Andrea Behling

Food for thought on Madison's restaurant scene

We ask a lot of chefs.

When I asked Evan Dannells to meet me for a cup of coffee this past August, I had no idea he was planning to open Cadre in just a few short months. I requested the interview because I had a feeling — after he parted ways with Merchant and Lucille and took a part-time consulting gig with Pasture & Plenty — that he hadn't quite reached his maximum potential as a chef just yet. 

My instincts were right, and oddly well-timed as I was working on this month's cover story. Dannells and I sat down at Ancora Coffee on University Avenue, and I ate up every detail about his new restaurant. There was sincerity and passion in each sentence he shared. This venture was to be a culmination of everything he had wanted in a restaurant — not just a place that serves delicious food and offers a great experience to diners, but a place that fosters a positive and sustainable work environment for all employees. 

There are details about opening a restaurant that people don't always hear or see. For the bellyaching Yelpers of the world — who I think have an exclusive reservation waiting for them in the afterlife — Cadre is just another new restaurant. For Dannells, it is the business he put his soul and savings into — it's his livelihood. We ask a lot of chefs like him. Nowadays, they're expected to not only be talented cooks, smart restaurateurs and expert interior designers, but also accessible personalities.

I get that not everyone's tastes and standards are the same. I understand that critical reviews help diners decide where they spend their money. I can see how honest feedback promotes improvement. I just wish we would acknowledge local restaurants for what they are — extremely personal (and financially risky) expressions of someone's craft and creative vision. 

The chefs featured in this issue could find much easier ways to make a living. Instead, they spend their time pouring themselves out while they fill us up. Their restaurants are what give this town its unique flavor. 

For that, I am extremely proud and excited to feature five chefs who are taking risks to start ventures that put their skills on display for us to enjoy. We have a feeling these talented and passionate chefs will further cement Madison as a dining destination in the years to come while offering us many opportunities to indulge in one of the most universal joys there is — sharing an excellent and memorable meal that helps connect us to this place we call home.

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