Renowned California restaurateur Alice Waters is a mentor to local chef John Raymond -- sort of. "She doesn't know who I am," admits Raymond. "But her food and her style have been like a mentor to me."
According to the Web site for her Chez Panisse restaurant, Waters believes a restaurant should have close relationships with local organic farmers. Raymond plans to incorporate a similar philosophy at Roots, a soon-to-be-opened restaurant in the Brewer's Hill neighborhood of Milwaukee.
"That's kind of what we're attempting to pull off here is California cuisine with emphasis on whole foods and knowledge of where the food is coming from," says Raymond.
Like Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant, Roots will have a two-tiered concept. On the upper level will be Roots, an organic fine dining restaurant. The Roots Cellar, 1818 N. Hubbard St., on the lower level, will offer organic fare in a more casual environment.
According to Raymond, most people have become too detached from their sources of food. "They go to the supermarket and they pick up a Tyson chicken, but they don't know where it came from, how it was raised," says Raymond.
But patrons of Roots should be well aware of where their food comes from. The menu will highlight the purveyors that supply the restaurant. "We know where the food comes from, we know all of our farmers by name," says Raymond of the familiarity he has with his suppliers.
Raymond will have an extremely close relationship with his top produce supplier. Joe Schmidt, owner of Cedar Creek, an organic farm in Cedarburg, is a partner with Raymond in the Roots venture. During his previous job as the executive chef at Vinifera, Raymond worked closely with Schmidt. Schmidt supplied organic produce for the defunct Brady Street-area restaurant.
Schmidt will attempt to expand the growing season to cultivate produce for Roots. He will use greenhouse growing and indoor growing under lights to create a longer growing season.
Raymond and Schmidt are joined by a third partner. Rebecca Goldberger will serve as the restaurant's general manager.
There will be an emphasis on Wisconsin products at Roots. "That's one of my biggest drives here is to keep the food as close to home as we possibly can," says Raymond. In addition to produce from Cedar Creek, Wisconsin items on the menu will include beers from two Milwaukee micro-breweries, Lakefront Brewery and Sprecher Brewing Company. Raymond says Wisconsin-raised ducks, chickens and lamb will be served at Roots. The wine list will include labels from Stone's Throw Winery (located in Egg Harbor) and The Wollersheim Winery (Prairie du Sac).
Roots will need to rely on a supplier outside of Wisconsin for produce during the winter. But even that supplier is somebody whom Raymond knows personally, a friend who owns an organic farm in Sonoma County, California.
The menu at Roots will be mainly fusion cuisine, with emphasis on Italian, French and Asian, says Raymond. Fusion cuisine is the practice of piecing together recipes using ingredients from different styles of cooking. "For example you might have a wasabi risotto with pine nut-crusted fish -- fusing Italy with Japan," says Raymond.
In addition to meat and seafood entrees, vegetarian entrees will also be served at Roots. Vegan meals can be prepared upon request.
Roots will never claim to be 100 percent organic says Raymond. The high expense of shipping makes it cost prohibitive to use organic foods at all times.
Roots will be housed in a recently constructed building near the intersection of Hubbard and Vine in Brewer's Hill. The restaurant is located on top of a bluff that overlooks Commerce Street. A 2,000 square foot patio will offer diners a view of the new riverfront development along Commerce Street below, and the downtown skyline beyond the Milwaukee River.
Roots will offer a boutique wine list with wines ranging from $25 to $300 a bottle. Menu entrees at Roots will range from $15-$30.
Raymond describes the Roots Cellar as the type of place people can grab a sandwich and soup or salad. Entrees at the Roots Cellar will be in the $7 to $20 price range.
Roots/Roots Cellar will have separate menus for lunch and dinner. Brunch will be served on Sundays. Roots/Roots Cellar will be open seven days a week, except the Roots section will be closed on Sunday evenings. Roots is expected to open for business in October. (Roots will now open Feb. 12, 2004).