Recently, I heard from Kyle Cherek – which was a delight since we have a big common interest — finding out more about the Wisconsin food we eat.
If his name isn’t ringing a bell – it should. He’s the host and producer of Wisconsin Foodie, the Emmy-nominated weekly television program “dedicated to educating, entertaining and connecting the community to the engaging stories and people behind their food.” Wisconsin Public Television began broadcasting its fifth season of the show in October 2012.
Not only that, but he’s a regular for Milwaukee Magazine, with his video blog, Chef Talk, and pens his thoughts in his Amuse Bouche blog. He’s been featured on the Travel Channel’s Food Wars, and regularly hosts culinary events, like the Kohler Food and Wine Experience, among others.
To sum it up: Kyle Cherek knows food. More specifically, Wisconsin food. And Wisconsin Chefs. And…and…and…
So, I asked him he’d have time for a little interview with Wisconsin Bites and he graciously agreed. The following is a little insight into what Kyle knows about food after five WF seasons and a lifetime of loving food. If you haven’t checked out Wisconsin Foodie, find the schedule here or just take it easy on yourself and live stream any episode.
WB: What’s the oddest place you’ve ever had to film or interview?
KC: Lakeview Bison Farm in -20 degree weather. The snow drifts were so high on the 8-foot fence line that Al, the farmer, had said they had to shovel them back, lest the half-ton bison leap over the fence! It’s a bucolic farm in the summer; why we picked that day in the deepest cold of winter, I will never know.
WB: What was your best behind-the-scenes experience filming the show?
KC: Jacques Pepin asking me to leave the Bacchus dining room during lunch. He asked if I was a chef, which I humbly replied I was not. He was on a book tour and Adam Siegel, the Executive Chef of Bartolotta, is a friend so they had arranged a book signing, a little talk for Jacques and lunch – just for area chefs at Bacchus.
We filmed a segment and he could not have been more gracious. But when it came to lunch – that was just for chefs, so I ate my meal at the Bacchus bar. Having one of the 3 pillars of America’s culinary 20th century tradition ask you to eat at the bar because you are not a chef, is the best way anyone in my line of work could be asked to leave a room.
WB: What has been your biggest “a ha!” or learning about a food or its process?
KC: I was shocked how many chefs don’t know how to break down the animals they cook, even from the primals. I grew up in an agrarian setting, and so these skills were just sort of around. I am, of course, aware of many eaters’ disconnection from their food, but I had naively thought more butchery was taught in culinary schools.
WB: What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever tried?
KC: Whitefish livers — though it wasn’t all that weird for me, perhaps because it is a Wisconsin and Great Lakes tradition. When we shot 2 Wisconsin Foodie episodes in Bayfield, you really have to have them. I never really pined for cow liver as a kid, and Whitefish livers are similar enough. Frying helps, but it’s still liver.
WB: What Wisconsin food would you eat daily, if you could?
KC: Purple Door Ice Cream. There are too many favorite flavors to list. By the way, who says I don’t?
WB: Is there a Wisconsin food artisan out there who’s blown you away with new methods or ingenuity (and, of course, taste)?
KC: We’ve got a lot of amazing food craftsmen and women in Wisconsin. More, I would argue, than perhaps any other state. Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy, for his incredible cheeses, and his ability to risk failure while pushing the envelope to what might be really great and new. And Frank Jakubczak of European Homemade Sausage would be two of my favorites. Frank’s life work, beyond his family, is making artisan sausage. To him it is not artisan, just the only way he knows how to do it. Working next to him and shooting Wisconsin Foodie in his shop was a high honor.
WB: What’s the best food insight that’s come to you out of your Chef Talk interviews?
KC: Well, perhaps oddly, Chef Talk with Kyle Cherek is not about “food,” per se. I want to give my viewers a perspective into the chef’s heads, what formed them and motivates them and how all of that invenerates their cooking. The whole series was spawned out of the conversations I would grab with them during service, when I came into their restaurants for dinner, or afterward when we were both having a drink. I thought the public should hear some of these quips, too, and the chefs deserve a platform.
WB: If you could get back one of Wisconsin’s chef exports, who would it be (and why)?
KC: I wish Michael White would do something back in Wisconsin. He is a student of Paul Bartolotta, and so Milwaukee is out of the question, but I think Madison or even Door County might support the level that Chef White cooks at. He’s from Beloit. Perhaps a hometown spot that could draw off some Chicago diners as well.
WB: Lastly, name 3 foods or trends that you’re loving right now.
- The health demystifying of molecular cooking. It’s just science, people. Some are better at it than others. Just like grade school.
- The ascendancy of lamb. I think it has the power to tear pork’s hold from American palettes, or at least loosen a few fingers on the grip.
- The Food Democracy Now movement. It is this generation’s Silent Spring in many ways, and has the lovely potential of pairing Left Wing Hippie Farmers ad Brooks Brother’s suited Libertarians together on the same cause. How can you not like that?
Thank you, Kyle, for giving something extra to WB readers! For more Kyle food knowledge, watch Wisconsin Foodie tomorrow (Saturday, June 22) at 5 pm, as the show visits Willow Creek Farms. Or watch for him live at Milwaukee’s Purple Door Ice Cream! :)
Have a good weekend, everyone!