Chef Scott Pampuch: In search of local food in Milwaukee
OMC: Speaking of Milwaukee, what challenges do you think await you here in Milwaukee?
SP: I know nothing about the city. Honestly, if there is a farm that sells to a restaurant, I want to connect with them. If there are chefs interested in sharing their sources, I want to meet them.
For me, it will be about figuring out what the diners want, and then do it even better. I'm a big fan of being the conduit for people to have "a moment.'" I love it when someone says, "I've never liked beets, but I would eat your beets every day of the week ..."
OMC: What will you bring to The Iron Horse?
SP: Taking a job like this is truly a privilege. And it's a pleasure to work with Tim Dixon. I love his business model – telling these amazing stories through his space. I feel like every plate of food I've made has a story – and so that's a place where I can contribute.
My challenge is to take the quintessential Milwaukee cuisine, that palate, and pull the stories from the hotel into the stories on the plate. It has to be done in unison with telling the story of our hotel, our location. I'm not coming here to change anything; I'm coming here to pull everything together and make it work better.
OMC: You also have a show on cable. Talk to me about your work with Ovation and "In Search of Food." What role do you feel you play as a TV chef and public personality?
SP: Well, I'm not a TV chef. I'm a guy who's been asked to host a television show. I honestly don't think about it. I didn't do anything on the TV show that I wouldn't do off camera. Talking to farmers, cooking, it's all stuff I do in my everyday life. Nothing was staged. We had a direction we wanted to take, but the conversations were real. We did real things.
What I do, I've always done on a really small scale. The idea of doing it on a larger scale is really interesting to me. I think I could help people.
I feel extremely lucky that I've been given a chance to use what I know and share that with others. If I keep getting a platform to speak out, great. If not, I'll keep cooking and working with people like Tim Dixon who spend the time to focus on telling the stories and sharing the experience of food.
OMC: Who is the most famous person you've served and what did you serve them?
SP: Globally, who is the most well known? Probably Jason Mraz. He's vegan and I served him a play on a BLT. I found smoked olive oil from Temecula olive oil. I made a cold lettuce soup with smoked olive oil and heirloom tomatoes. There was also a sampler plate of fermented cabbage with caraway, pickled kohlrabi and a quinoa and chanterelle mushroom cake, a swiss chard and pickled carrot roll, with a persimmon and chard stem dipping sauce. For dessert I made him vegan avocado gelato with a hint of orange and sea salt with chocolate ganache.
There was a great deal of spontaneity in that episode. Like the juggling of avocados. We were really just fooling around. It really gave me an appreciation for who he was. I was ridiculously lucky to have met him. He's a rock star, but his life ... it's so simple. He goes about things in a simple, calm way. That was cool to see that. It's very different from the hectic world I live in in the service industry. Very cool.
OMC: How do your local food values play into what you eat yourself?
SP: I'm a sucker for a grilled cheese sandwich, a burger, a hot dog. I just want to know where it came from. If all we had to buy was commodity meat, I'd be a vegetarian. I think it's a problem, and I don't support it. I bring those convictions to my food.
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