few chefs make the national news when they take over a restaurant, but
thatís exactly what happened to Nell Benton when she bought The
National at the end of 2011. The reason? The former owner, Michael
Diedrick, sold Benton the entire restaurant for $100. The original
price was $30,000, but for each one of the 11 stipulations Benton met,
he reduced the price, and Bentonís nationally known cafť has become
a neighborhood hub, as well as a dining destination in Milwaukee and
beyond (with lots of Chicagoans stopping to visit on the way north).
Benton, who is busy finishing her first book, "Fusion
Ramen," which will hit bookstores this October, sat down with M
Magazine to discuss cuisine, travel and some of her favorite things.
Tell me about
"I grew up
in Green Bay, but my mother is British. She and my dad met in Algiers
in the í60s. I was born in Santa Monica ó my father was going to
UCLA, but then he got a job at St. Norbertís so I grew up in Green
Bay but spent summers in the U.K. I lived in London in my 20s, and I
also lived on the island of Jersey, off the coast of France.
I used to work
with humanitarian organizations and in finance. Cooking is something I
always loved doing. I worked in restaurants and bars in college and
after. I went to the Culinary School of the Art Institute of Fort
going places with family and visiting relatives must have instilled a
love of travel.
travel one to two weeks in the fall and spring. Itís my sacred
travel time. Iíve been to 40 different countries. Iíve often
traveled based on where I want to eat. And yes, in my humanitarian
work, I have traveled to hot spots."
in your refrigerator? What do you cook outside of work?
Iíve known, if you looked in their refrigerator, itís all
condiments and takeout. All Iíve been cooking lately is ramen. I
love ketchup. I wrote a blog post on my love of ketchup on potatoes.
It is the hot and the cold and the salty and the sweet. I love sambol,
a Thai chili garlic sauce. I love marmite, which is a yeast extract
from England, and I love Tabasco on pizza. Iíve written a lot of my
book at Anodyne Cafť, eating their prosciutto pizza."
What tools do
good knife. I want to come up with a chefís tool belt, but it has to
be something you could sanitize. I love my Robot Coupe (a type of food
processor). I use chopsticks a lot for moving things in and out of
pots. I also have a sous-vide, which I use to make pork loin."
youíd like to share?
called The National Cafť, but it should be called the international
because the cuisine is from around the world. I serve ramen, a full
English breakfast and huevos rancheros. When I was 7 or 8, I wrote in
my journal the menu I was going to serve at my international cafť.
And come and visit our patio. We have herbs and veggies."