SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
What do you miss about the south side of Milwaukee?
When I was growing up, my dad was a fireman and we lived in a part of the neighborhood that was all city workers: firemen, policemen, public workers. There was a huge tight-knit family feel, you knew every single person, they knew you, and the whole street felt like your home.
Do you have any fond memories of growing up at St. John Kanty?
We did everything at the parish. My dad ran the church festival; so we were involved in that 365 days a year. It was a huge thing. St. John Kanty was known to give away whiskey decanters; so we would make trips to Kentucky to buy decanters from Jim Beam. There was just so much going on there and we were in the middle of it all.
What got you into cooking?
My grandmothers. My great grandma was from Poland and my grandma was first-generation American. Our house was very centered on family; we ate dinner together every night at the table. My grandmothers both lived with us at different times; so they were there all the time and made family dinners. When we came home from school, we’d help and I got into it with them.
When did you know it was going to be more than a hobby for you?
When my church found out I was interested in cooking, they fostered it and asked me to cook breakfast for the Christian Mothers and the Holy Name Society. I was in eighth grade and later a freshman and sophomore in high school, and they trusted me to make breakfast for over 80 people. It meant so much to me that they believed in me. My freshman year at Thomas More, my English teacher, Mary Cox, introduced me to Wally Wallock, who had Grandma Emma’s Cafe on Kinnickinnic, and I went in and helped him with pastry two days a week. I would do all the prep work for his baking, making buttercream and pastry cream and pie crusts. He gave me that next step up that I needed.
Did you work there through high school?
I worked there a couple years until Wally got me a job at Ponderosa, and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was one of the bosses. Because I was under 18, I didn’t even make minimum wage. On my 18th birthday, I got the biggest raise I’ve ever gotten in my life.
What led you to your current job?
I was in the restaurant business for a long time and 21 years ago after I got married and my daughter was born we got to her first birthday and I realized that the only thing I remembered about that year was her sleeping. In the restaurant business, you’re always there. So we had her birthday party on Sunday and I went in on Monday and told my boss that I quit.
What did you decide to get into afterward?
For two and a half months, I fed Lauren every one of her meals, she took every nap on my chest, and I changed every diaper. One day, I was grocery shopping and I noticed a sign in the store that said they were looking for an assistant produce manager. I thought I could do that, so I applied for it and before we even got home, the manager called and said that in the meat department they were remodeling and putting in the full-service meat counter. He said they wanted someone with a culinary background to create the stuffed chicken breast and the pub burgers. All those things you now see in the Roundy’s cases now, those are all recipes that I created years ago.
How often do you cook at home?
Every night. I’m still a south side of Milwaukee guy; it’s meat and potatoes. Tonight, it’s grilled chicken with a broccoli rice casserole. I think there’s great comfort from the simple foods. Food spurs so much of our memories. Nobody can talk about a holiday without talking about the food and who gathered around the table.
How do you live out your faith in your life?
I know that there’s always someone guiding me. I took a leap from the culinary field years ago when I was at the top of my game and one of the best in the field. I followed where I was being led. No one can tell me that the sign in the grocery store wasn’t God guiding me. How many times had I walked by it before?