Featured chef: Andrew Ruiz of Joey Gerard's Mequon
For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
It's been a year since Bartolotta Restaurant Group took the unusual step of opening two restaurants with the same name and concept, more or less simultaneously, in two vastly different Milwaukee suburbs.
How would Joey Gerard's recreate the classic Wisconsin supper club experience in a way that would suit clientele in both Mequon and Greendale?
When the restaurants opened, we talked to Greendale chef Joe Schreiter about Joey Gerard's and now, 12 months on, we've taken our chef profile series up to the North Shore to ask Joey Gerard's Mequon chef Andrew Ruiz about how the restaurants are doing, how the concept is faring and about some of his favorite things.
OnMilwaukee.com: What kind of experience and training brought you to your current position?
Andrew Ruiz: I've been with the Bartolotta Restaurants for 11 years now. I opened Bacchus and The Rumpus Room. I know the culture and the high standards that Joe (Bartolotta) sets forth. When this opportunity presented itself, I was eager to be part of it. The Joey's concept is exciting because it's our interpretation of something very classically Wisconsin.
OMC: Tell me a bit about how the two Joey Gerard's restaurants are progressing. They opened more or less the same, but have they diverged a bit to satisfy differing tastes in Mequon and Greendale?
AR: The two Joey's are progressing very well. A few menu tweaks here and there, but essentially the same as when we opened. It's interesting to see the differences in what the clientele orders at the two restaurants. On a typical Friday night, Greendale will sell twice as many fish fries as Mequon!
OMC: Is there a lot of collaboration between the two restaurants?
AR: Absolutely. Joe Schreiter and I, as well as Adam Siegel, are in constant communication. We share line cooks. We help each other cover shifts when we have exceptionally busy nights. We try to spend time in each other's kitchens when we can. It's imperative that the two restaurants mirror each other as much as possible. We use the same raw product and the same recipes and techniques for everything.
OMC: Will you and Joe work together in the future when it comes time to "freshen up" the menus or is that something you'll each do separately?
AR: We work together, alongside Adam when it comes time for menu changes. Joe B. has plenty of input as well. We want to stay true to the concept, keep it familiar for the guests.
OMC: Has everyone gotten used to those new Josper charcoal ovens that the two Joey Gerard's places opened with?
AR: We have! When we first got them, our first inclination was to run those suckers at full bore. The hotter the better! We quickly realized that we needed to run them a bit cooler to get the results we wanted. At a lower temperature, the meat takes on a wonderful smokiness from the coal and the perfect amount of charring occurs.
OMC: What are your favorite places to eat out in Milwaukee?
AR: Unfortunately, I don't really find the time to eat out regularly. The last great meal I had was at Wolf Peach. It really was exceptional, every single course. Dan (Jacobs) and his crew do a great job. Also, whenever I can find a reason to go anywhere near Tosa, I stop at Rocket Baby. I haven't eaten anything there that wasn't delicious.
OMC: Is there a chef in town whose work you especially admire?
AR: That's a tough question ... beyond our group of very talented chefs, there are a lot of very inspiring, talented chefs working these days: Dan Van Rite, Justin Carlisle, Dan Jacobs, Justin Aprahamian, Peggy Magister, Jarvis Williams, to name a few. All of these chefs are doing exceptional work.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook?
AR: "Larousse Gastronomique." It's a great, vast encyclopedia of information and sound technique. A wonderful reference guide.
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef?
AR: I don't watch cooking shows much at all. Of the shows I've seen, I'd have to say I enjoy Alton Brown. He breaks things down in a fun, interesting and comprehensible way.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?
AR: I'd have to say the biggest development would be the guests' awareness. Diners are much more savvy these days. More informed and willing to try new things.
OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?
AR: The Josper, of course! Just kidding ... Right now, I'd have to say a good, tight pair of tongs.
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
AR: I think the whole "local" thing will continue to evolve. Hopefully to a point where it's sustainable, profitable and consistent. I see restaurants continuing to be more casual and less expensive with equal emphasis on the food and beverage program. There's such an awareness right now of good food and drink. It's not just a luxury to dine out, it's a lifestyle.
OMC: What's the toughest day / night to work in the restaurant biz?
AR: I'd have to say Sunday. You're coming off a busy weekend. Motivation may be a bit low and it can go either way. You're going to be really busy or it's going to be really slow.
OMC: You were recently quoted in anOnMilwaukee.com story about LobsterFest, are you a big seafood fan?
AR: I am! I had to run over to Harbor House recently to get something, which turned into an impromptu oyster tasting with Zach Espinosa. It was awesome to have him explain each one, to eat them plain and see the subtle – and not so subtle – differences in each one. He's extremely passionate and knowledgeable. Beautiful, incredibly fresh, simply prepared seafood can't be beat.
OMC: What's your guilty dining pleasure?
AW: Nachos! Not fake cheese, gas station nachos. Simple, good tortilla chips, Jack cheese, black olives and pickled jalapeños. Comfort food, if you will.
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