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Industry Profile: Bryan Phillips

By JEANETTE HURT

January 2017

Photo by David Szymanski

Bryan Phillips leads an adventurous life. From apprenticing under James Beard star Sandy D’Amato and opening Wauwatosa’s Le Reve to feeding race pros as the executive chef for IndyCar, Phillips’ chef career has been anything but boring. His latest endeavor is starting his own food truck, Foxfire, with Maggie Reid, his girlfriend and business partner. The truck made a brief appearance on the streets of Milwaukee last fall, but the duo plans to reintroduce Foxfire this spring, when the weather warms. In the meantime, Phillips and Reid can be found hosting pop-up series at restaurants and bars throughout the city, serving up Foxfire’s signature comfort fare.

Here the pair talks Indy cars, culinary inspirations and  life-endangering motorcycle road trips.
 

What was it like working as the executive chef for IndyCar?

Phillips: It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. One day I’d be in Long Beach, the next day I’d be in Texas, and the next week, the Poconos. We cooked in this huge truck. We served Roger Penske and Team Penske. I had a lot of 16-hour days, and even once had a 24-hour workday. It was awful. We sometimes served 600 people in a day. We were cooking for good old boys so nothing too complicated, but good stuff — things like salmon and brisket, good seafood. I’d go into Whole Foods and spend $15,000 on fresh produce. It was fun to change my environment and the people I saw every day.
 

Tell us about Foxfire.

Phillips: It’s always been something I wanted to do, and I learned about (cooking in a truck) with IndyCar. I named it after the series of (culinary) books called “The Foxfire Book Series.” They’re having their 50th anniversary. They’re about Appalachian living.

Reid: Keeping traditions and sustainability.

Phillips: Also, making stuff with your hands. So much food now is made by machines.

Reid: We will be serving world street food.

Phillips: Things like posole, when it gets colder. Pupusas filled with skirt steak and cheese and pesto, hot fried chicken sandwiches, and grilled cheese. Deep-fried Brussels sprouts with gochujang, a Korean chili paste, and “Crazy Taters,” using the recipe from DanDan’s sous chef. It’s a baked potato that’s been smashed and then fried with sour cream, cheese and scallions. Also, popcorn with togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend, and nutritional yeast, especially for the bar crowd.

Reid: It’s stuff we like.

Phillips: In the summer, we’ll make a nice tomato mozzarella salad and spring rolls.

Photo by David Szymanski

Bryan, how did you get started as a chef?

Phillips: I grew up in Janesville, and when I was 18 years old I started working in Madison. Then I moved to Milwaukee, where I apprenticed under Sandy D’Amato.
 

What was the most lasting lesson you learned from d’amato?

Phillips: If you’re going to do something, do it the best you can. If you’re going to make a cheeseburger, make it the best cheeseburger you can. If you do that, people will come. That’s something that has always stuck with me. The other thing I learned from him is to be humble. He didn’t want us to be a bunch of cocky chef kids. That’s also something I learned from the chef at Deb and Lola’s, where I first started in Madison. You’re just cooking food; it’s not brain surgery.
 

Tell us about your motorcycle adventures.

Phillips: The other thing I loved about IndyCar was the travel. I love to travel. I have traveled all over the North American continent on motorcycle. I’ve ridden through Central America and through Mexico, and in Tampico, I got pulled over by the city police, who made me give them 3,000 pesos — or about $300 (at the time) — to let me go. They took me to an ATM to get the money. Don’t ever drive a motorcycle to Veracruz. I drive a KTM 990, a big adventure bike. Hopefully, with Foxfire, we’ll travel to some events like concerts at Alpine Valley.

To see where Foxfire is headed next, visit foxfiremke.com.






 

This story ran in the January 2017 issue of: