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Dinner & A Show

By JEANETTE HURT

December 2016

Dining out is a mainstay form of entertainment, but for some restaurants, the kitchen really is the show, with chefs slicing, dicing, searing and frying right in front of diners. Five local chefs discuss the pleasures — and the perils — of cooking onstage.


Chef Jonathan Manyo, Morel
430 S. Second St., (414) 897-0747, morelmke.com

 Photography by MATT HAAS

When Manyo designed Morel’s kitchen, he knew he wanted to be visible to guests — both for their benefit and for his own.
 

Why an open kitchen?

I had worked in a couple of open kitchens, and when you’re working an open kitchen, you feel more connected to the restaurant. It’s just a better environment. It forces you to design a really beautiful kitchen.
 

What’s the coolest thing about working in an open kitchen?

We see every person who walks in, from the dining room and out the door. They pass right by the kitchen, and we can say “good night” to them. They generally give us an idea of how we performed, and it’s really nice for the cooks to get some interaction with guests to see the appreciation they have for (our) work. That’s the coolest thing.
 

What’s the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is maintaining the cleanliness, and you have to control certain situations that can get really intense when you’re cooking on the line on Friday or Saturday night, (when) there’s a lot of stress. Sometimes you get an argument in the kitchen, and you have to be able to diffuse those situations and get people to act professionally.
 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard?

We did have one customer once who was being really loud and obnoxious and pretty vulgar, and one of our regular customers, on the way out the door, told him he should be ashamed of himself. The customer then got up to go and start a fight. My sous chef saw the whole thing going down and jumped over the counter, held the guy back, and diffused the situation. He was on top of it. That just happened to happen on my day off — otherwise it would have been me. That was a one-time occurrence.
 

What are the showstoppers that mesmerize guests?

We have four seats right in front of our kitchen, and people who sit there ask a lot of questions — how chefs know when the sauces have the right consistency, that kind of thing. When it’s a Friday or Saturday night, they really get to watch the show, and the thing they get wowed by the most is how fast cooks are going, how they can balance all those things that are going on, and time it perfectly. We call it the pan dance. I think when you understand how hard people are working (in the kitchen), it adds an appreciation to what they’re doing for you and how good the meal is. I would encourage people to not be afraid to come up to the counter and say “hi” to the cooks. We like the interaction with guests.


 

Chef Andrew Fisher, Harbor House
550 N. Harbor Drive, (414) 395-4900, harborhousemke.com

 Photography by MATT HAAS

Light, bright and timeless yet modern, Harbor House replaced the dated Pieces of Eight, complete with a gorgeous, open kitchen, when it debuted in 2010.
 

Tell us about your experience working in an open kitchen.

I worked at Parkside 23 in Brookfield, and they renovated (into) an open kitchen, and years ago, I did work at Noodles & Company, which technically is kind of an open kitchen. That was my first cooking job.
 

What’s the coolest thing about working in an open kitchen?

The guest interaction is the best. People will walk down the line and thank all the cooks as they’re leaving the restaurant. They’ll actually stop and thank them personally, which is something you obviously don’t get in a closed kitchen, so that’s really cool. There’s a lot more satisfaction when you get a personal “thank you.”
 

What’s the biggest challenge?

In a closed kitchen, there’s more joking around, and you don’t have to be as careful with your words.  A kitchen can be a fun environment to work in, but you have to be more appropriate and polite around guests (in an open kitchen). The biggest challenge is keeping everything clean and organized. There’s a lot of stainless steel in this kitchen, and with the amount of sunlight in this restaurant, any sort of stain or smudge shows up, so we do our best to keep it really clean. Another challenge is keeping the noise level down. The kitchen is a really loud place, and if you drop a pan or container on the floor, you can hear it throughout the restaurant.
 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard?

We have had quite a few proposals, but I try not to ogle them too much, because if I was going to propose to somebody in a restaurant, that’s the last thing I’d want. I try to respect their space. When it’s busy, and we’re focused on doing our job, it’s easy to forget we’re in an open kitchen.
 

What are the showstoppers that mesmerize guests?

There’s one spot on the line that’s very open, and the guests can see clearly what’s going on — they’ll stop and see what we’re doing. It doesn’t happen a lot, but people do ask some cooking questions, often about the products we are using. A lot of people also stop at the raw bar to look at the oysters that are on display and watch the cook open up a couple of oysters. That happens pretty frequently.


