Venice Williams dreamed of her late father the night before she was scheduled to cook lunch and dinner at The Tandem restaurant. She credits him, a chef, caterer and baker, with instilling a love of food and cooking in her and her siblings, two of whom are professional chefs.
It was the first time she had prepared food in a restaurant in quite some time, she said. "I could feel the lovely memories of walking into kitchens, both small and huge, with my father when I came in here today."
Building on the popular "farm to table" concept, in which restaurants seek out the freshest local ingredients, Tandem owner Caitlin Cullen hosted Williams as a guest chef for a "farmer to table" event. Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden, prepared several family favorites on a recent Thursday. Tandem, 1848 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., features home-style cooking on Thursdays.
Saying she felt "a bit nervous" when she heard that reservations were filled more than a week before her guest chef appearance, Williams seemed elated as she circulated through the restaurant greeting customers warmly.
For lunch she cooked Moroccan turkey burgers and vegan and chicken broth versions of a sweet potato, cabbage and chickpea soup. Williams’ dinner menu included barbecued peach chicken with savory mashed potatoes and a corn pudding that she has been making since she was a college student, she said.
Diners Carol Hegland and Evelyn Ang, who said they have known Williams for many years, came together to sample her cooking. Seated at a front window table, they both chose the turkey burger.
Alice’s Garden provides Tandem with herbs for cooking, cocktails and table centerpieces. "We have also provided tomatoes, kale and other produce and we’re looking forward to increasing those options and deepening that relationship for the 2018 growing season," said Williams. The urban farm focuses on sustainable farming, community cultural development and economic enterprises related to agriculture.
Williams also is a spiritual leader, mentor and activist for racial justice.
Cullen established her sit-down restaurant and bar just north of Downtown to strengthen commercial activity in the area and train and employ neighborhood residents. She opened the restaurant in November 2016 in a renovated 1893 building that once housed an historic tavern.
Williams will return to the Tandem as a guest chef on Thursday, March 22.
Andrea Waxman is a staff reporter at the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. A professional writer, she is completing a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling at Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for a community newspaper and taught English and Japanese in several area middle and high schools.
Waxman has lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but spent most of her early years living in Tokyo, where her father was stationed at the American embassy. She returned to Japan in 1986 and again in 1993 when her husband was there as a Fulbright scholar.
In her free time, Waxman enjoys theater, movies, music, ethnic food, cities, travel, reading - especially the news of the day - and all kinds of people. She is interested in working for social justice and contributing to the vitality of the city.