Five Questions for Kyle Cherek
When VITAL Source was a print magazine we ran a monthly feature called 5Q, where we asked local notables or up-and-comers five questions about their craft, career or passion. Now, in our super-deluxe web format, it’s easy to do the same from time to time. In this installment of 5Q, we invited Kyle Cherek, host of the highly rated program, Wisconsin Foodie.
1. How did Wisconsin Foodie begin, and how did you become involved with it?
Foodie began when the producer Arthur Ircink, who was a previous neighbor of mine, called me out of the blue and said, “I have this idea for a show. I’d like to have a drink with you and tell you about it.” I thought, I don’t know where this is going, but I’m always curious about new projects.
Arthur is really the light and life of the show. He was in Montreal at a great restaurant with his girlfriend — now wife — and they were having a terrific meal. They sketched it out on a napkin — they still have it — the first ten or 12 shows: it should be regional, seasonal, farm-to-fork based. He pitched me on this over a drink at Hinterland.
Here’s the shameless plug, there’s a drink named after me at Hinterland. I had a party there and … anyway …. I said this is fantastic, and I totally subscribe to your vision. I have no experience hosting whatsoever. I certainly had no fear of public speaking; I’ve done plenty of that, but I have no camera experience. Let’s do it.
Truth of it, I should really thank Arthur’s wife Donna. He had the concept for the show, and Donna said, “I think Kyle would be good.” So, truthfully, if it weren’t for Donna, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.
There are a couple of different things, and I’m only one part of it. We have our producer/director Arthur and the co-director Mark Escribano and we have our producer, Theresa Kopac. It’s a team effort with everyone playing to their strength.
Being the host, I’ve spent the last two years happily having people come up to me saying, “You know what you should do…” — and they don’t realize that I’m not the guy … I am a little bit, but not really. Arthur’s the guy, and no one knows what he looks like.
But when we get a topic, then I will do a great deal of research. Arthur will give me everything he knows that has led him to think this would be a great story topic…
Mark [Escribano], the co-director …. to be honest, I don’t think he researches the topic very much. Mark shows up, and it’s very valuable because he shows up as the uninitiated viewer and gets all the shots that our eyes would find fascinating if we were walking into a place like Sweet Water Organics or Spirit Creek Farm up in Bayfield, with a couple living off the grid and making Kimchi and things like that. Mark gets all those shots that we would look at if we were just to roam around, and he’s got a great artistic eye. So, we don’t do so much prep with him.
And Theresa, our producer, gets a lot of the nitty-gritty — who do we contact, do they know we’ll be wandering around with cameras during their dinner hour…
3. If you had to sum up the Wisconsin or Milwaukee-area food scene what would you say?
I would say it’s been punching above its weight for the last 25 years. I would say it’s underestimated nationally. It’s affordable luxury and accessible.
4. What is your most memorable food moment on the show — something you ate or someone you met?
That’s a hard one; I have three or four. One would definitely be the lunch with Joe Bartolotta and Adam Siegel (Bacchus). Another would be the meal that Tory Miller made me at L’Etoile (Madison) in January of this year. Even though it was January, it remains the best meal I’ve had in 2009. It was amazing.
And then, I would say the third one was meeting Jacques Pépin and Roland Mesnier, a past executive pastry chef for the White House. Pépin was as open and generous and present as you would want someone of that caliber and renown to be, but he also has discipline. There was a meal that was served, and he and Adam (Siegel, Bartolotta Executive Chef) invited 30 or 40 of the top chefs in the state to a lunch lecture and book signing. I had the meal they had for lunch, but I wasn’t allowed to eat in the room with the chefs, which I think was fine — that was really cool. It was like, “This is for us — we love you, we’re glad you’re here, but you’re not one of the tribe in this capacity.” So, I sat at the bar at Bacchus. I loved that.
And hearing Mesnier, who had been there (The White House) for 26years, talk about the presidents and all the first ladies, from the Carters through the last Bush, say he was blown away by the culinary scene in Wisconsin and that he couldn’t believe it — he said was going to scream it from the highest rooftop. It squared with everything we’ve been trying to do.
5. Say you were stranded on a desert island but a meal was magically catered to you — what would it be?
My mom’s lasagna. It was a recipe she worked on for years before I was born. She served it on my birthday and special occasions until she died in ’97. Absolutely, my mom’s lasagna — it’s amazing. It’s Julia Child. It’s rich. It’s got every kind of caloric … everything. It’s got the best fat and butter and the best doughy pasta and the best, rich red sauce and the best cheese. And if you eat it every day for a week you’ll die of a heart attack. It’s fantastic, and it’s the memories.
Wisconsin Foodie airs Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. on CBS (Channel 58 in Milwaukee; Channel 5 on Time Warner Cable).