For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
When you pull together six of Milwaukee’s top chefs and ask them to compete against one another for a cause, you’re bound to witness evidence of a friendly rivalry that can only exist here in the Cream City.
That’s what you’ll find when you attend "Serve Taste Give" at 6 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Milwaukee Rail Hall, 131 Seeboth St., an event which raises money for Feeding America.
Attendees will enjoy food from Skyline Catering, Blue Jacket, Industri Cafe, Afro Fusion Cuisine and Classy Girl Cupcakes, in addition to a cash bar and plenty of good-natured entertainment from the competing chefs.
In anticipation of the event, I took the time to chat with each of the competing chefs – including Daniel Jacobs of Wolf Peach, Matt Kerley from Rumpus Room (but who starts at Blue Jacket on Nov. 5), Peter Sandroni of La Merenda, Paul Zerkel from Odd Duck, Daniel Pope from All Purpose Bar & Kitchen and Kevin Sloan representing The Pabst/Riverside Theaters and Turner Hall.
I asked them to tell me about who they viewed as their most stiff competition, and how they plan to quash their rivals. What follows is a bit of what they told me.
First I spoke to the chef who could be considered the "new kid on the block" – All Purpose Bar & Kitchen's Pope.
Pope says he’s not planning on underestimating anyone in the competition, since he "respects the hell out of the other chefs." But, he does look forward to competing against Jacobs.
"We are both from Chicago and have known each other for a long time," he tells me. "I once applied to work for him and he is the chef I most want to beat."
Of course, when I talked with Jacobs about Pope, his response to me was: "Dan Pope? Who is he?"
Kerley also cites Jacobs as his primary competition.
"For one, he's a Bears fan. Two, DVR (Chef Dan Van Rite of Hinterland) is in his corner."
I found out from Jacobs that he does plan to bring Van Rite on as part of his prep team. So, we’ll be watching from the sidelines to see what kind of magic they can make together with canned goods and other non-perishable food items.
Jacobs admits that Kerley will definitely be among his top competitors, but only "…if he can stop doing pull ups long enough to cook something."
Chef Paul Zerkel was also mentioned as a worthy opponent, but only "if he can take time out of his busy schedule of primping his hair and hipster clothes buying. He better bind his wrist tight!"
Meanwhile, Zerkel doesn’t pull any punches when he says that "the competition at this event is varied in its ineptitude."
He also figures that his fiercest competitor will be Kerley, who he claims "has got to have at least fifteen cooks coming with him just to prepare vegetables. You can't buy that kind of support...oh wait...yes you can."
He also got in his digs against Sandroni of La Merenda.
"Peter has got all the farmers in the state on his speed dial so he will probably be getting ingredients dropped off mid contest."
Sandroni was unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, Chef Kevin Sloan of The Pabst and Riverside Theaters is playing things cool.
"I'm just looking at the list of competitors now and my initial thoughts are this," he says. "I would imagine Chef Matt from the Bartolotta group will run for the exits when he realizes the ingredient list doesn't include truffles or foie gras."
And yet, Zerkel claims that the two chefs most easily dispatched, are likely to be Chefs Jacobs and Sloan.
"Jacobs used to be my sous so I know all of his techniques," he says (Jacobs worked under him at Roots). "He learned them from me after all. When I met him he was running some two bit pizza place. I also know his weakness for whiskey. I plan on ‘going out’ with him the night before so, let's just say, he'll have a hard time holding down anything he tastes during the event."
"Sloan poses a different conundrum. He cooks for bands for Christ’s sake. How discerning of palates could they have? You can't cook everything with pot!"
When I asked him about Pope, he smiles. "He is a Cubs fan. He's used to losing so I don't have to worry about hurting his feelings too much."
Meanwhile, Kerley suspects that Zerkel will be pretty easy to beat, since "he’s had something to prove to me ever since the Niners beat the Packers last year in the playoffs."
There is definitely competition brewing between Sloan and Jacobs.
Jacobs says age is definitely a factor that gives him an advantage against Sloan. "Kevin Sloan … He's so old! It’s like cooking with the one of the Golden Girls … Bea Arthur to be exact! He told me he hopes to win to buy a new t-shirt. That grey PBS shirt can compete on its own."
But, Sloan isn’t taking things lying down.
"It's my understanding that Chef Jacobs from Wolf Peach has been pushing the organizer to let him bring his $10,000.00 wood burning oven to the event," he says. "Which leads me to believe that he's going to have a hard time cooking anything without it."
He also had a few opinions about Zerkel, who often helps him out with dinner preparations at the theaters.
"The last time I worked with Chef Paul Zerkel from Odd Duck, I asked him to throw me a towel as I was pulling a roasting rack out of the oven," he tells me. "Instead, he stuck his hand in a tub of goose fat and flung it at me, almost like he didn't know the difference between the two. Needless to say he's been banned from the kitchen at the theaters."
But, despite his age, wisdom, and experience, Sloan claims ignorance insofar as the other chefs are concerned. Apparently chefs don’t get out much.
"I've never even really heard of any of them," Sloan claims, "I thought I heard rumblings that that Sandroni guy was trying to open a tapas place in Walker’s Point years ago, La-something, but as far as I know he never even got the joint open."
As far as winning, I asked each chef to let me in on what his main approach to the competition was going to be.
Dan Jacobs: "Take enough time to stop talking trash and hiding other competitors’ burners."
Matt Kerley: "Stay fluid, and do a lot of push-ups!"
Daniel Pope: "…to work quickly and cleanly and to be as innovative as possible with the ingredients I have to work with."
Kevin Sloan: "As for my approach to the event, I'm just going to do my thing, stay focused and let my Williams-Sonoma can opener sing for me."
Paul Zerkel: "My approach to winning this event will be to cheat as much as I can while embarrassing all who oppose me. My culinary kung fu has no defense!"
So, come join in the fun on November 2and make up your own mind about which chef truly deserves accolades. After all, if these initial jibes are any indication, the chef competition should provide a pretty fine evening of cheap entertainment… all for a great cause.
In addition to an evening filled with fun, food and friendly competition, the event will serve to demonstrate how any family or individual can create a delicious tasting meal with basic ingredients found at any food bank across America. To assist in this effort, each attendee will receive, via email, a special SERVE 60 cookbook with all the competing chefs' recipes included.
Individual tickets for Serve Taste Give are available for $60, with VIP tickets for $100 at servetastegive.com or by calling (414) 389-9906. All proceeds will support the missions and programming of both non-profits, SERVE 60 and Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.
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.