Meet 55 of Madison’s chefs

We directed rapid-fire questions at these chefs
Meet 55 of Madison’s chefs
Courtesy of the chefs

We directed rapid-fire questions at these chefs to get to know them a bit better.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef?

Kyle Cozine, Robinia: On my 21st birthday.

Sean Pharr, Mint Mark: While watching an overly emotional episode of “Quantum Leap.”

Adam Struebing, The Madison Club: The moment I found my first ramp on the bluffs of Lake Michigan.

Jamie Hoang, Sujeo: When I was 19. I dropped out of college and decided to enroll in the culinary arts program at Madison College.

John Gadau, Sardine/Marigold Kitchen/Gates & Brovi: Living in France as a kid.

Jason Kierce, Adamah Neighborhood Table/UW Hillel Foundation: I was working in the financial sector when I was at Johnny Delmonico’s with a client. On my way to the restroom, I passed the open kitchen and saw the chef working in his whites. Something clicked inside of me and I thought, “I want to do that.”

Casey Metcalf, Vintage Brewing Co.: When I was about 14 and got my first job as a dishwasher in a banquet facility. The hustle of everything was intriguing!

Jason van Ommeren, Canteen: When I was about 20-21 and I was broke and had no food.

What about Madison’s food scene would you say is unique?

Jonny Hunter, Underground Food Collective: We have better ingredients than anywhere in the country.

Jason Rubalcava, Tornado Room Steak House: The access to so much great cheese.

Tommy Gering, Casetta Kitchen and Counter: How far restaurants go to source local ingredients.

Kipp Thomas, Kipp’s Kitchen: The diversity of ethnic food here in town. It’s like a small Chicago and New York.

Gilbert Altschul, Grampa’s Pizzeria/Gib’s/Porter/PDC: The amount of different ethnic foods available.

Anibal Brandt, Eno Vino Wine Bar & Bistro: Cheese curds.

What menu item are you most proud of?

Louis Eisch-Schweitzer, Umami Ramen and Dumpling Bar: Hiyashi Chuka. When people call year-round for our summer ramen, [we] must be doing something right.

Zachariah Kuenzi, Everly/Miko Poke: The yellow curry with forbidden rice and the new dessert menu in its entirety.

Kyle Cozine, Robinia: Grilled lamb rack over wild rice with lamb pancetta, asparagus, peas and lavender jus.

Who is your biggest culinary inspiration?

Evan Dannells, Merchant: Two people: Tory Miller and Odessa Piper.

Maggie Roovers, Forequarter: My parents. My mom doesn’t cook super often, but she makes a stellar Passover meal. My dad is an amazing gardener and taught me a lot about how to grow and cook vegetables. My stepmom makes the best traditional Midwestern food of anyone I know.

Molly Maciejewski, Madison Sourdough: The farmers, cheesemakers, butchers and other producers who give us the great ingredients we have to work with.

Joshua Chavez, Longtable Beer Cafe: The men and women who, day in and day out, come in as line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers and crush it.

Nicole Ehrhardt, Market Street Diner: My grandmothers. Alice, my great-grandma, made amazing sour cream sugar cookies (served with lemonade), applesauce with the skins so it would be pink, and she always drank tea. Lenita, my grandma, made “Polish” salad dressing with mostly empty bottles of ketchup.

What do you like most about Madison?

Jeff Whitford, The Thirsty Goat: [It’s a] midsized city with a ton of great food.

Richard L Skaife, Hi Point Steak House: The diverse culinary and craft beer scenes.

Joaquin Lopez, Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano: Watching the four different seasons of the year, especially winter (even though I was born in Mexico!). I also love the atmosphere and vibe from Madison — perfect city.

What’s one thing you wish your customers knew?

Sean Crowley, Big Sky Restaurant: If customers call two weeks ahead with a reservation and they tell us what they want to have, I will make whatever they desire, as long as I can get the food items.

Shinji Muramoto, Muramoto Hilldale/Muramoto Downtown/Morris Ramen: Being in the Midwest doesn’t mean we have a disadvantage getting sushi-quality fish. Fish needs to be aged just like other protein such as beef.

Jeykell Badell, La Taguara: That we make everything from scratch using my mom’s recipes.

Patrick O’Halloran, Lombardino’s Italian Restaurant and Bar: After 19 years on the corner of Old University Avenue, just how thankful we all are for their support, and also how tired I am.

Benjamin Roberts, Pasqual’s Cantina: That my culinary talent stretches far beyond Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Travis Vaughn, Graft: I am nothing without my team.

Luis M. Sánchez Moreno, Tex Tubb’s Taco Palace: We don’t take shortcuts in our kitchen when we are preparing their food.

What’s your No. 1 pet peeve as a chef?

Daniel Bonanno, A Pig in a Fur Coat/Alimentari: Having people call me chef.

Scott Roe, Quivey’s Grove: Someone in the cooking industry who thinks they know everything. I’ve been cooking over 30 years and still learn every day!

Itaru Nagano, L’Etoile: When people say “heard” [which is a response to a chef order given in the kitchen]. It’s banned at L’Etoile. Also, tongs in a professional kitchen — also banned.

Most embarrassing cooking moment?

Derek Lee, Pizza Brutta: Andy North was at the restaurant (I’m a huge golf fan). I made his pizza and brought it out to him and proceeded to slide it off his plate in his lap. I guess you’d call that a swing and a miss.

Oscar Villarreal, Fuegos Steak |Tapas |Vegan: Having to do a speech for the Beloit hospital dinner of 300 after cutting my fingertip and about passed out because I lost too much blood!

Juan Martinez, Statehouse at The Edgewater: Sprinkler system going off in an Aspen restaurant [I was working at] when Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were eating lunch.

Mike Magee, The Wise Restaurant & Bar: In culinary school they used to call me Chef Burnt.

Charles Lazzareschi, CIRC: Doing a live news spot, I can’t remember what I was making at 5 a.m., but I do remember I had croutons. The anchor asked how I made the croutons. That was a question I didn’t expect, so I went completely brain dead and silent for 7 seconds on live TV.

How do you spend an ideal day off?

Robert Miller, The Old Fashioned: Being very quiet and enjoying food from other people.

Sean Fogarty, Steenbock’s on Orchard/Aldo’s Cafe: In the garden, then on the golf course, then dinner with the family and a good bottle of wine.

What is your favorite ingredient to work with?

Dave Heide, Liliana’s Restaurant/Charlie’s on Main: Salt. It’s the essence of flavor.

Aiden Fath-O’keefe, Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry: Cheese

Jed Spink, RED: Eggs

Matt Pace, Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co.: Seafood

Joaquin Lopez, Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano: Basil