The spice rack. We all have one. Or in my case, what once was a spice cupboard replete with decade-old powders and amalgamated configurations of salt, bleached, then colored, then packaged and labeled as "fish seasoning" or "steak seasoning."
I've since purged most of these inherited dust vials, and today you will find nutmeg, sweet curry powder, cinnamon, saffron, lavender, Korean chili threads or Madagascar vanilla beans. More importantly, what you won't find is dried herbs, onion powder or garlic salt.
On a rainy Wednesday afternoon at the Frontier Airlines Center, I strolled through the annual Wisconsin Restaurant Expo in search of new and exciting products with which to enhance my menus and inspire my epicurean appetite.
As I surveyed a line-up of dried herbs and powdered "this and that," I asked the grandfatherly gentleman at the booth, "Are these all natural?" He responded proudly. "Yes, our spices are all natural." I then asked, "Are they irradiated?"
Since the legendary John Ernst Cafe opened in 1878, the hardworking and fun-loving Milwaukee-born have scoffed at "big city" food bent on fussiness and ostentation.
In time, and after an unprecedented run, this style of dining began to feel tired. Being served a plate of dense meatloaf with gravy and a side of peas and carrots by a beefy gal in a dirndl no longer felt novel; it just felt weird.
Naturally, this gave way to a new crop of chefs and food, which showed all of us youngsters that fine food is possible in this city known for brats and cheese.
While these new dining experiences and dazzling menus are well documented by our resident restaurant reviewers, there is little known among the general public about how that food becomes reality.
Welcome to my series, "The Engine Room," which will take you into the kitchens of some of Milwaukee's coolest restaurants, led by some of its most relevant chefs. These chefs are working to break the mold and introduce – not force – interesting ingre...