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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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In Dining

Chefs Ross Bachhuber and Daniel Jacobs are now colleagues at Odd Duck. So, how does this "odd couple" make it work? (PHOTO: Paul Fredrich)

Odd Duck's "Odd Couple" make a great team


Ross Bachhuber, chef and owner at Odd Duck in Bay View, is the unassuming quiet type who prefers a place behind the scenes. Daniel Jacobs, recently hired to take on the role as executive chef at Odd Duck, is loud, gregarious and outgoing with a personality that begs for the spotlight.

Bachhuber is frugal; Jacobs is more a spendthrift.

Jacobs is Chicago-bred; while Bachhuber was raised in rural Mayville.

But, as they say, opposites attract. And the two chefs say they're enjoying their honeymoon period – getting to know one another as they work together at the restaurant.

"We met when I was working at Roots when I first moved here – so about 3 years ago," Jacobs says. "There was always a connection there; it was friendship first."

Bachhuber nods, noting that he and his partner Melissa Buchholz, who handles management of the front end at Odd Duck, always talked about a potential collaboration, but never brought it up since Jacobs was already occupied with his role at Roots.

"We could talk about food, or not talk about food," he says, "It didn't matter. There was always this idea that we'd work together someday. We've worked with a lot of people, and this is one of the first times I really felt like I wanted to go into business with someone."

Bachhuber says that the decision to bring Jacobs on came of both desire to work together, as well as necessity.

"I'm a chef. It's what I've been doing for twenty years, and it's what I'm meant to do," he explains. "But, Melissa has been really handling the business end, and I want to be more involved in that end, especially as we talk about potential growth."

So, he took the leap and handed over a percentage of the kitchen responsibilities to Jacobs this past February.

"The timing was right," says Jacobs, noting that with chefs Paul Zerkel and Lisa Kirkpat rick leaving Odd Duck to open Goodkind, there was a natural opening for him to step in.

"I also felt like my time had come at Wolf Peach," he says. "I was professionally bored, and I'd done what I needed to do. I needed a change, and they needed someone to step in and it all worked out. It definitely wasn't easy to leave there. I was definitely leaving a comfort zone. But, change is good. And in order to learn something you have to push. Take the leap and see what happens."

And, despite their differences, both Jacobs and Bachhuber say their approach to their work in the kitchen is remarkably similar.

"I respect how he works. We work in a similar way," says Bachhuber. "I've had to learn to teach people how to do things and step away. But, it's been a really good transition."

Jacob agrees.

"We constantly read, try new things," he says. "On our days off, we are always researching. I've always been preaching to young cooks about reading. It's the thing I do the most of. I get ideas from everywhere – from books, and magazines like Saveur and Food & Wine."

The two also have a fairly wide range of interests when it comes to food and cooking – and that gives them a leg up in creating the sort of unique dishes diners have come to expect at Odd Duck.

Jacobs has a particular interest in Asian fare, while Bachhuber enjoys playing with the flavors in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.

"We brainstorm together, and come up with new ideas," says Jacobs. "Some of them are amazing. And sometimes things really don't work. It's an education. And when you're working in a small kitchen, there are unique challenges."

Jacobs sites their work on an Indian inspired dish featuring a potato stuffed with kale and raisins.

"They were delicious," he says. "But they just didn't work from a time standpoint. We needed little grandma hands back in the kitchen making them. And the kitchen is just too small for the kind of attention they needed."

But, other ideas end up as a win-win when the two put their heads together.

"I really like our back and forth on ideas," says Jacobs. "We've taken dishes to another place. Like the bulgogi, which was good start. But, we took it to another level."

"It started out with pork tenderloin over sticky rice with pickled pears, kimchee, scallions," adds Bachhuber. "And then, over a period of time, we transitioned over to pork belly… and then pork shoulder."

The dish today still maintains the same flavor profile – featuring rice, kimchee and pears. But, the current dish features pork belly, rather than tenderloin, and it's served with sesame spinach and a small pork shoulder egg roll.

The opportunity for collaboration is something Bachhuber and Jacobs value. And they put it to good use when planning for future menu items.

"Bouncing the ideas off of each other is awesome," Bachhuber notes. "I want to see Dan be able to do whatever he wants creatively. And I want to learn stuff from him."

The learning process shows itself in dishes like the fried chicken livers currently featured on the Odd Duck menu.

"It was Ross' concept," says Jacobs. "It was something he and Melissa had eaten while they were in New Orleans. I came up with the dish based on what he described to me … and then I accidentally burnt the lemon jam and that became part of the recipe."

The two also complement one another in other ways.

"I'm a little crazy when it comes to planning," says Jacobs. "On a daily basis I need to make four to six new dishes, and then creating things for the next day. As I'm working, I try to stay a couple of days ahead."

Bachhuber says that planning is one of the places where the kitchen at Odd Duck has always struggled. So, staying a step ahead is something he values.

"It's been great to work a day ahead, since Dan started," he says. "… rather than a day behind."

And Jacobs is enjoying his new gig, working alongside his friend and colleague.

"I'm super happy," says Jacobs. "And I don't have much to complain about. I quit smoking over a month ago, and I think that's a reflection of just how happy I am."


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