From behind the counter at the tiny cafe inside the Moorer YMCA in downtown Mobile, Garrick Ogburn responds to a customer's request for something sweet.
"You like pineapple?" he asks.
"Give me a second. I love making this!"
He rushes back into his kitchen, grabbing this and that. For a few moments, he's out of view behind the stove. The jazzy soundtrack he's been playing fades as the blending noise of one of his favorite kitchen gadgets, an immersion circulator, takes its place.
He emerges with a plastic cup filled with something yellow and creamy and hands it to the customer.
"This is pineapple sorbet from my 'secret menu,'" he says with a sly smile. "Wanna know what's in it? Pineapples! That's it!"
The icy, smooth concoction of pure pineapple soon disappears. This guy is equal parts mad scientist, magician and artist when it comes to food. And everything he makes is as delicious as it is fresh and healthy.
In September, Ogburn opened Nourish Cafe, which serves lunch only, five days a week, at the Y. He's a one-man show, doing it all - from taking the orders to preparing the often stunning-looking food to serving it with a smile and a kind word.
Though it's extremely casual - most of his customers are clad in exercise wear, with yoga mats slung over their shoulders - he is always dressed in a chef's coat and an apron.
Ogburn is in his element at Nourish. "This is what I wanted: a built-in clientele, in downtown Mobile."
Unless you're a YMCA member, it's not the easiest place to find. But you don't have to be a member to eat at Nourish. The cafe is located upstairs to the right of the main entrance, just past the locker rooms. Many customers take their lunch with them after they work out, but there are also a handful of tables looking out on the rooftop deck over Water Street, with a view of the Mobile River.
Ogburn discovered the space when his wife, Alison Herlihy, found out it was available. Herlihy, a Mobile lawyer, also teaches yoga classes at the Y. "He has really found his niche with the concept at the Y," she says. "He's probably more professionally excited than he has ever been."
After cooking for others for 25 years, Ogburn jumped at the chance to "spread my wings and do healthy food the way I want to do it," with a minimal investment.
'You shouldn't hate your food'
When he was growing up in Austin, Texas - where, he says with a laugh, he can remember shopping at the original, 1,100-square-foot Whole Foods store - he remembers watching chefs Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on Saturday mornings.
He graduated from Austin's Texas Culinary Academy, which trains chefs in the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu programs. After working in kitchens in Colorado and Virginia, he knew he didn't like snow. So when an opportunity came up for him to do his apprenticeship at Fairhope Inn and Restaurant near Mobile Bay, the Alabama Gulf Coast's climate sounded ideal.
When his two months in Fairhope were over, he heard that the Battle House was taking applications for its re-opening. He landed a job in banquets and spent a few years working long hours at both Retirement Systems of Alabama hotels, the Battle House and the Riverview Plaza, on Royal Street in downtown Mobile.
"I like hotels," he says. "I've worked in a few" - including the Omni Hotel Austin and the Four Seasons Hotel Houston. In the process, he worked beside one of Dallas's most famous chefs, the James Beard Award-winning Stephan Pyle who's known as a founder of New Texas cuisine.
He recently spent a year working as a cheese specialist at the then-new Sunset Pointe Publix in Mobile. He has also worked as a chef/instructor at Virginia College.
But he has found his groove in the small kitchen tucked into a corner of the YMCA. "It's like a New York apartment," he jokes, showing off the space. Near the sink is a pile of fresh beets and rutabagas from Loxley, as well as some lovely green micro-sprouts, which are "going on avocado toast and egg salad sandwiches."
In culinary school, the study of nutrition fascinated him. "My takeaway was that a balanced, varied, moderate diet is the only sustainable standard," he says. His philosophy is reflected in a quote from Michael Pollan on one of the tables at Nourish: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
As important as it is to him to eat a healthy mix of foods every day, food should taste good, he says. "You shouldn't hate your food."
Everything he serves at the cafe, including his own fresh-baked sourdough bread, is homemade. "My focus has always been on doing it myself," he said. "I'm fortunate that the restaurants I went through were from-scratch places."
The menu at Nourish has a few staples, like beautiful salads with homemade dressings, tasty smoothies and a popular kale-stuffed baked sweet potato with hemp heart cream sauce and smoky coconut "bacon," but Ogburn switches things up weekly and loves to experiment with new offerings. His menu is printed on a dry-erase board near the counter.
"I want it to be a place where people could eat every day if they wanted to," he said.
His creations are served on paper plates and in plastic to-go containers, but they're always artfully arranged and prepared with remarkable efficiency.
"A lot of my menu comes from customer suggestions. If you give me the inspiration for what you want, I can probably make it happen."
In the future, he would like to add grab-and-go meals that customers can take home for dinner. He also envisions offering some cooking classes.
When a customer asks about an item on the menu, the golden milk latte, Ogburn runs back into the kitchen again. "Let me make you one!" he says. "If I start talking about food, I've got to do it."
The loud blender sound fills the air again as he creates the foamy, fluffy concoction.
Nourish Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It's located inside the Moorer YMCA at 101 N. Water St. in downtown Mobile. For more information, follow Nourish Cafe on Facebook.