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 Thi Cao of Buckley’s. Cao will be among eight featured chefs at the upcoming third annual Moveable Feast event at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Thi Cao was born in Da Nang, Vietnam, but by the time he was 3 months old, he’d traveled with his family from a refugee camp in Thailand to the U.S., where they received sponsorship from a family in Madison, Wisconsin.
As a child, Cao says that when he wasn’t watching cartoons he was watching cooking shows. And he grew up under the influence of TV personalities like the Frugal Gourmet and Paul Prudhomme. After earning a degree in IT from UW-Milwaukee, he spent time in the financial sector before following his passion and attending culinary school. Cao has worked at a variety of restaurants in Milwaukee and abroad, including Coquette Cafe, Osteria del Mondo and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Cao says that, due to his schedule, he does most of his dining out during lunch. "The days of wolfing down a burger or a big meal before my typical long shift are behind me," he says. "I appreciate food that is more nourishing, light and, of course, tastes great."
Three options at Pho Cali
"Proudly, I come here almost once a week. I rotate between pho dac biet, bun rieu, and bun bo hue. It just really depends on my mood that day and how hungry I am, or if I need a little spice in my life. Pho is so well-known these days, and I am so happy that it’s becoming somewhat mainstream. But there is so much more to Vietnamese food! Bun rieu and bun bo hue are both regional dishes that are great in flavor and have a spicier characteristics. That said, pho is king. And its all about the broth. And no, you do not have to doctor it up if it's done right. Pho Cali does it right."
Mango Tango at FreshFin Poke
"This is my new favorite place to get something light and tasty before work. You can taste the freshness in their ingredients and I cannot believe the generous portion size in all their bowls ... tons of salmon and tuna with a delicious array of vegetables. Currently my favorite is the Mango Tango but I would like to start customizing my own bowl soon. I love sushi, and this way of eating raw fish and vegetables in a bowl really satisfies me without weighing me down before a long night in the kitchen."
Huaraches at El Comedor
"Their tortillas are pressed and fried fresh for every order. Everything on their menu is great and where I go for authentic Mexican cuisine. You know the menu and flavor is authentic and delicious when you see the people of that region enjoying the food. I like their tacos but I love their special huaraches with lengua [tongue]. It is Mexican home cooking and you can taste it."
Ultimate comfort food
"Recently my mom came back from Vietnam and made chao vit for me. In China it is called congee and basically it is rice porridge with roasted duck. It's so simple to make; however, the depth of flavor and the feeling you get after eating it will satisfy your soul. If the popular Pho is classified as a burger, then chao is Vietnamese version of the chicken noodle soup. It is a dish that will transport any Vietnamese person back to their childhood. Its great to have when you are sick or when you're living in Wisconsin in the middle of April and it’s still 34 degrees outside."
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.