Frakes' food mixes innovation with The Pfister's rich history
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For years, Chef Brian Frakes said he would move back to Milwaukee under one condition: if he was offered the position of executive chef at The Pfister Hotel.
"It was The Pfister Hotel or nothing," says Frakes.
In 2006, the opportunity presented itself and Frakes returned to Brew City.
Born in Milwaukee, Frakes moved to Florida when he was 12 years old because his father got a job there. He later graduated from Florida State University with a degree in psychology, but his true calling was in the kitchen.
Frakes started working in the food industry as a teen. Originally, his dad got him a job with drywallers on a construction site but he quickly realized he wanted to work somewhere else.
"My friend had a job at a chicken wing restaurant and he was making 25 cents more an hour, got free food and soda and worked around pretty girls. It was a no-brainer. I got a job there as a dishwasher," he says.
Within a year, Frakes was the "head wingman" and was already in love with back-of-the-house culture.
"I cooked my way through college and worked for some very talented chefs," he says. "I started to realize maybe I could make a living doing this."
Frakes went on to work at Boca Raton Resort and Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., for 11 years and then the London West Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, Calif., which is where he was working when he heard about the open executive chef position at The Pfister.
"I was always proud to be from Milwaukee and said I would move back if I could be the chef at The Pfister," says Frakes. "It was a cool way to move back home."
Frakes was attracted to The Pfister's history, commitment to quality and clear vision of the future.
"The Pfister is the Waldorf Astoria of the Midwest," he says.
As the executive chef, Frakes is responsible for all of the food offerings at the Cafe at The Pfister, barista / patisserie counter, Lobby Lounge, Sunday brunch in the Rouge Ballroom, 24-hour in-room dining, banquet hall, employee dining room, VIP club lounge and Blu.
Frakes opened Mason Street Grill, but the restaurant now has its own executive chef, Mark Weber.
Recently, Frakes introduced a new menu at the cafe which focuses on sandwiches, salads, soups, sharable starters and quick-bite desserts. Most of the items are under $12.
Sandwich highlights include the firecracker guacamole burger, topped with deep-fried jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, avocado and chorizo.
"It sounds like it would be incredibly spicy, but it is not. It has a bold Southwestern flavor," says Frakes.
The Jefferson Street burger – a combination burger and rueben sandwich – and the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich are also new to the menu.
All of the sandwiches are served with what Frakes calls a "grocery pick" featuring a pepperoncini, castelvetrano olives, cherry tomato and pickle chunk.
Non-meat eaters will appreciate the new veggie wrap made with grilled portabella, pickled red onion, arugula, roasted peppers, garlic herb goat cheese and balsamic dressing.
The most decadent new menu item is The Memphis, a deep-fried croissant served with homemade maple bacon ice cream, grilled banana and peanut sauce.
"It's ridiculously delicious," says Frakes. "Elvis would have loved it."
Frakes says he wanted to create more sharable appetizers with this new menu and consequently came up with "fancy versions" of various classic chips-and-dip combinations including house-made "Doritos" served with pico de gallo and guacamole.
There's also a lemon garlic hummus – which is vegan – that comes with fried lavosh shards, garlic Parmesan truffle potato chips and a Bavarian pretzel.
"We have the only true Bavarian pretzel in the state of Wisconsin," says Frakes.
The pretzel, made by the Milwaukee Pretzel Company, is a large, chewy pretzel served on a wooden stand made by The Pfister engineering department. It comes with a nine-grain mustard butter.
"Nacho cheese sauce does not go anywhere near this pretzel," says Frakes.
The menu has a new approach to dessert eating. Instead of large pieces of cake or pie, $3 "shooters" are available.
"People want to eat a great lunch, have a little something sweet and get back to work," says Frakes.
Hence, the shooters – available as grasshopper pie mousse, a non-alcoholic brandy Alexander or key lime pie – are served in small glasses and described as "edible shots."
"We're ahead of the trends. We have been for 120 years. When we look into our menu concepts we don't want to do what everyone else does. We do what's right for The Pfister," says Frakes. "We're proud of that and in being true to ourselves we're usually ahead of the trends."
In the eight years he has been back in Milwaukee, Frakes says the city's food offerings have grown exponentially.
"There are James Beard Award-winning chefs in this city. Many of them are my friends and I am impressed by what they are doing in their restaurants on a daily basis," he says.
Frakes lives on the East Side with his wife, Gina, and two daughters, ages 5 and 6. He likes to cook and grill for his family on his days off, but shares his kitchen with another terrific chef.
"I like to get in the kitchen on Sundays and whip something up, but I always say I'm the second best cook in my house. My wife is a wonderful cook. She impresses me all the time," he says.
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