Featured chef: The Blind Horse's Nathan Goetsch
Nathan Goetsch of The Blind Horse Restaurant & Winery, 6018 Superior Ave. in Kohler, is young for an executive chef. But, his work history belies experience in both the front and back of the house at some of Sheboygan's best restaurants.
"This career really chose me," he says, as he reflects on the last 10 years of his career, which started with a job as a banquet server and dishwasher at Seabird Restaurant in Sheboygan.
Goetsch, who has been working in the industry since the age of 15, gained experience in management at Sheboygan's Elk's Lodge, worked in the kitchens at Bo Mallies in Plymouth and Seabird, and spent time on the line with Chef Stefano Viglietti at Trattoria Stefano and The Duke of Devon.
"My mother owned a diner in Sheboygan when I was a kid," he says. "And that's how the bug bit. She is a great cook, and I've learned a lot from her."
But, it was eating, drinking and working in restaurants that really inspired Goesch to turn over a new leaf.
"I was a picky eater growing up," he says. "But now I'll try anything."
When asked which food flipped the switch for him and got him to be more adventurous, he says it was an unbelievable experience with scallops.
"I was afraid of them and afraid of them and afraid of them," he explains. "And then I ate this pasta dish with scallops, rock shrimp, mushrooms and chorizo. I was blown away by it. And after that I thought 'everything is possible.'"
As it turns out, "everything" includes being the executive chef at The Blind Horse at the age of 24.
I sat down with Goetsch to chat about his experience as a young chef, his approach to cooking and his favorite dish at The Blind Horse.
OnMilwaukee.com: Who has been most influential for you in the kitchen? Which chefs have inspired you most?
Nathan Goetsch: Chef Marc Ehler – I worked with him at Bo Mallies and Seabird – really showed me everything about bringing color to the plate and designing and presenting dishes for the eyes.
And Chef Mike Lynn was the one who saw something in me and helped me decide my course of action with regard to my career. He saw a passion there that I didn't even really know existed.
OMC: How would you describe your style of cooking?
NG: It's constantly changing. But, color is definitely a part of everything I do. I use colorful vegetables in simple preparations. And it's all about the ingredients.
OMC: When you talk ingredients, are you generally working with locally grown produce?
NG: Yes, and no. The goal for the restaurant moving forward is to pull in more local produce, though. In fact, Restoration Farms here in town will be growing produce for the restaurant beginning this year.
OMC: You're just 24. How does it feel to be at the helm of a restaurant?
NG: Well, at times it's really surreal to sit back and see where I am… I get phone calls, and do interviews like this one, and it really hits home.
But, I couldn't do it alone. I have a kitchen full of great people – people I've worked with, who I really trust.
And it can get hectic. But, it's one day at a time.
OMC: What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself working in kitchens?
NG: I'm actually a natural leader. There's still a lot of work for me to do to develop my skills, but I'm level and calm.
Someone asked me once if I wanted to lead with fear or with love. I told them I wanted to lead with respect. It's a nice middle ground. You have to value your people and keep them happy.
OMC: When things get hectic, how do you deal with stress?
NG: I sing, I dance. No, seriously. There is always music on in the kitchen, and the staff sometimes picks up where I leave off, depending on the song. It takes my mind and refocuses it.
OMC: Every chef has a favorite gadget. What's yours? What can't you live without?
NG: My sharp knife. I love Japanese blades; they have finer points and softer metal, and I couldn't live without it.
Also a dry towel, because nobody wants to burn their hands taking a dish out of the oven.
OMC: You have a new menu coming out soon, yes?
NG: Yes, we're releasing a new lunch menu on April 25. I'm excited about it.
OMC: Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
NG: Yes, it's definitely the scallop appetizer. It's three scallops wrapped with pancetta, seared and crisped and propped up on snap pea pods with sage creamed corn underneath and a drizzle of bourbon maple syrup.
It's a favorite here, and some people come in for dinner and order two of the appetizer portions for their main entrée.
OMC: And you also came up with the menu for "One Bite Food & Wine Pairings" at the winery. How did you approach those?
NG: The way I wanted to approach them was to go a little bit obscure. But, there were some limitations. Because we have to prepare the food in the restaurant kitchen and bring it over, I had to design dishes that were cold or could be served at room temperature.
So, I started playing around with salads – and came up with dishes like the watermelon salad with feta. It goes great with the wine, but it's also different and really flavorful.
OMC: How much did you know about pairing food and wine when you started?
NG: Honestly, I didn't know much. But, at this point I've tried just about all the wines we make, and it's a good sort of challenge.
I've learned that it's all about being creative, and not being afraid to take risks. I really enjoy it and I view it as an ongoing project, not a challenge.
OMC: What's the most exciting thing about what's happening at the restaurant, with the opening of the winery?
NG: It's big; it's exciting. And people are so excited about what's happening. Ultimately, that's what matters. I don't cook for me; I cook for others, so it's great to see how happy everyone is.
I'm also excited that I can begin to learn more about wine making from a great experienced wine maker; it extends my education.
I was actually saving to move away when all of this started, but this is such a great opportunity. I'm really looking forward to everything that's coming.
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