"This is your space, and we’ll meld it into whatever you want it to be," says Chef David Magnasco, executive chef at the Milwaukee Club and owner of the soon-to-open Chef’s Table at 500 S. 3rd St.
Magnasco, who plans to continue his work at the Milwaukee Club, is gearing up to share his talents with an entirely new audience.
Beginning in April, the 100-year-old brick building in which Magnasco lives with his wife Julia and daughter Maddalena will house an upscale, reservation only, premiere event space where guests will be treated to fine dining at a literal "chef’s table" which Magnasco built with his own two hands from subflooring reclaimed during the building’s remodel.
And the table is just the beginning of the personal touches which inhabit the space. Deeply toned red walls provide warmth in the space. One wall is hung with copper pots, many of which Magnasco picked up on a trip to France, another gives diners a view of an open kitchen.
A fully stocked bar, with lounge seating, will feature milk glass shelving with leaded glass and apothecary jars. Meanwhile, the Chef’s Table itself will be lit by an intricate chandelier Magnasco fashioned from silverware.
"I wanted people to get the feeling that they were coming into my home," he says as he walks me into the nearly finished kitchen, which is finished with subway tile and flanked by a butcher block bar.
The space, which can accommodate up to 50, will be reserved for private events on weekends – everything from parties and small weddings to board meetings and team-building retreats. But, Magnasco also plans to open to the public at least once a month for "Big Night Dining," events, the first of which will be held on Friday, April 25.
Magnasco says he wanted to provide diners with an experience similar to those he was able to offer at the Tripoli Country Club.
"It was a big place with huge dining rooms, so if there wasn’t a wedding going on it was empty," he says. "So, I started booking more intimate events at a chef’s table in the kitchen. It was a wonderful experience. When I know how many people are coming, when they’re coming, and exactly what they’re eating, it takes away so many variables, and allows us to give guests a better product."
A minimum spend of $2500 entitles guests to customize their meeting or celebration to include a wide variety of options. Prix fixe menus for each event will be based on themes created in advance, in collaboration with each customer and featuring only the best quality meats, wines and produce – some grown onsite in a chef’s garden, and sourced from the best farms and producers in the U.S. and beyond.
Magnasco derives his cooking philosophies from his experiences both in the Milwaukee area and beyond. Born in Delavan, Magnasco grew up on his grandparents’ farm where he worked in the kitchen with his grandmother.
"No one escapes the work on a farm," Magnasco says. "I was young, and I would’ve rather been swinging on ropes and playing Spider Man, but there was work I could do in the kitchen. So, I fed chickens, gathered eggs, fed calves, and helped with canning."
When he entered high school, he moved in with his father who lived in Port Washington. While living there, he got a job at an area country club washing dishes.
"I loved it," he says. "There would be a huge pile of dishes and I’d challenge myself to get them done as fast as I could. And then I’d ask the sous chef what else I could do."
It started with taking out the garbage, but soon Magnasco was peeling carrots and potatoes, and then working as garde manger. He continued working in kitchens throughout high school, taking apprenticeships where he could and building on the knowledge he gained both in front and back of the house.
Ultimately, he tested into the master’s program at the Italian Culinary Institute of Costigliole d’Asti in Piemonte, Italy. There he received in-depth training in regional Italian cuisine and culture, followed by extensive wine training on pairing foods and a vast variety of Italian wines.
Magnasco says that his niche for cuisine definitely lies in Mediterranean fare, but that’s he’s interested in many types of world-inspired cuisine. And the menu options offered at Chef’s Table will reflect that.
The Chefs Table will open for its first public event on the evening of Friday, April 25. This first "Big Night Dining" experience will feature wines from Titus Winery in the Napa Valley, expertly paired with five courses. Eric Titus, winemaker, will be a special guest at the dinner, which will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. and seating at 7 p.m. Tickets are $135 per person and can be purchased online at chefs-tablemke.com.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.