Head chef Heidi Laux doesn’t allow just anyone into her kitchen at the Courthouse Pub, Manitowoc’s prime dining spot.
She recently made an exception for Kyle Cherek, host of the Emmy-nominated television show “Wisconsin Foodie,” currently airing its eighth season on PBS.
Cherek, whose show is broadcast prime time to more than 8.2 million households, stopped in to sample fresh striped bass, nibble on braised pork and sip red wine as he helped select the menu for the 10th annual Silver Lake College Scholarship Gala presented by C.D. Smith Construction Services. He will be emcee for the April 9 event at Silver Lake College.
“The menu consultation with the chef was pure fun,” Cherek said. “It was akin to flipping through the old Sears catalog and circling everything you want and then realizing you can have everything.”
Cherek’s interest in the world around him led to work in home furnishings, fashion and nonprofits before “Wisconsin Foodie” premiered in 2008 with him as its host.
Neither a television personality nor a food expert when his then-neighbor, executive producer Arthur Ircink, invited him to showcase Wisconsin’s culinary riches, Cherek brings to the screen his large and often quirky personality, and a keen interest in culinary origins and techniques.
The Midwest is a “font of history, craftsmanship, and artisanal dispositions” for Cherek, whose show features interviews with regional chefs, food producers and culinary artisans.
His Manitowoc visit with Chef Laux “confirmed what I am constantly telling people in other parts of the country, that there is great food everywhere,” Cherek said. “The fact that there was terrific cuisine to be had at the Courthouse Pub was absolutely no surprise to me.”
Cherek has made regular appearances on The Travel Channel and Food Network, and is a frequent media contributor to Public Radio, NPR, CBS and NBC. His acclaimed video web series, “Chef Talk with Kyle Cherek,” features conversations with some of America’s most engaging chefs. In an effort to raise the people’s consciousness about food and sustainability, he regularly hosts forums, cooking demonstrations, and culinary events.
Chef Laux’s gala menu is a nod to the special regional and seasonal ingredients that Cherek has discovered while filming.
“What was driving us was to tie Kyle’s experiences into the meal,” Laux said. “The menu came from the places the Kyle Cherek has visited. He has done episodes from a lot of these places. That was really the driving force behind the whole menu.”
Among those he has chronicled are Rushing Waters Fisheries in Palmyra; Jefferson Township, an all-natural Upper Midwestern meat producer; and Seaquist Orchards Farm Market in Sister Bay.
Laux also wanted to incorporate Manitowoc County foods, and did so with goodies from Pine River Dairy, Susie Q Fish Market and Beerntsen Confectionary.
She plans to open the meal with trays of appetizers including such delicacies as pickled vegetables, Susie Q smoked whitefish cakes, beef tartare, cheese-filled fried rice balls, and skewers of vegetables, cheeses, meats and breads in three delicious combinations.
Diners also will enjoy Amuse Bouche, a roasted beet stack with LaClare Farms chevre, balsamic gelee and pistachio oil.
This will be followed by the first course, Rushing Waters Trout Mousseline, a gently poached mixture of trout, egg white and herbs garnished with frisee salad, fingerling potatoes, heirloom radishes, whole-grain mustard tuile, and charred lemon cream.
The meal’s second course is a Madeira Glazed Pork Belly made from Jefferson Township heritage pork, slowly braised and served with a root vegetable dauphinoise (a baked dish of layered potatoes, butternut squash and turnips), and a kale chip.
The third course is slow-roasted tenderloin made from Jefferson Township heritage beef, accompanied by creamed spinach, roasted potatoes and a red wine-veal reduction.
Dessert is a take-off on baked Alaska. “I figured I’d call it Baked Wisconsin because of the Door County cherries and Beerntsen’s vanilla bean ice cream. It’ll be a fun way to end the meal.”
The signature wine of the evening, created and presented by Eric Volcheff, Silver Lake College Board Chairman, also is a Wisconsin product. The private-label Tuscan red blend was made and bottled at Blind Horse Winery and Restaurant in Kohler, Wis., in celebration of Silver Lake College’s 80th anniversary.
Volcheff recently won a gold medal for his rosé wine in The International East Meets West Wine Challenge in Sonoma.
“I was incredibly pleased by the wine,” Cherek said of the signature Tuscan red he sampled. “It speaks to the heart of what this event is about.”
A rural Waukesha native who attended a Catholic elementary school and was taught by sisters, Cherek has an affinity for Silver Lake College and the Sisters of Christian Charity, its founders and supporters.
“I’m so impressed with what the school has achieved in education particularly in liberal arts across its history. In meeting everyone in the school — their connection to institution and what it’s brought to their lives — was far more profound than I had expected,” Cherek said.
“What President Chris Domes has planned for the institution is nothing short of dynamic. I’m delighted to be a small part, waving my arms enthusiastically, compared to the heavy lifting that he and his staff members are doing. They’re taking higher education to higher dimensions. That excites me,” he said.
“The gala is both celebrating accomplishments over 80 years and looking forward to the future. I’m there to give both gravitas and levity to the experience and to broaden the perspective for folks. This is a wider looking institution looking forward. It’s a big world out there and Silver Lake College is preparing its graduates for it.”
C.D. Smith Construction Services presents the 2016 Scholarship Gala in association with A.C.E. Building Services, Holy Family Memorial, Bank First National, BMO Harris, Investors Community Bank, Direct Development, Sodexo, Cawley Company, Herald Times Reporter, Tower Company and McCarty Law.
Due to high demand, tickets are sold out.