Rich Sweed is only 38, but this self-taught chef has spent more then
20 years professionally cooking, starting when he was 15. The
Pennsylvania farm boy cut class to sneak in work behind the grill at a
local diner (his aunt was a cook there), then convinced his father
that if he passed his GED, he could leave school to work full time in
the French kitchens of a Philadelphia-area botanical garden, which he
did. Sweed now brings his globally inspired, locally supplied,
French-trained cuisine to Artisan 179 on Pewaukee Lake, where he
creates everything from pork belly bao in house-made steamed buns to
cavatelli duck sugo with house-made stock, noodles and ricotta. Sweed
sat down with M to chat about his culinary life.
M: Why do you
love cooking so much?
RS: "When I
started cooking, it just clicked, and it made sense. I still love the
line, when itís insane and full of checks. For me, itís always
been about the food and the cooking. I want people to be able to
experience things that are really big in other parts of the country. I
want to create food memories for people. I want people to eat pho
elsewhere and say, ĎYeah, this is good, but itís not as good as
the pho at Artisan 179.í I want people to taste the soulfulness of
that broth. I also want everything to be as pure as possible, and we
make 213 items from prep to cook, from stocks to brioche bread."
M: How did you
end up cooking in Alaska?
initially moved to Wisconsin to be with my wife, Denise (a native
Wisconsinite), and I worked at Bourbon Street in Madison. I was
working at a gourmet restaurant in Fort Atkinson called Central Coast,
and it was a beautiful restaurant (but wasnít doing well).
On a whim, I
applied for a summer job at Winter Lake Lodge on mercenarychefs.com,
and I got it. To get there, I had to fly to Anchorage, and then fly
one hour out into the wilderness. There was no cellphone service. I
taught cooking classes for guests, and I also cooked three-course
meals, on butane burners out on a mountaintop, where they would helly
(helicopter) me in to cook for skiers. What Iím most proud of is I
never repeated a dish there. There were a lot of celebrities,
professional athletes and politicians Ö people who had eaten
everywhere. They really liked my food, and it gave me
M: How do you
design a dish?
isnít good enough, and you should always be trying to better your
dish. The beet salad is a dish I worked on for years. The flavor
profile is identical to a salad I made two years ago, but that dish
used regular beets and regular arugula, and I mounded the salad on the
plate. I switched to baby beets and micro arugula, and I arranged them
in (an artful line on a black, slate plate). If you were looking at
both dishes side by side, even though they taste the same, you are
going to pick the prettier plate. I always want to push things to the
M: What did you
learn from celebrity chef Graham Elliot?
learned two major things ó plating spoons and linen-like, disposable
napkins. I was a big believer that a spoon is a spoon, but a spoon is
not a spoon. I have about a dozen different spoons (he brings a carafe
of a dozen different spoons, some slotted, some weighted and some
curled, almost like old-fashioned ink pens), and you can paint with
them on the plate. The linen-likes are used when we sautť something
ó it soaks up the excess. When you rest a steak on it, it gives you
a better sear."
M: What do you
cook at home?
Sunday, itís family night for me, and I usually cook what my wife
and kids want, more home-style food like meatballs or meatloaf. My
wife really loves gnocchi so I make that a lot."
coming up this winter at Artisan 179?
most exciting thing for me is our wine dinners and cooking classes.
Wine dinners are one of my favorite things to do. In December, we will
be doing a Cabs and Kobe beef dinner, and in January, we will be doing
a Terlato dinner. In January, we will also be doing an Italian cooking