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Chef Spotlight
Matt Kerley - Hinterland

Photos by Matt Haas

August 2016

Australia-born and Carolina-bred Matt Kerley came to Milwaukee via San Francisco. This talented, young chef had been making a name for himself, earning rave reviews at Radius, but he moved to Milwaukee so his son could grow up near relatives. Kerley wound up working at Bacchus and Lake Park Bistro before helping to open Rumpus Room. When Chef Andrew Ruiz moved on to Joey Gerardís, Kerley took the helm for two years before traveling to Blue Jacket. When Blue Jacket closed, he moved on to revamp the private University Club of Milwaukee. Then, earlier this year when Hinterlandís Dan Van Rite decided to open dandan, Kerley became the gastropubís new executive chef and general manager. Kerley sat down with M to discuss his latest adventure.

Tell us about Hinterland.

I feel like itís my homecoming. When I first moved to Milwaukee, Katie Rose (then bartender at Burnhearts and now co-owner of Goodkind) was one of the first people I met (in the industry), and she introduced me to Dan Van Rite and Paul Zerkel (who is now co-owner of Goodkind), and Dan said, "Why donít you come and hang out with us at Hinterland until you find a job?" And here I am now, coming full circle.

What do you love about Hinterland?

Hinterland is just one of those restaurants that breeds perfection. Everyone takes ownership of their craft, whether itís cooking or bartending or serving or greeting people at the door. Everyone takes pride in what they do, and our clientele picks up on that.

What do you crave when youíre not working?

Believe it or not, Iím somewhat of a health nut outside of work. One of my favorite dishes to make is a piece of marbled steak over really simple greens, (like) baby kale or spinach, shaved fennel, olive oil, raw shallots. Itís just incredible. When I eat out, I always want tacos or pupusas. I love the steak tacos at Guanajuato. I go to mass at the Basilica (of St. Josaphat), and El Salvador Restaurant is right across the street. The pupusas are incredible, and so is the little cabbage slaw they serve

with it ó (itís) slightly fermented.

What are your pantry staples?

A really good olive oil is a key one for me. I like to have piri-piri sauce, sherry vinegar and Bragg liquid aminos. At home, when it comes to cooking, itís the same philosophy I have while working. For example, thereís a dish I make (at work) thatís just a chicken dish, but itís amazing. Itís a whole chicken, but we brine the chicken for 24 hours, then we grill it and serve it over grilled escarole lettuces and shiitake mushrooms, just a little bit of butter, salt and chicken stock thatís been made with basil and Parmesan rinds. Itís the kind of dish I can make at home as well. We do antelope (and other exotic dishes), but not every level of diner is ready for that. I want to make sure itís the best chicken they ever have.

Whatís your secret to a good brine?

Hereís my recipe. If youíre going to brine (chicken) for 24 hours, take 5 gallons of water, 1Ĺ pounds of salt, 1 pound of sugar, 2 cooked onions, 20 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of chili flakes, 10 to 12 sprigs fresh thyme, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of whole peppercorns. After cooking the onions, add all the ingredients and enough water to cover everything. Bring it to a boil and cook it until itís translucent. Then pour it over ice to cool, and then add enough water to make 5 gallons. This works for about 20 chickens. If you break it down to a fifth of the recipe, you could brine two to three chickens. The brine lasts, refrigerated, for up to seven days.

What are you looking forward to in August?

Anything heirloom tomatoes, anything corn. One of my favorite things is a really good panzanella salad, made with chunks of brioche or sourdough, soaked in duck fat, oven-roasted, (with) a really good sherry vinegar and olive oil and basil. I also love shaving corn on a microplane and then heating it up with a little garlic cream to make a cream of corn, served with some gypsy peppers and pesto. Whatís so great about August is thereís so much vibrant, bright fruit Ö you can let the ingredients speak for themselves. We just got some wild asparagus and red oak lettuces from LotFotL (Living Off the Fat of the Land) Farm. Iím so sick of kale ó itís been so long. m



This story ran in the August 2016 issue of: