Winkler is no relation to the actor who played the Fonz, but since
becoming the opening executive chef for Stella Van Buren, the
Italian steakhouse at The Westin Milwaukee, the question has come
up. This classically trained, Culinary Institute of America grad has
worked in upscale hotels and resorts across the country, most
recently at the helm of Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key
in Florida. In between showing off his culinary talents, the
33-year-old Pittsburgh native talks food, family and outdoor
How did you
decide to become a chef?
I was a busboy at the local Bob Evans restaurant, and
I thought the cooks were the coolest people ever. I got my start as
a garde-manger. I was good at it, I loved it, and thatís all she
What was one of
the first things you made there as a cook?
It was the sunshine skillet: an omelet ring, crumbled
sausage, cheese, breakfast fries, scrambled eggs and sausage gravy.
Every time I go home to Pittsburgh to visit my family, I go to Bob
Evans and order that.
How did you
decide to come to Milwaukee?
My wife, Kasamanda, and I have a 10-month-old
daughter, Rylie, and we wanted to move closer to family. My sister
and brother-in-law live in Port Washington, and right now, weíre
living with them while our townhome is being built. Weíre extremely
happy to be here.
What do you like
to cook at home?
I like to grill. I like the technique, the flavors. Ö
Iím experimenting with smoking and using different woods. I
use all wood (to grill and smoke); I really enjoy that barbecue feel
to it. My wife loves it when I make breaded shrimp ó itís my own
take on Bonefish Grillís Bang Bang Shrimp.
How about your
She eats everything. She hasnít disliked anything
yet. When my wife was pregnant, I (asked) her to eat everything, so
that (our daughter) would develop a taste for it.
has to be in your pantry?
Kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper and homemade
Tell us a bit
about your culinary philosophy and opening Stella.
My philosophy is just keep it simple. Itís simple
food cooked well. Iím very proud of that. How can you take something
thatís been done a thousand times and make it new and fresh? Take a
caprese salad, for example. People are still figuring out ways to
reinvent this wheel. Thatís the whole, basic concept of who we are
and what we do.
What are some of
your favorite examples of this on the menu?
I like the burrata bruschetta for one of the small
plates. You taste the fresh, crisp acidity of the tomatoes with the
creaminess of the cheese. The chicken parmigiana is another one of
those dishes. Itís a 7-ounce chicken breast, pounded thin, with a
Parmesan bread crust, and then it is served on top of the sauce,
with smoked mozzarella on top. Some (versions) are drowned by the
sauce. Youíll recognize this dish, and yet it is something else.
Tell us about the
steaks and sides here.
Midwestern beef from Meats by Linz, which is fantastic and right
from Midwestern farmers. We make everything in-house, and use a real
veal glace in our red wine au jus. Itís lip-smacking good. And for
our smashed potatoes, we hand-smash them using cream and butter, but
what makes them so good is our ratio of cream, butter, salt and
potatoes. We also cook our potatoes in water with garlic and bay
leaves. Then we top them with roasted garlic. The Brussels sprouts
are deep fried, and then they are tossed in our brown butter
vinaigrette. The brown butter is cooked perfectly ó two more seconds
is too long. Thatís key.