Evan Dannells has a place to call his own with Cadre
Cadre replaced Oliver's Public House
Evan Dannells’ phone rang with multiple job offers the day after he worked his last shift as executive chef of Merchant on New Year’s Eve 2018.
“There’s a chef shortage right now,” Dannells says.
What Dannells probably wouldn’t admit is that those calls would have come in anyway, shortage or not, because he’s quietly made a name for himself in the cheffing circuit. “I’ve been lucky because my Southern/Midwest/Catholic upbringing primed me for a ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ sort of approach to being a business owner and a chef,” Dannells says. “I spend most of my life in a kitchen and I really want to surround myself with people who enjoy being around me and I enjoy being around them. I get a really deep sense of satisfaction watching people who work for me grow.”
But he didn’t take up any of the chef offers on New Year’s Day. Instead, he took a part-time consulting job with Pasture & Plenty, which allowed him to start planning his own restaurant. In September, Oliver’s Public House on old University Avenue closed, and in its place on Oct. 2 opened Cadre, a restaurant Dannells can call his own.
The Journey There
It seems as though Madison had been calling Dannells before he even knew it would become his home. Odessa Piper had just won her James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award when Dannells, a Kansas native, moved to Madison from Oregon in 2002 to work at L’Etoile. “I had heard about the farmers’ market here and the local farming infrastructure that had evolved,” Dannells says. “I wanted to go to a place where I could have a better connection with locally grown food and farms.”
He found that at L’Etoile, where he worked for about eight years in two installments. After working for Piper and chef de cuisine Tory Miller as a line cook for four years, he chased fine dining in Chicago before returning to L’Etoile as a sous-chef for its new owner, Miller.
In 2012, Dannells opened 4&20 Bakery & Cafe with Scott Spilger and Mandy Puntney. Puntney was the day-to-day force behind the cafe, located behind East High School. Spilger became less involved in day-to-day operations a year after opening and Dannells took on the executive chef role at Merchant in 2015, then helped open Lucille in 2016. Puntney’s death in 2017, after a short illness, ultimately led to the decision to close the cafe that same year.
When the idea for Cadre began to form, Dannells imagined a similar kind of restaurant that makes sense within the community that it’s in, which Puntney was able to achieve with 4&20.
You can tell when a restaurant has heart and soul put into it, because it’s evident in everything at Cadre from the atmosphere to the food to the service. Which is why Dannells has been so attentive to detail, including giving the former Oliver’s Public House space a physical face-lift to fit his concept, and choosing a meaningful name for his dinner-focused eatery.
Cadre (pronounced cod-ray) has a double meaning in English and French. It’s a French word meaning to frame a picture. “In the same sense that the restaurant is sort of the frame of the dining experience that you give a person,” Dannells says. In English, cadre means framework and is a military term that came into common usage in the 1950s and ’60s as a nontraditional structure for a military unit. But the technical English definition, Dannells says, is a small group of people with a specialized purpose. “When asked over the years what my biggest strength was as a chef … I came to the conclusion somewhere along the line that my strength as a chef mostly involves trying to find people who want to do this for a living and don’t necessarily want all of that conflict and dog-eat-dog mentality … and fostering an environment that allows them to grow.” That’s his goal with Cadre, which Dannells hopes will complement — not compete with — that stretch of University Avenue restaurants.
Working under Piper and Miller at L’Etoile, Dannells learned a lot about the parallels between southern France and Wisconsin in terms of climate and seasonality, and that helped develop his cooking style. “I’ve always kind of landed in a heavily French-influenced technique, but with flavors that can kind of flirt with just about anything else.” Dannells says Cadre’s French-style fare steers clear of getting the gastropub label. “I very badly wanted to be accessible to the average Madisonian in this area, but not so accessible that I get lost in the shuffle,” he says. “I want this place to be Wisco-French.”
Culinarily, his style meanders north along the eastern border of France. “As the year goes, it starts out a little more Provençal and Mediterranean and then it kind of just works its way over to Alsace,” he says.
But offering a more Americana-influenced brunch was a must, Dannells assures.
“I adore brunch — it’s my favorite meal,” Dannells says. “You can never have too many brunch places in this town.”
In its first few weeks of service, Cadre has already proven itself as one of Madison’s most exciting new opens. The restaurant offers French cuisine with a Wisconsin twist, like goat cheese curds. “It’s familiar, but French,” he says.
What makes Cadre’s opening more important is the presence of another restaurant leader who cares about creating a positive kitchen culture. “Cooks aren’t just this sort of disposable labor that they were treated as for decades,” Dannells says. “A restaurant should be a family, and you want to treat your family well.”
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