatoes and cream-style corn and biscuits and gravy. I mean, I go total southern on comfort food.
What’s your favorite ingredient or flavor profile?
90% of the time, garlic, salt and black pepper. Now, at the bigger restaurant there are some seasonings that are house blends.
Keep it simple. Let the asparagus taste like asparagus, let the tomatoes taste like tomatoes. They need to be seasoned – everything needs to be seasoned – but we get into so much over seasoning or over whatever, that you sometimes lose the beauty of whatever it is you’re having.
What’s your least favorite?
The two things on the planet I don’t eat: Rosemary and salmon. Rosemary tastes like I’ve sprayed perfume in my mouth; and salmon, I can make you salmon anyway you want it.
I can’t do it. That’s the only two things on the planet that I won’t eat. Salmon and rosemary. Everything else I eat, and I mean strange stuff – really strange stuff. But those two, I’m out.
So you don’t like cookbooks, but what’s your favorite resource?
Some of the things on the Cooking Channel, just to see what they’re doing that are fun. I eat at a lot of different restaurants in different cities to see what people are doing, what’s cutting edge. And then I have really great food brokers, so they’re coming to me going, ‘I’ve got pheasant right now, would you like some pheasant?’ or, ‘I have elk, have watermelon radishes – do you want to do something with them?’