We profiled Chef Christian Schroeder back in 2012, after he’d taken over in the kitchen at Von Trier, launching a tapas program at the otherwise beer-centric bar.
But, since his time at Von Trier, Schroeder has taken the helm at Nourri, a brand new restaurant concept that’s serving up inventive small plates to the up-and-coming neighborhood surrounding Washington Heights. So, we sat down to catch up with him and find out a little bit more about the man behind the apron.
OnMilwaukee: You’ve been in the industry for quite a while. When did you decide that you’d become a chef?
Christian Schroeder: When I was 16, I had my first kitchen job as a busser at Tivoli’s Restaurant and Lounge in Brookfield. Then I moved my way into the kitchen. I worked there for about three or four years before I went to college.
OMC: Where did you go, and what did you study?
CS: I went to Wisconsin Lutheran College on a golf scholarship. I started out in business; I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps. But, I missed the kitchen, so I was drawn back. I worked at Tivoli’s again for a while and then started the MATC culinary program.
I dropped out of MATC to work with Dennis Steven’s Fork in the Road in Mukwonago. I worked there for a number of years, then I moved on to Embassy Suites and the Ambassador Hotel. Then, I worked at Von Trier, and most recently as the director of operations for Prodigal Gastropub.
OMC: That’s quite a journey. We’re all influenced by people along the way. Who do you have to thank?
CS: I’ve taken something away from every place or someone I’ve had the pleasure to work with -- and I feel that's important. It has molded me into the person I am today. My primary focus is in the now.
Sean Pickarts is my sous chef and, in my opinion, one of the best sous in this city. The guy is a master at desserts and a very well-rounded individual. My menu is very ambitious and none of this would be possible without his dedication and perpetual focus.
OMC: Describe or define your style of cooking.
There’s a lot of Italian and French influence in my cooking. I’m into creative, fun food – gastropub. Taking combinations that people might not expect and making them work. I love using great ingredients. For instance, we have Iberico ham on our menu now.
I also love the small plates thing. I’m big into changing menus seasonally. Local is important to me.
OMC: What is it about small plates?
CS: I like the concept of people getting together, having a good time. They can order dishes in a smaller more affordable format, and maybe trying something new that they wouldn’t ordinarily order.
Sharing, it’s very family friend oriented. It brings people together.
OMC: How did you find your way to Nourri?
CS: A friend of the family referred me to the owners, Joe (Schulte) and Tessa (Santoro). So, I came in and redid the menus, tried to make them more fun and relatable.
OMC: Tell me about what sets Nourri apart.
CS: The name means "to nourish" – and whether it’s through our craft cocktails, our food or our hospitality, that’s what we want people to realize and to understand, that they’re being taken care of in every fashion.
The food is accessible and fun. And we really want people to see us as a place where they can come and gather and enjoy great food. We know this will be seen as a dining destination where people can come to try something different and unique.
Another thing that’s awesome is that it’s food that you’re not going to find at other restaurants.
OMC: What are your favorite dishes on the menu right now?
CS: I love the gnudi with duck confit and chanterelle mushrooms. And the carrot agnolotti with veal brains. I also love the waffle dish. It’s my play on chicken and waffles.
And, of course, I really really love the foie gras. I love rich food. I’m not afraid to use butter or cream.
OMC: How about brunch?
We serve brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and we have a grassfed beef shortrib hash with fried buckwheat, shallots and bordelaise. And deep fried portabellas with rustic sausage gravy, scrambled eggs and griddled mashed potatoes with mozzarella. On the sweeter side, we have housemade ricotta crepes with wild berries.
We also have cheese and charcuterie boards showcasing cheeses from all over the state and charcuterie from Underground Meats. We switch up the cheeses and offer composed boards for brunch, rather than selling each cheese and meat.
OMC: Do you have anything to do with the bar program at Nourri?
CS: Definitely. The bar manager and I work really closely on all the beverage offerings. Right now we have five craft cocktails that we’ll bump up to a dozen. And we do specialty drinks for brunch, including a Bloody Mary. We’ve also really stepped up the wine list to match the food offerings.
OMC: Do you have anything coming up around the bend that’s new and exciting?
CS: We’ll have a menu change in about six to eight weeks. It will be fun small plates and we’ll keep creating good stuff. We’ll also be doing beer and wine dinners, also some wild game dinners. We already have a wine dinner or two set up for the end of the year that people can look forward to. I’m in the process of hiring a full staff right now, so down the road we’ll be expanding our offerings in that direction.
OMC: Talk to me about the neighborhood. It’s really building up around here.
CS: Washington Heights and Vliet Street … it’s really a melting pot of all sorts of people here. It’s a friendly neighborhood and people are supportive. We’re seeing a lot of younger people, people out later at night enjoying themselves. In fact, this area is kind of becoming a destination. People are catching movies and going out to dinner.
Looking at it, I think we all have hopes for it to get built up – sort of how Bay View did. In the next five years, I really see it developing into something special.
OMC: You can tell you’re a neighborhood restaurant because you offer things like Doggy Dining. How does that work?
CS: We offer it on Wednesday and Saturday nights. It’s a great way for neighbors to come together. They all come and sit together with their well-behaved dogs. Alyssa, the daughter of the owner, makes dog treats and puppy meatloaf for the pets. She gets pretty creative with the dog treats. And then we have the regular menu for the humans. So, the humans come for the wine and the food, and the dogs get something out of it. We get people who come back week after week.
OMC: Speaking of people coming back, what is the best compliment someone could give to you?
CS: Your food is amazing. Your menu is creative and well thought out. Those are all things a chef wants to hear. Creativity, taste and the visual aspect of dishes are really my focus, so if anyone comments about those, that’s really the best.
OMC: Describe the challenges facing restaurants today in the Milwaukee market.
CS: Keeping people coming in, keeping people in seats. It’s about keeping things fresh and exciting. That’s why an ever-changing menu is important. Gone are the days of seeing the same things over and over. Chefs here in Milwaukee have really had to step up their game. There are quite a few places that do food well, but very few that do food great. And I think it’s becoming more and more important to be one of them that does food great.
OMC: If you could prepare a meal for anyone, living or dead, who would it be? And why?
CS: God, that’s a tough one. I’d probably have to say Anthony Bordain. We have a lot of similar philosophies. He’d appreciate my rich, over the top dishes. But, I’d have to think about what to serve.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.