Aprahamian had big shoes to fill when he purchased Sanford from
legendary chef Sandy DíAmato in 2012, but the Waukesha County
Technical School graduate has filled them well. Earlier this year,
Aprahamian won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest (DíAmato
became Wisconsinís first winner in 1996), and he sat down with M
Magazine to talk about his culinary roots and Armenian family, his
latest brewery endeavor, and his thoughts on raising his newborn son
to be an adventurous eater.
M: What dish or
ingredient inspired you to be a chef?
JA: I donít
know that anything spoke to me that clearly at an early age.
Inherently, food was important in the family. One of the most
important family traditions was the lamb shiskabob and rice pilaf.
That Armenian meal was always part of our celebrations. Itís very
inspirational, very soulful, very simple cooking. The recipe my mom
had for rice pilaf came from my great grandmother. You would toast off
noodles in butter and then develop chicken stock and toast the rice.
It was simple, but very nuanced. Weíve done some versions of it here
ingredients are you looking forward to using this winter?
JA: Iím a
sucker for fruit in general so apples and pears are generally rampant
on the menu. And parsnips. I love working with parsnips. They have a
great sweetness, and I love roasting them to bring out more sweetness.
You can go sweet with roasted baby parsnips and roasted pickled pears
or go really savory with mushrooms and truffles. Pumpkinís another
one that we start using now going into winter. We always get a lot of
great squash that cellars really well. I like pickling pumpkin,
roasting it and making soup with it, and we actually did a dish a
while back using pumpkin in several ways ó pureeing it, pan roasting
some of it and adding some pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed vinaigrette.
Itís fun using an ingredient like that and showing its versatility.
M: What are your
favorite kitchen tools?
JA: We have
these kitchen shears that are amazing ó Joyce Chen is the brand. We
use them for cleaning lobster, but theyíre also great for petite
herb garnishes and can be used in the gauntlet of things. I also love
our Vitamix blender for making soups and purees, and no other blender
can really match the quality of that. Itís definitely worth it. Ours
has taken some abuse in the kitchen, so when itís being fixed, we
definitely miss it.
M: What are some
pantry staples you have?
changed over the years. I have a newborn son, so cooking at home has
gotten more rare. Some staples are always olive oil and vinegar. I
usually try to keep easy starches like pasta, rice noodles and
M: What do you
hope to teach your son about food?
JA: I hope heís
more adventurous. I was a very picky eater as a kid. To the point that
when my dad used to make this great spaghetti sauce I would put plain
noodles on my plate, and Iíd pick out all the diced onions before I
would slowly mix the sauce with the noodles. The irony of that now ó
I donít think there are many things we make without onions.
M: How did your
JA: I worked at
a place called Steven Wadeís Cafť. I was washing dishes, but Steven
knew I wanted to go to culinary school and tried to get me more
involved. One day he was garnishing a risotto dish with white
anchovies and asked if I had ever tried them. I said, "No, thatís
disgusting." He said, "Well, you want to be a chef, so you
have to try everything. Whatís the worst that could happen?" So
I tried them, and they were amazing. Ever since then Iíve tried
M: What would
you want to tell people about Sanford ó people who have never been
there and people who havenít enjoyed a meal there in a while?
actually are people who have never heard of Sanford, but many people
who have but havenít been here think that itís the hardest
restaurant to get into and that they need to be calling months in
advance or that itís a stuffy dining room. Itís certainly not the
stuffiest, nor is it the most expensive place in town. Appetizers
actually are around $10 to $18, and entrees are in the $30 to $40
range. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest in terms of reservations,
and our 7 oíclock time fills up first. But if we can seat somebody,
we donít turn them away. We also have great food. They should give
us a shot.
But for people
who havenít been here in a long time, I would like to assure them
that we care about where this restaurant came from. I worked for Sandy
for more than 10 years, so the quality they were doing and the mission
of what they were trying to accomplish is what weíre still working
M: But you have
expanded the restaurant in some new directions, especially in beer.
restaurant turns 25 this December, and we finally have draft beer. If
Iím making beer, I want to be able to sell it at our restaurant. My
friend and I have started a brewery called Like Minds Brewing Company.
We started making beer with an outside the box perspective, taking my
approach to food and putting it into beers. The first beer was a
rhubarb saison, and we processed 1,000 pounds of fresh rhubarb. Then
we did a cucumber pilsner, and the third one is a wheat pale ale with
black currents and lemon verbena called VeríBeena. The fourth one is
going to be a Mexican-inspired coffee stout.
draft line at Sanford, you can get Like Minds brews at Rayís Growler
Gallery at Rayís Wines and Liquors, Storyhill BKC, Goodkind,
Burnhearts, Sugar Maple, Odd Duck and Romanís.
To make the
beer, Aprahamian processes the culinary ingredients and then he and
his business partner John Lavalle drive up to Green Bay to Hinterland
Brewery, where the beer is brewed. "Technically, they make the
beer, but we are involved in writing the base recipes. Then we drive
up on brew days to work with them, and we process the extra
ingredients," he says.
definitely another thing on my plate to do, but itís nice to have a
creative outlet like that," says Aprahamian.