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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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In Dining

Vasyl Lemberskyy learned the skill of artisan pizza making in his hometown of Kiev.

Featured chef: Vasyl Lemberskyy of Transfer Pizzeria Cafe


Vasyl Lemberskyy does not fit a mold. Funny, blunt and not shy about expressing his opinion, the executive chef at Transfer Pizzeria Cafe says he became interested in kitchen activities as a small child because he was always hungry.

Growing up in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union could do that to a kid. There wasn't an abundance of food.

How about acquiring cooking skills as a member of the Hare Krishnas in Kiev, his hometown? "That was my best learning experience," Lemberskyy said during an afternoon chat in the back dining room at Transfer.

"You cook for God, and you can't taste while cooking. The food is first offered to God, on an altar. It is sacred. You can't throw any away."

Lemberskyy became involved with the Hare Krishnas in his middle teens, reflecting an interest in being healthy. "I stopped drinking and smoking at 16 or 17," he said. "Over there (Ukraine) you start drinking and smoking at 9 or 10."

The no-taste rule of the Hare Krishnas taught the chef to prepare food using his senses of sight and smell, he says, and that is how he makes and bakes his pizzas today. He is particularly sensitive to odors.

"I go into a restaurant, it takes me two minutes and I know what is wrong. It is very unfortunate."

Lemberskyy is not a big fan of American restaurants and cooking, saying the public settles for inferior quality. That is often the result of the ingredients not being fresh, he says. He was practicing farm to table cuisine in Kiev long before it was trendy here.

"Everything is fresh in Ukraine. Everything there is like Outpost (Natural Foods)."

The road to Transfer Pizza for Lemberskyy began as a dishwasher at Kiev's first pizzeria. He had been unemployed in his late teens, and when a friend who was a server at the restaurant told him about a dishwasher position being available, he jumped at the opportunity.

The job required washing dishes by hand. There was no appliance for the task at the pizzeria. The restaurant was large, the sink was low, and the chef's dislike for dirty plates continues to this day.

He uses disposable dishes at home when he and his wife aren't entertaining.

Lemberskyy washed dishes for four years while trying to absorb knowledge from the elderly Italian pizza chef who had been imported into Kiev for his skills. The older man eventually returned to Italy, and the dishwasher became a pizza chef with a following in his hometown.

"I was famous there (Kiev)," Lemberskyy says. "People would call and ask my shift. People would come in and say, just make me something."

Lemberskyy's father-in-law had moved to Milwaukee in 1991, and that paved the way for the chef and his wife to immigrate here 10 years later. His first job was in the kitchen at Polonez Polish restaurant in St. Francis, where he wowed his co-workers with pizzas he made for them using the restaurant's conventional oven.

That led to Lemberskyy opening Primavera Pizzeria next door to Polonez. When the building was sold, he moved Downtown and operated Freshe Pizza on Jefferson Street. He also worked at Ricardo's Riverfront Pizzeria Bar and Grill before opening Transfer in 2008 with several partners.

You can judge the quality of a pizza restaurant by sampling its simple cheese variety, according to the chef. When not eating his own pizza, he likes what comes out of the ovens at Maria's on 50th and Forest Home.

A man of simple pleasures, Lemberskyy raves about the burgers at Northpoint Custard on the lakefront. He makes no mention of fine dining preferences.

Lemberskyy bakes 45 different varieties of pizza at Transfer, and his favorite is the Diavola, which features cheese, tomato sauce, salami, hot and red peppers and onions. He gets a little poetic when talking about his job.

"I've been making pizza for 20 years, and I am never bored. It's like music. You know how to put it together, and then you play jazz."


Talkbacks

jayoak | June 8, 2011 at 12:10 p.m. (report)

The pizza is good, not fantastic. Two out of three pizzas were good. The third was just crust and sauce, very little at that and the toppings were very sparse. Almost seemed that they ran out of ingredients. The half price on a bottle of wine was a good value. The House Band is excellent.

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BIGMEX72 | June 8, 2011 at 11:44 a.m. (report)

This is the best of this type of Pizza. Transfer also has great pasta and apps I want some Salami Bruschetta Now!!! Bravo Chef Continue on doing what you do!

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mkeloser | June 7, 2011 at 4:32 p.m. (report)

Transfer has the best pizza in the Milwaukee area, hands down. Congrats to Vasyl and all involved with Transfer Pizzeria!

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milwgreg | June 7, 2011 at 4:06 p.m. (report)

Executive Chef?? Where did he get his certification?? I bet he makes great pizzas. Lets not confuse being a Great Cook with being an Executive Chef. Huge difference if you ask me...

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lks | June 7, 2011 at 2:47 p.m. (report)

Glad to see the face behind the name of my favorite Transfer/Via pizza, the Vasyl!

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