Matt Baier was hired to lead the kitchen at Dream Dance Steak in Potawatomi Bingo Casino a couple weeks ago. Though he's new to the top spot, he's not new to the restaurant.
Baier has worked as lead chef and sous chef in the kitchen Dream Dance since 2005 and served as lead chef at the casino's RuYi Asian restaurant upstairs, too.
"It's a goal realized to oversee a kitchen at a restaurant of this caliber," said Baier at the time.
Since then, we caught up with him to ask him about his background and submit him to our usual battery of questions we like to hurl at local chefs.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Are you from Wisconsin?
Matt Baier: I was raised a country kid from a small town in Illinois. My mother tells me I liked to cook since I was a small child helping her in the kitchen.
I cemented my interest in cooking when I was 16 years old, as a cook at a local nursing home. From there I headed out to Portland, Ore. to pursue culinary school. I always knew there was more out there in the world for me, and wasn't content settling into a quiet life in a small town.
OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to your position as chef at Dream Dance Steak?
MB: I earned an associate degree in Culinary Arts from Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., and started my career at Seven Feathers Casino Resort before returning to the Midwest. It was by chance that I ended up at Potawatomi Bingo Casino in 2005, but since I've been here I've enjoyed every step of the way.
Before overseeing the Dream Dance Steak kitchen, I served as the lead chef and sous chef, in addition to serving as lead chef at RuYi, the casino's full-service Asian restaurant.
OMC: Tell us a bit about what it means to you to have worked your way up at Dream Dance Steak. Could you have imagined at the start that you'd be the man at the top in a few years?
MB: At age 19 I set a goal for myself to be the chef of a four-star restaurant by age 30. It feels incredible to say that I've attained that goal with just a few days to spare. I turn 30 on Nov. 25. I am thrilled to have this new opportunity as chef of Dream Dance Steak.
OMC: How will you make your mark there?
MB: This is an exciting time at the restaurant. We've recently brought all charcuterie in-house, which gives me ultimate control over how we'll prepare our bacon, sausages and pancetta. While this technique is nothing new on the nation-wide culinary scene, it is not very common in Milwaukee.
OMC: Does being in a casino mean you have a somewhat different clientele than a similar restaurant would have if it were located elsewhere? Does it change how you approach a menu and service and the whole package?
MB: Our casino guests run the gamut. We serve a diverse group of guests, not unlike any other restaurant in the area. With that said, being located in a casino doesn't alter the approach we take in striving to provide our guests fantastic dining experiences every time. Appreciating great food and service is universal.
OMC: What is your signature dish?
MB: I have a few unique items on the menu where I've applied my own twist on the dish. I may have my favorites, but it will be up to our guests to determine what they like the best. Only time will tell.
OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?
MB: The best part of my day is working with my talented team. Creating delicious food is a close second. The part of my day that I least look forward to is the paperwork. My hands work best in the kitchen.
OMC: What are your favorite places to dine out in Milwaukee and why?
MB: The best foods can be simple pleasures. One of my favorite places is Oscar's (on Pierce). I love the Big O burger and the parmesan fries. I also can't get enough of Blue's Egg, because everything is always prepared perfectly.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook? What do you like about it?
MB: I don't have a favorite cookbook, but I enjoy Lucky Peach, a quarterly food journal geared toward culinarians.
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef?
MB: I have a lot of respect for Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next. He is a visionary and I'm intrigued with his concept behind his restaurant Next. I also am a fan of Marco Pierre White. Right now, I'm reading his book, "The Devil in the Kitchen." The way he ran his kitchens was amazing and I'm surprised anyone would work for him.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?
MB: I think sous-vide has really taken off in the last several years. It is such a precise form of cooking, where the food comes out perfectly. Sustainable cooking practices have also really taken off in the Midwest in the last 10 years.
OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?
MB: No question. My chef's knife. I'd be lost without it.
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
MB: I'm seeing the trend of making foods in-house becoming more and more popular everywhere I turn. From artisan cheeses, to charcuterie to restaurants running their own small farms. Guests find comfort in knowing their food was made from scratch and that it's not highly processed.
OMC: What's the toughest day or night to work in the restaurant business?
MB: Valentine's Day. That evening drives such high volume, but everyone wants to eat at the same time, and typically wants to order entrees that they recognize. I don't like streamlining menus, but prix fixed is often the way to go.
OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?
MB: Anything with dark chocolate.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.