By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 19, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Welcome to a rarity -- a double chef profile on OnMilwaukee.com. When we approached Milwaukee native, Chris Hatleli, executive chef at Milwaukee Art Museum's acclaimed Café Calatrava -- and a veteran of George Webb and Sanford -- about taking part, he asked that we also include MAM chef de cuisine and his long-time partner in culinary adventure, Nick Burki.

Burki and Hatleli were half of the team -- along with Kevin Sloan and Bill Deuberry -- that gave birth to the beloved -- and dearly departed Walker's Point eatery The Social.

Who are we not to honor such a request from a local boy who, earlier this year, was invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York City.

Amazingly, as Downtown Dining Week raged, Hatleli and Burki found time to talk to us about how they've turned what could have been a pretty standard museum cafeteria into one of the city's best lunch spots.

OMC: Tell us a bit about yourself. Are you a Milwaukee native?

Nick Burki: I was born and raised in Menomonee Falls. I was an actor, singer and musician at a young age; I attended the Milwaukee High School of the Arts and studied my craft further. Upon graduating from high school my parents suggested that I think of a career that could "pay the bills" while I was struggling to be a musician and actor. I always had a passion for the "art" of cooking and attended culinary school at WCTC in 1991. I graduated from culinary school and was able to find work in restaurants while I struggled getting gigs with my band, and working overnight shifts as a DJ and producer at 93 QFM. As the years passed by the band broke up, 93QFM closed, and I quickly moved up the chain in the restaurants I was working at.

Chris Hatleli: I was born in Milwaukee. My dad is from down South and my mother is from Northern Wisconsin. I am the only family member that still lives in Milwaukee. I love Milwaukee, I believe that it has really come into its own and is only getting better.

OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to Café Calatrava?

NB: I was trained at WCTC. Worked at many wonderful restaurants including Sanford, Coquette Cafe and West Bend Country Club. Had the experience to realize a dream when Chris Hatleli and I, along with two other gentlemen opened the original Social in Walker's Point. I was also involved in the opening of the East Side gem Yield.

CH: Nick and I have 10-plus years working together in this business -- good and bad. When the opportunity arose to work side by side together again, along with our good friend and very talented Food and Beverage Director David Jones it was a chance that I could not pass up.

OMC: Do you think that the uniqueness of your venue -- the Calatrava-designed expansion -- creates a different perception of what your cafe ought to be, as compared to other museum-based restaurants?

NB: I think people naturally have a high level of expectation when they walk into this amazing building; however I have an even higher level of expectation so it's an awesome fit.

CH: Yes, definitely. This is a beautiful, unique, and diverse building. I think the food and the menu should be the same.

OMC: Tell us a bit about your experience cooking at James Beard House in New York. That must have been an honor.

NB: It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to show our chops in the same little kitchen that James Beard, and all of our heroes have cooked in. We cooked from our hearts and souls and absolutely knocked it out of the park. The crowd was so excited about our food that they gave us a standing ovation, and were even asking for autographs and recipes. It was surreal.

CH: It was heaven on earth! I was blown away by the prestige. I had goosebumps and all that good stuff.

OMC: Do you have a signature dish?

NB: I just love to cook with whatever is fresh and in season. If you cook with what is in season, and you cook it with love, your signature is all over it.

CH: Nick and I have a lot of signature dishes. People should come to the café and see two of our summer favorites: the free-raised Strauss veal hot dog and the artichoke gremolata with asparagus, fresh chickpeas, chervil broth and white truffle oil.

OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?

NB: The best part about this job is being able to create menus for some of the most glamorous events on the face of the earth, we host events for clients from all over the world here at the Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum.

The worst part of the job is the fact there is no gas in either of our kitchens and we must execute all of our food on electric equipment. It throws a real wrench in the machine.

CH: The thing I like the most about my job is getting to teach up and coming chefs great technique and being able to watch them grow. The thing I like the least is the fact that our busiest season is in the summer and I miss out on a lot of family occasions and I don't get to travel.

OMC: What are your favorite places to eat out in Milwaukee?

NB: I am married with a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old so I do not get out too much, but I love Cafe Lulu, Zaffirro's, Roots and Coquette Cafe.

CH: Sanford's, of course, since he was my mentor. I enjoy Louise's right by my house. Lake Park Bistro, Umami Moto, and on and on. I appreciate every place for what they do.

OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook? What do you like about it?

NB: My favorite cookbook is "The Making of a Cook" by Madeleine Kamman. It is just a real straightforward, well-written book that contains recipes for almost anything that you may want to make. It helped me out in some real rough spots back in the day.

CH: I am a big Anthony Bourdain fan. I can really relate to him, but no I don't have just one, there are so many winners.

OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef? Why?

NB: My favorite celebrity chef would have to be the Swedish Chef from "The Muppet Show." I always thought that he deserved a lot more credit, and respect than he received.

CH: Super Mario Batali; he was so passionate when I worked along side him at a James Beard dinner at Sanford.

OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?

NB: I would say it would have to be the fact that we are able to get any ingredient in the world dropped off at the front door of our kitchen any day of the year. There is nothing that you are unable to get these days.

CH: I think that just the idea of crossing over cuisines, simplifying flavors and reinventing some of the classics, and having fun doing it.

OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?

NB: I could not live without my 11-inch Global chef's knife. It does most of the work for me. I am just along for the ride.

CH: My chef's knife. I am a hands-on kind of guy!

OMC: What's the next big trend in food?

NB: I believe that Indian influenced cuisine will become very trendy, very soon. The cuisine of India is full of dishes that are packed with awesome flavors, and these dishes are able to be created with very little cost and are packed full of amazing health benefits.

CH: I would like to see us get healthier as a nation. We have been working with Alamelu Vairavan, a (Milwaukee-based) South Indian cookbook author, instructor and consultant. Her cuisine is full of very flavorful dishes with wonderful spices and aromatics. That is where it's at.

OMC: What's the toughest day / night to work in the restaurant biz?

NB: Those beautiful Saturday and Sundays during the summer when everyone is soaking up the sun but you.

CH: I think the toughest day has to be those Sunday brunches. I would say the toughest night is New Year's Eve.

OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?

NB: Foie Gras. Guilty as charged.

CH: My guilty pleasure is ordering a bunch of items off of a menu. Enjoying some really great wine and receiving some top-notch service.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.