300: Foraging helps campus executive chef mix passions

Lisette Oler

Editor’s note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold.

Every summer in the ’60s, Robert Mayberry and his five siblings would get their tents ready and head to the Guadalupe River, where they spent one month living off the land. 

Decades later, Mayberry, now the campus executive chef, attributes his love of foraging, or gathering fruits and nuts, to those childhood camping trips. 

“My mother loved the outdoors, trees and plants,” Mayberry said. “[She] was always teaching me about the natural world around me and because I like food, I’m always fascinated with that.”

Foraging is one half of his life and cooking is the other. Growing up, his mother taught him how to make southern-style food, and his father taught him Tex-Mex. He started with pancakes, moving up to cooking supper for his family as his mom graded papers on the couch. Today, he oversees the production and retail locations on campus and prepares recipes for the cultural dinners at J2 and Kinsolving.

“I didn’t know I wanted to be a cook until my late twenties, but I started cooking when I was a kid,” Mayberry said.

After he graduated high school, he worked at a bakery before attending the California Culinary Academy in 1986.

“During that time, I was reassessing my life and career,” Mayberry said. “You get to be about 28 and you start to realize your own mortalitiy. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a chef.”

Although today Mayberry doesn’t prepare food as part of his job, when he does cook, he likes to mix his two passions, incorporating wild edibles into dishes. His next project: creating a dish with a boar he shot himself and a prickly pear he picked from his neighbor’s yard.

“I have to do a little research to develop recipes,” Mayberry said. “That’s when I really enjoy my job.”