By Becky Roozen Published Nov 29, 2004 at 5:38 AM

{image2} For chef J. Britton Unkerfer, the kitchen has always been a second home. At 13, he began working in his family's Door County restaurant and since then has journeyed from East Coast to West, throughout Europe and now resides in Milwaukee where he utilizes all he's learned on his culinary voyage in the Sticks & Stones kitchen.

Unkerfer, a New England Culinary Institute graduate, practices the Slow Food Movement philosophy at Sticks & Stones, 2300 N. Pilgrim Square Dr., in Brookfield. Rather than a cooking method, as one might assume by the name, the movement refers to "sitting down and enjoying a meal with your friends and family and just appreciating that time together," he says. It also encourages using locally-produced products and cooking in season.

It all began in 1989 in the Piedmont region of Italy as a result of a McDonald's opening in Rome, says Unkerfer. And beyond marinating in quality time with loved ones, it's about biodiversity in agriculture, he adds, "so that small farms stay afloat. And that's something the southeastern Wisconsin chapter really focuses on, that and farmer relations."

As a contributing member, Unkerfer buys his chickens from a local farmer. And they work together to come up with the perfect product the restaurant is looking for.

"The other thing is that it's basically against fast food," he adds. "Fast food places aren't going away, but what I'd like to see more of is fast food places doing the same thing that we're doing, working with local farmers.

"And grocery stores, too. Like the Outpost always has locally-grown items. It gives people an option, and they know where their food is coming from." And if farmers are encouraged to grow native and traditional produce, the world's diversity will be maintained.

{image1}Component No. 2 in Unkerfer's magic recipe at Sticks & Stones is quality. This Bay View resident has never specialized in seafood, but since it's such a hit at Sticks & Stones, he's becoming quite the pro, and knowing where that fish comes from is the first step to mastering the art, he says.

"Some people fly some of their fish in. We fly all of it in except the fresh water fish which is local," says Unkerfer. And he says the quality of the fish is certainly showing through, because people are noticing.

But the quality doesn't stop at the seafood dishes. "We use Normandy butter from France for finishing all of our sauces," Unkerfer adds. "We only use a French salt for service. I go beyond probably most of the best restaurants in the city getting the quality."

This seasoned chef says it's a straightforward process to ensure excellence. "It's as simple as checking (the food) in every day, to make sure it's exactly what you want, and even before that, giving your sales people the idea that this is what you want: top quality."

And for serving such classy fare, you might expect Sticks & Stones to break your bank by the meal's end, but it's not so, says Unkerfer. "That's one of the biggest things I want to get across. We're not expensive. There are five different items under $20 and nothing over $30. If you find a restaurant in this city of this caliber, you won't find that."

Call (262) 786-5700 for reservations.