Featured chef: SURG executive pastry chef Kurt Fogle
If you've eaten at any of the SURG restaurants -- Charro, Umami Moto, Carnevor, etc. -- and stayed until the end, then you know the impressive -- and mouth-watering -- work of the group's executive pastry chef Kurt Fogle.
Consider that Fogle learned his art at the French Pastry School in Chicago under the tutelage of Jacquy Pfeiffer, who was the subject of "Kings of Pastry," which screened last fall at the Milwaukee Film Festival, and you won't be surprised by the array of treats he creates for the six restaurants (soon to be seven, with the addition of Ryan Braun's Graffito in the Third Ward).
We asked Fogle -- the first pastry chef we've profiled in this series -- about his background and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about yourself. Are you a Milwaukee native?
Kurt Fogle: No, I'm a Racine native. I was raised in the city and we moved to Wind Lake when I was a sophomore in high school.
OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to your current position?
KF: I was hired at O&H Bakery when I was old enough to work. After O&H I worked for a couple local restaurants and developed a real taste for cooking. I took a job as a delivery driver for Rocky Rococo after I graduated to make some extra cash with the intention of going to culinary school in Chicago that fall. I decided that I was better suited as a manager and put my school plan on hold for the next couple years.
All the while at Rocky Rococo's I wondered, "What would have happened if I had went?" I would catch myself daydreaming about being a professional chef. Finally, after little deliberation, I packed my things and moved to Chicago. I did a few stages and worked for additional fast, casual concepts, continually trying to talk myself out of cooking for a living. I failed. I was soon introduced to the French Pastry School by an ice cream shop owner, and eventually was persuaded into going.
While I was enrolled in the French Pastry School, Jacquy Pfeiffer asked me to give him a hand with a competition he was working on. After two years, we were finished and began discussing what I would do next. He suggested moving to Milwaukee, and I agreed. We both understood that Milwaukee was more limited than Chicago regarding the types of cuisine one could offer, but decided it was still worth a shot.
After a series of networking opportunities, I discovered a tasting menu that featured local ingredients by Chef Robert Ash -- who at the time worked for the Intercontinental. I was so impressed with the menu that I sent him my resume. After working with Ash for a few years, I decided to try something new and accepted the position of executive pastry chef at SURG restaurant group.
OMC: How do you approach creating desserts for so many different restaurants?
KF: Because all of the chefs at SURG are so extremely talented, I try and tap into their heads and understand individual menus. After that, we discuss different dessert options that complement what is already being served.
OMC: Can you let us in on your preparation for Ryan Braun's Graffito? Does it present an opportunity to do some different things there?
KF: Top secret. It absolutely presents a world of opportunity as it is an entirely different culture.
OMC: What's your a signature dish?
KF: You tell me. I think that's how that works.
OMC: What do you like most about your job?
KF: That SURG has such tremendous long-term vision.
OMC: And least?
KF: Are you kidding? I live in a dream world surrounded by cakes and candy. Imagine building a gingerbread house every day. That's my life; no complaints.
OMC: Why do you think pastry chefs tend to get less attention than executive chefs? After all, many of us love dessert most of all.
KF: I'm just happy we get any attention at all. When it comes down to it, we just work in one department within a particular chef's kitchen. If you want, though, you can help me get more attention.
OMC: We're working on that right now. What are your favorite places to eat out in Milwaukee?
KF: I have the rare opportunity to be involved with six of the best restaurants in the state, so when I want something crazy good, I just ask my friends for it. Outside the group, I like Mazo's ... a lot. I tell them all the time how much I like them and they probably think I'm nuts. My friend owns the Eatery on Farwell, his food is very comforting to me, and delicious.
OMC: Which restaurant, other than the ones you work in, do you think is doing the most interesting work in terms of desserts?
KF: Le Reve in Wauwatosa. The owner, Andy Schneider, presents an authentic pastry shop. I'm so happy for his success. Maybe one day we can get together and make Paris Brest.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook?
KF: Easy, "On the Line" by Eric Ripert.
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef? Why?
KF: I watch shows like "Avec Eric," "Jose Made in Spain" with Jose Andres and "Top Chef," but I really don't have a favorite.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?
KF: Science-driven cooking.
OMC: Which kitchen utensil can't you live without?
KF: My Atkins Type K Thermocouple. (Note: It's a kitchen thermometer.)
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
KF: Eating local, chefs having relationships with farmers, the resurgence of supper clubs, and of course, everyone eating dessert after dinner, every time.
OMC: What's your favorite dessert?
KF: Ice cream. Any way I can get it.
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