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In Dining

At Hinterland, Andouille crusted seafood with red hot butter sauce is Van Rite's signature item on a menu that changes daily.

In Dining

Crazy Water's Peggy Magister does casual comfort food with a fine dining twist.

Wisconsin cooks up Beard Award nominations


If you want expert confirmation that Wisconsin's culinary scene is moving in the right direction, the James Beard Award is your answer.

In the last four years, we've gone from solely one nomination in 2007 to six nominations in 2010. In 2008, Adam Seigel of Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro took the title of "Best Midwest Chef" and this year, four Wisconsin based chef's are vying for the opportunity to be named the best of the best once again. In a category encompassing the industry in eight Midwestern states, Wisconsin makes one of the strongest showings with four nominees.

So for anyone doubting that Wiscosinites know how to cook, and cook well, here's the backing to prove them wrong.

The James Beard Foundation Award, named after chef and food writer James Beard, is the top honor for chefs, restaurants, restaurateurs and food writers in the United States.

To be nominated is in itself a honor and we should be proud of what Wisconsin's earned thus far. This year's nominees for "Best Midwest Chef" include Milwaukeeans Chef Peggy Magister of Crazy Water and Chef Dan Van Rite of Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, Madison's Chef Nicholas Johnson of Restaurant Magnus and Chef Jim Webster of Wild Rice in Bayfield.

In addition, Sanford Restaurant recieved a nomination for "Outstanding Restaurant" and Chef de cuisine Justin Aprahamian is up for "Rising Star Chef of the Year," an award reserved for chefs under 30 years old.

The finalists will be announced on March 22 and then awarded on May 2. In the meantime, here's a closer look at Wisconsin's 2010 James Beard Award nominees.

Chef: Dan Van Rite
Restaurant: Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, 222. E. Erie St.
Nomination: Best Midwest Chef.
Hometown: Green Bay.
Culinary school: Western Culinary School in Portland, Ore. (now Le Cordon Bleu).
Previous experience: Van Rite has worked in restaurants in Oregon, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota as well as the original Hinterland in Green Bay and The Whistling Swan in Fish Creek.
Menu style: At Hinterland, Van Rite creates a daily changing menu featuring sustainably grown produce, wild game, seafood and meat. The restaurant, which doubles as a brewery, also focuses on incorporating beer into fine dining food.
Signature menu item: Andouille crusted seafood served over a hash of bacon, peppers, fingerling potatoes with red hot butter sauce.
Culinary approach: "My culinary approach is to get the best products available and let them speak for themselves. I have a fondness for farm raised game meats and fish. I also enjoy wild mushrooms and wild edibles."
Reaction to the nomination: "When I first found out I was drinking coffee and reading this New York blog that I always read. The first article was about the James Beard Awards. When I saw my name, I was shocked. It's exciting but it still doesn't change who I am. It's good to be noticed for all the work and effort I put into my profession."
National attention and local pressure: "I don't feel any extra pressure with the nomination. I try to improve every day and that's what I have always done."
Wisconsin's nominations: "Having five nominations in Wisconsin is awesome. It shows that we have really talented chefs."

Chef: Justin Aprahamian
Current restaurant: Sanford, 1547 N. Jackson St.
Nomination: Rising Star Chef of the Year and Sanford is nominated as Outstanding Restaurant.
Hometown: New Berlin.
Culinary school: Waukesha Area Technical College.
Previous experience: Aprahamian worked locally in a café and catering business before earning a position at Sanford.
Menu style: Incorporating seasonal French, American, Continental, Mediterranean and contemporary ethnic flavors into their cuisine, Sanford serves a daily changing menu highlighted by a continuously changing "four-course seasonal menu."
Signature menu item: Starter of lamb coppa with pickled fennel and golden raisins, toasted fennel dressing.
Culinary approach: "At Sanford, we're very seasonal and very market-driven. We see what's around and let it dictate what we cook. It doesn't mean at times we don't dream up big ideas but we really get our inspiration from the ingredients."
Reaction to the nomination: "Sandy (D'Amato) told me and I didn't believe it. I found out a couple of weeks before the nominations were published and I didn't tell anyone, other than my parents, because I didn't believe it was true. I still don't necessarily believe it's true."
National attention and local pressure: "I don't really feel any additional pressure because Sanford has always had national attention. Not me, personally, but I've always felt a certain pressure working here."
Wisconsin's nominations: "Hopefully, it means we're getting some more recognition. It's tough in Milwaukee to get national attention and the nominations speak volumes about where this city is headed."
Sanford's nomination as "Outstanding Restaurant": "Outside of the food, Sanford is just very welcoming. There is a closeness with the customers; intimacy brought on by the attention to detail."

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Talkbacks

MJM | March 3, 2010 at 1:41 p.m. (report)

Congrats to all the chefs! My last meal at Hinterland was one of the best meals of my life: Taylor Bay scallops (in the shell), braised beef short ribs, with a carrot puree. I didn't want the meal to end.

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speakthetruth | March 2, 2010 at 10:08 p.m. (report)

This is great PR for Wisconsin. Hinterland and Crazy Water are both favorites. Peggy should get an award for "most amazing entrees out of the smallest restaurant kitchen" along with her Beard nomination. Hinterland never disappointed. They have taken over as my favorite spot for fish in Milwaukee--and all other menu items are equally stellar. Sanford is a special occasion place in my book, but I still love it and try to go 1-2 times each year. I was sad to see them sell Coquette, but hopefully the new owners will keep the high standards. Magnus is wonderful and always has been. I was skeptical of the new menu, but was quickly made into a convert. I'll have to try Wild Rice if I get to the northern reaches. It sounds like a stellar place.

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kwonny | March 2, 2010 at 7:58 p.m. (report)

well deserved nomination for dan from hinterland. if you've ever had the food there, its absolutely incredible. they do magic in that kitchen.

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