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Chef Spotlight
Rich Sweed - Artisan 179

Photos by Matt Haas

December 2015

Chef 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?

RS: "I 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, 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 confidence."

M: How do you design a dish?

RS: "Good 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 next level."

M: What did you learn from celebrity chef Graham Elliot?

RS: "I 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?

RS: "On 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."

M: Whatís coming up this winter at Artisan 179?

RS: "The 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 class."


This story ran in the December 2015 issue of: