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A chat with Braise's Dave Swanson

For the fifth straight year, October is Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2011."

I recently had a great conversation with local food pioneer, friend and celebrity chef David Swanson. His on-the-go cooking school is about to have a more permanent residence with the opening of his new restaurant, Braise

Here's what he has to say about it. David, you have been an innovative chef in Milwaukee for many years how would best describe your style of cooking?

Dave Swanson: Seasonal, balanced, simple flavors combined well. American cuisine.

OMC: Who was your biggest influence on your cooking?

DS: Having come up through the ranks in French kitchens with inspiration from masters chefs such as the famous Jean Banchet, those classic French cooking techniques are part of how I cook today, award-winning chef Suzanne Goin – owner of four successful restaurants in L.A. – her very simple approach to food is very unique, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York City. Her food is very straightforward, but done very well.

OMC: What cuisine excites you the most?

DS: It depends if I'm cooking it or eating it. If I'm eating it has to be Mexican food. If I'm cooking I have always been intrigued by Asian culture and cuisine. Vietnamese and Thai are very interesting to me. But far as what I enjoy cooking I really love the American palette. I love learning regional American foods, whether it's Pennsylvania Dutch, Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest, its really kind of nice having those influences there, as well.

OMC: A lot of people have heard about Braise RSA but for those that haven't, can you explain what an RSA is?

DS: RSA stands for Restaurant Supported Agriculture. It's collaboration between chefs and farmers. It's where a group of chefs can get together to source food locally; it's a great way to bring food in to their restaurants that otherwise they would have a difficult time finding.

The great thing about it allows the chefs to communicate efficiently with the farmers to specialize their needs. Chefs can partake in the process of what produce is grown to their specific needs. We are not a purveyor, but more of a liaison in establishing these relationships between chefs and farmers.

OMC: These are very exciting times for you; tell us about your new restaurant.

DS: It is a continuation of what I have done in the past of things I have done with my traveling culinary school. Where we teach class in right in the farm field and how to use those ingredients. The restaurant will be using a number of ingredients from 400 different farms in Wisconsin. The menu will be written daily to highlight the best ingredients of the season.

We are going to do things like more nose-to-tail cooking where use all parts of the animal; we'll have an in-house butcher who break down whole animals. And with RSA supporting us it will allow us the ability to work with these farmers on a greater level. We open with dinner service and eventually open for lunch.

We are still under construction but the opening details can be found at our website.

OMC: How does it feel to be your own boss?

DS: I'm completely fine with that. I left Sanford's in 2004 so I have been my own boss since then, with running the traveling school and the RSA I have had the opportunity to work out those personal demons. It's nice, everybody has their own take on Wisconsin cuisine and it's nice to have that creative freedom to do that.

OMC: Is fine dining dead?

DS: There are two aspects to that. One is there is such a resurgence of the cooks as opposed to the chefs. There are so many good cooks today that you don't really need to go to a white tableclothed restaurant to find good food these days. Whereas 20 years ago that was the only place you could go to find a good meal. Finding good food these days is a lot easier than before.

The resurgence of the cook and people who want to learn the trades have made a reconnection with our food. That's actually our tag line: "Reconnecting with our food."

I don't really see it coming back to the heyday it once was, there a lot of other things than just the food itself especially with the socio-economic issues, I don't see them coming back; starched white tablecloths, the maitre'd and sommeliers days are gone. But, I don't think quality food and quality service will ever go out of style.

OMC: Are there any food trends you want to kick off with your new restaurant?

DS: I really hope to establish regional Wisconsin cuisine, to define what that means and to highlight the many different areas of this state. I want people to reconnect with where their food comes from and showcase that good quality food still exists.


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