BY CHEF MICHAEL FEKER | PHOTOS BY LAURA DIERBECK
My dear friends, in these monthly articles, I wish to talk to you about all things food and how cooking truly impacts your life and lifestyle. Therefore, it is crucial to “pour the foundation” as to how the landscape of food in the Milwaukee region has evolved to its current, vibrant state.
My own local culinary journey began in 1997. Having opened three restaurants in Los Angeles, I came to Milwaukee to oversee a family venture, dividing my time between L.A. and Milwaukee. The peace and serenity of Southeast Wisconsin looked more beautiful with each trip. During that same time, I also met and married a beautiful woman, and since raising a family was important to both of us, we decided to call Milwaukee home. In a nutshell, business brought me here, but love kept me here.
Together, Maricela and I opened our first Milwaukee restaurant, IL MITO, in August of 2000. At that time, the food landscape was not as colorful or expansive as it is today. Getting extra virgin olive oil was difficult. Securing saffron for a ravioli dish on the menu was nearly impossible, so I connected with the Chicago market to get my specialty items and fresh seafood daily.
Since then, the landscape of food has changed tremendously in the Milwaukee region.
As you know, with demand comes supply. As the Milwaukee restaurant scene kept growing and exciting new options settled in among traditional German restaurants, steakhouses, diners and burger joints, it became apparent to the food suppliers that a huge market waiting to be tapped existed just 90 miles north of Chicago. The Milwaukee Public Market opened in 2005, offering a year-round place to find fresh fish, meats and cheeses, produce and spices, and more. More local farmers markets sprang up.
Home cooks and diners happily began to expand their horizons, and the fresh and specialty ingredient supply became far more available to restaurateurs to keep that momentum going.
Fast forward to 2008, when the organic, local and urban-farmed ingredients became an even sharper focus for many of us. Restaurateurs and local farmers — some new, some long established — began to work together like never before. I recall partnering with Growing Power’s urban agriculture pioneer Will Allen to create my flavor profiles with his products. Today, Dominican Center (pictured right) in the Amani neighborhood provides me with hypdroponic vegetables throughout the colder months.
And all of this is because you, the diner, are educating your palates daily. Maybe your cravings for global flavors are growing due to your travels. Could it be because you’ve come to view food and eating as an experience and not obligation.
Whatever your own personal reason, remember that you are the primary key to Milwaukee’s thriving food scene. MKE