When Cole Ersel chose to leave his post as executive chef of Wolf Peach this past fall, the decision was a personal one.
"The work had become all consuming," he notes. "I loved my job. I never minded the hours, and I loved the staff I’d put into place. But, I became so personally invested in all of it that I was mentally and emotionally exhausted."
He was also looking to expand his skill set. Some consulting. Also taking on a sous chef role under Kevin Sloan at The Pabst/Riverside.
"I’m actually working a similar amount of hours, but I’m not taking any of it home with me. And I’m beyond excited to work with Kevin [Sloan]; I’ve got such mad respect for him. He can cook dishes on the spot from so many places in the world."
He’s also taking advantage of the time to take on creative projects, including a collaborative dinner which will be held at EsterEv, the first week in May.
"The whole dressed up world of fine dining isn’t my usual gig these days," he says. "It’s something I have to focus on, and it feels really good to stretch myself. It’s a good challenge."
Fondness for foraging
The dinner, which will focus on foraged ingredients, including fiddleheads, ramps, cress and various flowers and pheasant's back mushrooms, will include 10 courses created by Ersel and Chefs Daniel Jacobs, Dan Van Rite, with dessert by pastry chef Jaceleen Latin-Monagle.
"It’s spring, so ramps are my favorite food," notes Ersel. "When I go foraging, I don’t go for things like morels, because I don’t like losing. I like the certainty of ramps. I like the digging. And for me, it’s really a sign that spring is truly here. They’re awesome. You look around and they’re the only green thing on the forest floor."
Ersel says it only seemed appropriate to do the dinner at EsterEv, since some of his first foraging experiences happened with Chefs Van Rite and Jacobs.
"Some of my first ramping experiences in Wisconsin were with Danny [Van Rite] when I worked at Hinterland," notes Ersel. "And that snowballed when I worked under [Dan] Jacobs at Roots and Wolf Peach, so to be able to put together a ramp focused dinner with these two guys is really exciting. They also happen to be the last two chefs I worked for and I continue to draw many influences from them."
Jacobs says they've always envisioned EsterEv as a place for collaborations. "The best part about working with other chefs," he says, "Is that no matter how much you know – or how much you think you know – you always learn something new. And that keeps everyone moving forward, keeps us all inspired."
Among dishes likely to make the cut for the dinner is a starter board, reminiscent of those Ersel and Jacobs served at Wolf Peach, featuring snackable items like pate, smoked fish and potentially bite-sized cannoli with an outer shell made from dehydrated ramp greens and a filling reminiscent of French onion dip.
Ersel says he's also hoping to make chawa mushi, a silky Japanese egg custard featuring trout, ramp and kombu broth with trout, fiddleheads, ramps and togarashi.
Jacobs says he's likely to add a charred ramp risotto to the menu. And, at least one dish will be a true collaboration between Ersel, Jacobs and Van Rite: a pickle brined fried chicken with popcorn grits, a ramp salsa verde and an homage to the hot butter sauce Van Rite served at Hinterland.
Latin-Monagle says her desserts will include one chocolate-based creation and another that incorporates black ramps, which have been fermented for 140 hours to mellow their flavor and increase their sweetness, paired with pears and citrus.
Currently, the ramp dinners will take place on Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6 with a third dinner offered on May 4 if demand warrants.
Each of the dinners will take place at EsterEv and will feature ten spring-inspired courses plus optional beverage pairings, will begin at 7 p.m. Cost is $80 per person, plus an additional $40 for pairings. To make reservations, call or visit esterev.com.
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.