There's no shortage of articles and television shows that showcase the dishes that chefs love to cook at their restaurants. But, what do they love to eat at the end of their exhausting 16-hour days? Or on their days off? In this series, we ask Milwaukee area chefs to share their favorite dishes – both from area restaurants and for eating at home. In this edition, we talked with Chef Andrew Koser of Rumpus Room.
Andrew Koser says he knew he wanted to be a chef from a young age, and his interest in various types of food was fueled by trips around the U.S. with his mother who was employed as an event planner.
By the age of 10, Koser had toured his first culinary school. At 14, he took his first job at Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Brookfield.
"They wouldn’t let me work the grill," he says, "Because I was too young; but when the managers weren’t around the grill guy would sometimes let me try my hand at making burgers."
Koser says he always had an interest in Asian cuisines. It was a passion he pursued early on through work at a local sushi restaurant, and something he cultivated during a five-year stint in Hawaii after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.
"I’d interned at Lake Park Bistro during culinary school, but when I graduated I decided to get out of my comfort zone. So I flew out to Hawaii. It was great. There are so many different influences in the cuisine there – from Filipino to Korean, Japanese and Thai – and it really gave me an opportunity to learn and explore. I liked it in Hawaii; but ultimately, it never felt like home; so I moved back home and took a job with the Bartolotta restaurants."
When it comes to dining out, Koser says finding the time to do so is challenging.
"My wife’s a doctor and I’m a chef, so it’s tough for the two of us to find time to go out. But when we can, we like to try different places that we haven’t been to; We probably eat at the best restaurants when we travel together. When we’re home, we often don’t have a ton of time, so we tend toward more fast casual spots.
"More often, if there’s a day we both have off, we’ll cook breakfast and hang out at home together. We’ve done it since we were dating, and it’s just become one of those things we do. She’s a surgeon, so she’s pretty good with a knife, and together we actually make a pretty good team."
Loco Moco at Ono Kine Grindz
"Having been to Hawaii, I really like places like Ono Kine Grindz. I always get their Loco Moco. It’s super hearty … a burger patty with Portuguese sausage gravy over the top and a sunny side up egg. It’s great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Their portions are really generous, which is really typical of the diner-style places in Hawaii. I love what they do because it captures a little bit of my time in Hawaii … the food is good, and when you go there, you just get a really good feeling."
Pho at Pho Viet
"One of the places we go the most is to get pho. It’s really almost replaced chicken noodle soup for me … whether I’m sick or cold, or just needing something comforting. I love going to Pho Viet; I always get the rare steak, and then – not to shame their broth – but I like adding hoisin, Sriracha and chili oil to spice things up a bit. An added bonus is that I can go over to Pacific Produce right next door. I love perusing the aisles; I always find something interesting that I can take back to the restaurant to play with."
Enchiladas Almendradas from Taco Amigo in Pewaukee
"We discovered this restaurant on a whim. My brother and his wife were visiting us and they were wondering about a good place to get a taco. We’d just moved to Waukesha, so we just started looking places up and we found Taco Amigo. The name didn’t exactly instill a great sense of confidence, but when we went there, we were blown away. The service is super fun and the food is fantastic."
"The almendradas is really just chicken enchiladas, but the sauce is really different. It’s made with almonds, cinnamon and chilis. It’s such a unique flavor… not just your red or green sauce. And they serve it alongside sauteed fresh vegetables instead of rice and beans."
"They have a section on the menu that lists out all of their sauces, which you can purchase to take home. You can even buy the almendradas sauce if you want. We really love spicy food, so one time while we were there I asked them about a diabla sauce on the menu … and they made it fresh for us. The kitchen is somewhat open, so you could see them making it. One guy had all these chiles spread out on a flat-top; and then they took them and threw them all in a blender. It seems like they make everything fresh, and they really care about what they’re doing."
Ultimate comfort food: Kraut bierocks (German stuffed rolls)
"I think one of the things that really hits home is something my grandmother used to make. They’re called kraut bierocks, which I think translates to cabbage pocket. It’s ground beef, onions and cabbage that are stewed down that’s packed into a yeasted dough and baked. She’d start them super early in the day, make a whole bunch of them, freeze them and give them to everyone in the family.She’s not around any more, but my family tries to get together every year at her old house and decipher her recipe. It never quite turns out like grandma did it. But we try."
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.