A conversation with InterContinental Hotel chef Robert Druschitz
Chef Robert Druschitz, a newcomer to the Milwaukee scene, has taken over as executive chef at the Intercontinental Hotel. Druschitz replaces Bill Doyle, who was recently promoted to executive chef at Hilton Milwaukee City Center, InterContinental Milwaukee's sister property and the city's largest hotel.
French-trained and with nearly 15 years of culinary experience, Druschitz has worked at some of the top restaurants in the Midwest, including Le Francais, Le Titi de Paris, Gabriel's Restaurant and Restaurant Michael. Most recently, he was sous chef at Quartino Ristorante and Wine Bar in Chicago.
In his American contemporary approach to cooking, Druschitz enjoys taking classic American dishes and updating them using new techniques and ingredients – discovering dishes that were once popular and reinventing them to align with the trends of today. As a proponent of "spontaneous cooking" Druschitz plans to work closely with guests, developing unique menus that cater to their specific tastes.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Druschitz this past week and talk to him about his background, his first impressions of Milwaukee, his style and the types of things he eats when he's at home.
OnMilwaukee: How has your background prepared you for where you are today?
Robert Druschitz: I've actually worked quite a bit with the theater crowd, so I'm used to the theater rush. I worked at Rhapsody, the fine-dining room in the Loop's Symphony Center. You go into theater mode. You do everything you can to knock out all of your covers.
I've also had experience with a wide range of cuisines… to have done French, Italian and American, I feel as if I'm pretty well-rounded.
OMC: Describe your relationship to food as you were growing up.
RD: I'm from a middle-class family. I have two younger sisters. Because my parents worked, there was often a need for me to set things up in order for us to have dinner on time.
In high school I worked for an in-class restaurant. We were actually open to the public. We waited tables, did the dishes. I went on to tossing pizzas at an Italian place.
OMC: Who were your major influences?
RD: Jean Banchet at Le Francais. I didn't work for him, but I worked with people who worked with him. He was the big name, and everyone respected him.
One of my idols is Jean Georges Vongerichten. He'd have a dish with carrot … prepared in a variety of ways. And then he'd add an element like cardamom. Very clean, contemporary, understandable food.
OMC: What are you most excited about as you start your new position?
RD: We have a nice young staff. They're really good, clean kids and I want to cultivate that and turn out chefs, rather than cooks.
I've been the right hand for a lot of intense, driven chefs, and times are changing to where we need to treat people with more respect and help them to grow. Let's take time to train them and help people grow. If we don't do that, we're not contributing to the industry. And if I'm not turning out talent like that from my kitchen, it's a shame.
OMC: What's your impressions of Milwaukee's food scene?
RD: You know, it's growing, and it's getting more contemporary. You have a growing talent here. Oh – and the cheeses here. There's a ton of variety here in the market and that's something to be proud of.
l like a lot of the Italian influences that are going through the city right now. I respect the Bartolottas. I can definitely see their mark on the city. I haven't eaten at Sanford yet, but I'm really looking forward to it.
I had a really great meal at Wolf Peach. It was one of the first places we went in Milwaukee. They're doing some really great stuff there.
OMC: What did you eat?
RD: (laughs) I think the question is, "What didn't we eat?"
OMC: How would you describe your style of cooking?
RD: Contemporary with a heavy respect for classics. I look back at dishes … why were they popular when they were popular. And I take them and rework them. There's a lot we've lost in America since the TV dinner. Looking back gives us cues for the sort of foods we could be eating.
You have things like venison ham. Doesn't it make you curious? How do you pay respect to the past and still at the end of the day, give people something they're really excited to eat?
OMC: What do you hope to accomplish most here in your new position?
RD: I hope to simplify things, but still provide dishes that intrigue customers' palates. I'd like people to be visually excited, and give them something that sticks in their head.
You don't want to challenge your customer, necessarily. But, I like a little bit of show – not quite like Alinea – but something that keeps the brain thinking.
I'm a Midwest person. So, I tend toward creating food that satisfies … portion size where people don't walk away hungry. People should be satiated. As a chef, if people walk away hungry, you're not doing your job.
OMC: What about ingredients? How do you feel about farm to table?
RD: Back in the late '90s we just did it. There was no term for farm to table. We were always running with the seasons. Now there's a name for it. But, the reality is, great chefs were always sourcing from local farmers.
OMC: What is your favorite food/ingredient to cook with?
RD: Foie gras. Most recently I did a small party with seared foie gras over a chestnut velouté with candied kumquat.
OMC: What's in your fridge at home?
RD: A lot of goose and duck fat. Braised pigs' feet. Bolzano salami. Probably about 10 different types of cheese. Black kale … since I've been trying to eat healthier. A side of Polish bacon. Half dozen Meyer lemons. I'm a big citrus nut. I love citrus notes and zest.
I cook a lot at home. I'm the guy who goes into the pantry and makes a meal. I have a larder. I cook something different all the time. It's creative, spontaneous. What's in season? What's there?
OMC: So you're an off the cuff sort?
RD: Very much so.
OMC: What is the best compliment someone could give to you?
RD: We had a good evening. We enjoyed coming to the restaurant. We'll be back. Let me put it this way, doctors deserve egos, they save peoples' lives. There's something to be said about being humble in the way you cook. Not too over the top. I'm very down to Earth. I don't relate to things that are too esoteric.
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