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
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
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.
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.