 

Chef Gregory Leon, Amilinda
315 E. Wisconsin Ave., (414) 369-3683, amilinda.com

 Photography by MATT HAAS

Amilinda’s kitchen not only opens into the restaurant, but also to Wisconsin Avenue on its north-facing wall, where a floor-to-ceiling shop window offers a peek inside.
 

Why an open kitchen?

I’ve always been a fan of open kitchens. It also appeals to my inner control freak, as I can see what’s going on. I can correct things immediately.
 

What’s the coolest thing about working in an open kitchen?

You get to see the customers leaving with a smile on their faces. It makes it all worthwhile.
 

What’s the biggest challenge?

It keeps your kitchen staff on track. There’s nowhere to hide. It helps everyone work clean, and it also means (kitchen staffers) keep up with their personal appearance.
 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard?

There’s a group of teenagers who moon us about once a week in our window. They’ve been doing this since we first opened, and now we don’t even notice them.
 

What are the showstoppers that mesmerize guests?

Cuauhtemoc “Temoc” Tenorio is our chef who plates the salads and appetizers, and guests see him make dishes. They ask him lots of questions. Guests also love to tell us stories about when they were in Spain or Portugal.


 

Chef Jonna Froelich, I.D.
415 Genesee St., Suite 1, Delafield, (262) 646-1620, iddelafield.com

 Photography by MATT HAAS

While the former Andrew’s Bar & Restaurant at the Delafield Hotel was a cloistered, almost clubby, kind of place, the new I.d. restaurant boasts a beautiful open concept, including a brand new kitchen so open that you can see into its wood-fired oven from the back of the room.
 

Why an open kitchen?

I am a very big believer in open kitchens. I like to see people and make them feel welcome. I am also a big believer in transparency. There are some (restaurants) that say they are farm-to-table or are a from-scratch kitchen, and they’re not. We are, and it’s part of the whole transparency — you can see everything being made.
 

What’s the coolest thing about working in an open kitchen?

It’s great to see guests enjoying their meal, and I like to see the cooks interacting with guests. It’s good for them to see how their workis appreciated.
 

What’s the biggest challenge?

Every kitchen I’ve ever worked in, we’ve always worked as if (it) was an open kitchen.
 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard?

When we first opened, it was fun to see people who knew the old Andrew’s, and they came in a little unsure of the new concept. You could see they were a little tense, but by the end of the night, they were enjoying themselves and enjoying the shared plate concept.
 

What are the showstoppers that mesmerize guests?

I think fire. It’s very primal, and with our new wood-burning oven, we have to start a fire every day.


 

Chef Peggy Magister, Crazy Water
839 S. Second St., (414) 645-2606, crazywaterrestaurant.com

 Photography by MATT HAAS

When Magister opened Crazy Water in the space formerly occupied by Zur Krone, it was one of the first places in town to have an open kitchen. Now, 14 years since its 2002 opening, the kitchen is still located near the front window, right behind the bar.
 

Why an open kitchen?

The Social opened right before us, and I got the idea from them. This place was originally a bar, and this space is tiny. People were surprised by the open kitchen, and they still are. I still have people say, “I don’t know how you can cook out of this space. My kitchen at home is bigger than yours.”
 

What’s the coolest thing about working in an open kitchen?

I love that I don’t feel claustrophobic. I love being able to look out and to be able to see the reactions.  As an owner, I can look out there, and if something isn’t right or someone’s not happy, I can address it right away. If you are in (a closed kitchen), your eyes and ears are totally your waitstaff, and sometimes, they don’t want to tell you things. I am always thrilled when customers say nice things when they walk out. That just keeps me going.
 

What’s the biggest challenge?

For us, it’s the space. Working in an open kitchen is not for everyone because you also have to talk to the customers and engage with them. Sometimes you’re the last person to see them before they walk out the door, so you have to say “thank you.”
 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen or heard?

With the fans going, I can’t hear what people are saying. But I love looking out on the street, and there’s a lot of action. We also love to watch people on first dates. Usually one person comes in first, and they don’t eat as much. We also see anniversaries and birthdays, and that makes it so much more entertaining than if I was just working in a closed kitchen.
 

What are the showstoppers that mesmerize guests?

People ask what something is if they see something they might like, and people do ask us how we make different dishes. Any time there are flames, there are “oohs” and “ahhs.”







 

This story ran in the December 2016 issue of: