Featured chef: Blackwolf Run's Paul Smitala
If you've sampled the dishes at Kohler's Blackwolf Run Restaurant, 1111 W. Riverside Dr., you can attest to Chef Paul Smitala's talents in the kitchen.
The place looks like a classic club restaurant, with a stunning view out over the eponymous golf course. It's classy without being staid; a quality place where you can have fun.
That sort of sums up Smitala himself. He studied at The Culinary Institute of America, so he can cook with the best, but he likes to have fun. You can see it in his kitchen, where he utilizes a range of equipment he created by modifying power tools (my favorite is the potato peeler on steroids), and you can see it in his ongoing commitment to teaching kids the way around a kitchen.
He leads kids cooking classes at Blackwolf Run. The latest sessions run Feb. 2 (ages 10-13), March 2 (ages 6-9) and April 6 (ages 10-13), from 10 until 11:30 a.m.
We asked Smitala about his background, those crazy tools, cooking with kids and more in this chef profile.
OnMilwaukee.com: How long have you been chef at Blackwolf Run?
Paul Smitala: I have been the chef at Blackwolf Run for 14 and a half years.
OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to your current position?
PS: I have an associates degree in culinary art from The Culinary Institute of America. I also have my bachelors degree in hotel and restaurant management from U.W. Stout. I have worked in a numbers of restaurants while going to school and was the banquet chef at The American Club for three years.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the menu at the restaurant. Does the clientele expect fairly traditional "club" meals or do you have room to experiment and try new things?
PS: During golf season we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast menu is traditional a la carte service as well as a buffet items to get a quick bite before golf. The lunch menu is upscale sandwiches, great homemade soups, salads and luncheon entrees. We also prepare a lunch buffet on weekdays. The dinner menu consists of fresh seafood, selection of choice meats and homemade desserts all with a unique twist. The dishes are hearty with signature items that have been on the menu for a long time like the stuffed pork chop with buttermilk bleu cheese, apples and pistachios.
OMC: I hear that you've been known to modify power tools to use in the kitchen. I'd love to hear more about that!
PS: I love to be creative and have fun in kitchen. I first started off with a pepper grinder that fits on the end of a cordless drill. My kids would love to use it growing up while they helped me cook at home. I have continued to grow my arsenal to include a potato and apple peeler, lemon juicer, whisk, spaghetti fork and salt grinder. We have a series called the Demonstration Kitchen that runs January through April where chefs from the resort demo food and guests can taste it while we cook. I always incorporate power tools into my demos!
OMC: Over the next couple months you're doing cooking classes for kids. Can you talk a bit about working with kids in the kitchen?
PS: When first arrived in Kohler 17 years ago, I started off doing cooking demos with my daughters and over the years progressed into kids' demos because of the growing requests from people in the area. We decided to start them up again this year and the Feb. 2 class is close to being full. We have more classes scheduled in March and April. I would say the only real challenge I have when working with 20 kids in the same room is cleaning up the mess after we are done.
The kids will have easy yet creative recipes to work with and a chef instructor for every five kids in the class. The class is 90 minutes so we will be making more than one item. Each kid will receive a chef hat and a certificate of completion. They can either take the dishes they have made home with them or eat them at Blackwolf Run. The class is a blast and we always seem to have repeat customers because the recipes continue to change.
OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?
PS: What I love the most about my job is finding young cooks that have a genuine passion for cooking and sharing my passion and knowledge I have learned over the years at Kohler. When you see them create a dish that has exceeded the customers expectation is the reason why I went into the business. I only thing I dislike about my job is process of counting inventory on a monthly basis.
OMC: What are your favorite places to eat out in Milwaukee and/or the Kohler/Sheboygan area?
PS: When I go to Milwaukee I think it's hard to beat a steak from Mr. B's steakhouse but all their restaurants are great. When I am in Sheboygan area I enjoy going to Whistling Straits. Dan Dries, the new chef this year has done a great job and brings a lot of creativity to the menu. I also enjoy eating at El Camino in Sheboygan. The prices are good and the food and service are excellent.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook?
PS: "Jacques Pepin Celebrates."
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef?
PS: I grew up watching Jacques Pepin and have been lucky enough to meet with him a few times. He has such great stories to share and has a genuine passion for the field.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?
PS: I would say the emergence of cooking shows on television. Those shows have encouraged a lot of people to become chefs or find interests in the culinary field.
OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?
PS: I love my ceramic knives. A sharp knife is very important in the kitchen. Although my apple peeler that fits on my cordless drill is a close second.
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
PS: I would say the use of craft beers in cooking. I have been working with Three Sheeps Brewery in Sheboygan the last couple of months. The great products they have created has made it fun developing new dishes. We have two more beer dinners we will be doing with them Feb. 15 and March 15 where guests enjoy courses that are paired with Three Sheeps beers.
OMC: What's the toughest day / night to work in the restaurant biz?
PS: In terms of volume of people Fridays and Saturdays can get crazy in the summer all day. With a la carte service and banquets going at the same time. The busiest day of my career would have been the Friday the 6th of July this year where we served over 2,800 people during the U.S. Women's Open.
OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?
PS: I have a weakness for Faye's pizza in Sheboygan. It reminds me of the pizza I enjoyed growing up in Waukegan, Ill.
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