Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Got on a Midwest Airlines flight (yes, they still serve warm chocolate chip cookies mid-flight) last week and flew to Milwaukee.  I was invited by the Bartolotta Restaurant Group to cook for a "Friends of James Beard" dinner event.  The James Beard (jamesbeard.org) dinner was held at Bacchus Restaurant on Wednesday, October 21st.  The chefs cooking were myself, Stephanie Izard (Top Chef season 4), Adam Seigel (bio), Sandy D'Amato (restaurant), Juan Urbieta (bio), Master Pastry Chef Sebastien Canonne M.O.F., and the world famous Paul Bartolotta (link) - who is my new hero by the way.  Allan Carter of Domaine Serene Winery in Oregon served as the representative for the winery and donated all the wines.  Representing the James Beard Foundation in New York was Vice President Mitchell Davis.  The money raised went tot the James Beard Foundation, and a special culinary scholarship - the T.J. Bartolotta Scholarship, for a Wisconsin resident.

Before hitting the kitchen and getting busy, Bartolotta director of operations, John Wise, took me and Sheila Lucero (Jax Denver head chef) to a little place called Solly's.  It was there that I experienced my first (and hopefully last for a while...) "butterburger".  This vertical heartstopper consisted of a bun, some mayonnaise-based dressing, butter-braised onions, a beef patty, bacon, cheddar, and a massive dollop of butter.  It was the most caloric bite of food i've had in ages.  After that was a stop at Copp's diner for some frozen custard - another Wisconsin favorite.  Then it was off to Sprecher Brewing Company for some of Wisconsin's finest handcrafted beers and (YES!!) root beer.  We followed up the two plus hours of drinking ("sampling") with a tour of the local spice shop and then the cheese market.  The cheese here is no joke.  I had a cheddar flight and it was AWESOME!  I am starting to gain new respect for the cheeseheads.  Done?  NOPE!  We finally checked into the iron horse hotel (where they feature a massive flag made entirely of blue jeans) and threw our bags down.  Prepped for a few hours and then went out to eat (yes, more food...)  John brought us to each of the Bartolotta outposts in the city and the chefs threw down for us big time.

The dinner on Thursday went really really well.  First course was my king salmon with porcini, pear and celery root.  Next, Paul and Juan served up crepes with Italian alpine cheeses and tons of fresh white truffles.  Steph followed up with scallops, smoked goat, greens, and huckleberry.  Then it was Sandy's squab borscht and pierogi.  Last course was Sebastien's amazing dessert which I can't spell or pronounce but amazing nonetheless.  The most incredible part about the dinner was how organized and serious the entire staff was.  They even had a closed circuit TV system in the restaurant showing the diners every move of the kitchen crew.  There was a little ceremony afterwards and they presented each of the chefs with a HARLEY DAVIDSON JACKET!  Now I need to get a bike to match the leather.  We all retired to the basement where Adam and the rest of the crew put together a fantastic family meal.  We ate, drank, and listened to Paul tell the funniest stories about anything and everything.  Then it was time to hit the casino....  I don't need to go into more detail, but suffice to say it was a wonderfully fantastic experience.

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