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Fun Factoids with Kyle Cherek

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Fast 5:

FOX CITIES Magazine turned the tables on “Chef Talk” host Kyle Cherek by putting him on the hot seat with some fun, rapid-fire food questions. Take a look at how he responded:

Q: Favorite cookbook?
A: “Jacques Pépin More Fast Food My Way.” He’s like a loving, patient grandfather who wants you to succeed without being a helicopter parent.

Q: Best kitchen move or tip?
A: Roast chicken. Herbs or not, salt, pepper or butter. Shove in a pan at 350-400 degrees. … Anybody can do it! … It’s so yummy! I suppose you can screw it up if you smell it and don’t pull it out. It’s bada**.”

Q: Farmers market must?
A: Talk to the farmers. … You’ll get the best little pints of raspberries. (Much like developing a relationship with your local butcher, talking to vendors will provide you with inside tips about what to get where, Cherek says.)

Q: Ideal meal that you prepare or have prepared for you?
A: Mom’s lasagna. I’ve written essays about it. It has the ability to move mountains. (Cherek’s mother passed away in 1997, but he still uses her recipe.)

 On a professional level, it’s when a chef arrives with a dish that they risked doing.

That’s the meal, that’s the moment. (It’s like) the athlete who can see themselves on the podium when they’re still on the starting blocks.

Q: Hands-down, ultimate dessert?
A: Chocolate chip cookies. American drop cookies. I had some today. Not too thin, not too thick, crispy on the edges. A perfect chocolate chip cookie with the vanilla, the salt and the butter are all sublime. (Instead of a cake, Cherek plans to serve guests cookies at his nuptials in the forthcoming year.)

FOX CITIES Magazine has a new recipe for clever and insightful coverage of the Fox Cities dining scene and beyond. With a dash of humor, a spoonful of story and a pinch of the unexpected thrown in for good measure, “Chef Talk” with Kyle Cherek will launch on foxcitiesmagazine.com this month.

“The genesis of the series or why it makes sense to me is very simple,” Cherek shares.

Viewers may recognize Cherek, a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, as the host of Wisconsin Public Television’s Emmy-nominated “Wisconsin Foodie” and from his appearances on The Travel Channel and Food Network. After doing “Wisconsin Foodie” for about five years, Cherek had developed relationships with chefs throughout the Midwest and wanted to dig into the rich content he was unearthing by talking with them even further.

At one point during a candid discussion with a chef, the idea for “Chef Talk” struck him.

“I realized he was sharing things with me that he would only be sharing with me,” Cherek explains. It is his hope that with “Chef Talk” he’s able to get a chef to take his or her guard down and “connect as human beings.” The shows are meant to be entertaining, provide a connection to the chef and allow viewers to get a glimpse inside the minds of each chef.

Thus, the anthesis of the series is to explore anything from what annoys a chef to what invigorates them, while asking emotional, real questions that may or may not make them flinch.

“Chef Talk” is shot with one or two cameras that are constantly moving in a cinéma vérité style and will catch raw moments like Adam Siegel, executive chef for the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, tapping his finger on the base of a wine glass while he was contemplating a question that conversationally only he and Cherek could share together about the James Beard Award.

“I never know what they’re filming,” Cherek says. “We’re just having a conversation. We’ll often take 45 minutes to an hour and only four to five minutes will be used.”

While Cherek prepares for each encounter by learning about the chef’s career, cooking style, chosen ingredients, what makes them tick and jotting down questions, the dialogue often takes an unplanned direction and leads to the funny, forthright and candid conversations that take place.

Cherek had more than his audience in mind when creating the series.

“I was privately doing it for the chefs so they could see the stories of each other’s lives,” he confesses. He describes the profession as a cohort or calling and notes that while the fraternity of sorts bands together and learns from one another, due to the hours and demands of the job, it is difficult to meet those you admire and strive to be.

“They doubt themselves every day and they try just as hard as the new and young ones do,” Cherek explains, noting that chefs all seem to have the same intentions and attentions when it comes to food and what comes out of their kitchens.

Cherek stumbled into the world of food with “Wisconsin Foodie.” The show’s producer wrote out the first episode on a napkin and asked his then girlfriend and now wife who she thought would be a good fit as host. She suggested Cherek who had no previous culinary background and was working in the nonprofit world in Milwaukee at the time.

Cherek agreed to give it a shot on the condition that the show would be unscripted and began throwing himself into research for the show. Initially, he had a co-host before the show went with a solo host format.

Cherek grew up learning about fine dining and eating exquisite gourmet recipes from his mother, and cultivating an appreciation for organic and healthy cooking on a budget from his stepmother, he noted.

“I understand what four forks are for,” Cherek joked as he recalled his mother setting elaborate tables.

His Hungarian maternal grandmother also enjoyed cooking all day and his Polish paternal grandmother made her own sausage, pickled and made modest cuts of meat better, according to Cherek.

“I was surrounded by food,” he says. One of his earliest memories was at his maternal grandparents’ home “at their dining table staring up at her stirring soup or something in a large pot.”

Today, Cherek enjoys making breakfast — including a protein, carb and fruit — for his fiancee, Nada Johnson, and their children when he’s not traveling; the kids enjoy his crepes and waffles. Cherek, however, says he’s amazed by Johnson’s ability to pull anything out of the refrigerator or pantry and make an amazing meal.

“I don’t have that synergistic level yet, but I can assist pretty well,” he says.

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