Chef Scott Pampuch: In search of local food in Milwaukee
There's someone new on staff at Milwaukee's award-winning Iron Horse Hotel – and he's no small player.
Acclaimed Minnesota Chef Scott Pampuch has been hired to work with the hotel's culinary team and front-of-the-house staff to oversee all food and beverage operations for Smyth, Branded bar, the 450-seat outdoor venue known as The Yard and all hotel banquets and special events. Pampuch will also oversee operations for Stack'd Burger Bar as well as Dixon Development's new hotel and culinary concepts.
Founder of the acclaimed Corner Table restaurant in the Twin Cities, Pampuch (pronounced "pam-poo") plans to bring his passion for fresh seasonal ingredients and simple Midwest cuisine to the thousands of guests that frequent The Iron Horse Hotel annually. He was voted one of Minnesota's 25 top chefs by his peers and is the creator of Tour de Farm Minnesota, a dinner series that celebrates local farmers and food artisans who cultivate their harvest.
A locavore and food advocate at heart, Pampuch describes his cooking as simple, straightforward and seasonal, and a reflection of local agriculture.
To that end, Pampuch teaches cooking classes that range from pig butchery to seasonal vegetarian dishes, all with an emphasis on technique, rather than following recipes. He has also been sharing his musings on food and farms as the new host of Ovation's "In Search of Food."
Episodes have included preparing a raw, vegan and gluten-free meal for musician and avocado farmer Jason Mraz and lunch for 300 hungry middle-school students, using healthful ingredients, within a strict time limit and a school board-approved budget of $1.15 per child.
Since Pampuch is brand new to the Milwaukee scene, I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know him a bit better. So, we sat down for a chat at Branded, and he told me a bit about his food philosophies, his career as a chef and television personality, and his vision for food in Milwaukee.
OnMilwaukee.com: What's the biggest thing you've learned from teaching classes?
Scott Pampuch: That I still have a lot to learn. (laughs) I'm a social person. I love sitting with people and seeing moments happen. I love being able to teach people, help people. I'm in the hospitality industry ... that's what we do. The most popular class I've ever done is the whole hog butchering course. But, really, who is going to butcher their own hog in their home?
OMC: What's your favorite class to teach?
SP: A chicken class. No one wants to pay attention to chicken. Everyone thinks that it's ordinary. If you go into a restaurant and order chicken, and it's really good – everything on the menu is going to be really good. Because they're paying attention.
The fact is, chicken is brilliant. You can roast a chicken for $10. Roast two chickens on Sunday. You have dinner. You have sandwiches. You have pasta. You have cold snacks at midnight.
OMC: What would you say to someone who is completely intimidated in the kitchen?
SP: What do you do if you don't know how to drive? You learn. Teach yourself. Find a book. Start reading. Go on the Google box; you'll find lots of videos that teach you how to make things. Take a class.
If you have a fear of being creative, then it's a matter of trying to understand what a recipe is. If you learn how to cook by following a recipe, you may not be learning how to cook. You're learning how to follow a recipe. Go to a cooking class that teaches you techniques.
Where's the technique? What ingredients are interpreted? Pesto is a technique. Risotto is a technique. You can make risotto with potatoes, or with different types of rice. You like pasta? Go get a book that shows you how to make pasta ... that tells you why the flour affects the texture of your recipe. Learn all you can. Ask other people. No one becomes a ballroom dancer without dancing lessons.
OMC: Who did you learn from? Who have been your major influences in the kitchen?
SP: James Beard, Julia Child, Alice Waters, David Chang ... Also currently Jonathon Waxman, Joe Salatin, Michael Pollan ...
OMC: You've been very involved in the local food movement for the past 20 years or so. What's one of the most important things you've learned?
SP: There's a parallel between the economic situation in our country and food. The perception is that the "haves" can afford great food, and the "have nots" are forced to live with a mediocre product. But, I would say that everyone has a choice in how they eat and the foods they choose. If you make food a priority, you can ... Again, you can roast a chicken and get multiple meals for $10. But, we think nothing about spending $3-4 a day on cups of coffee.
People should know how to cook. Why are we wasting our money on food that doesn't make us feel good? Our industrial food system... we're better than anybody. We feed a lot of people. But, we should be using our knowledge and efficiencies to start providing higher quality food.
To do that, people need to realize that they, as individuals, can make a difference. For instance, I want to have one day and it's going to be 'buy butter day' – if you buy local butter on that one day, and make a commitment to buy only local butter ... if that happens, we would change the face of most dairies. If the demand was there, if people went to your grocery store and bought local butter, that changes the way that grocery store buys. Start draining the shelves of our grocery stores of local butter as soon as it comes in. That makes a change. I'm really excited about tapping into the local food community here in Milwaukee. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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