Joshua Rodgers grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., then lived in Utah and
Seattle before high school in Florida. He’s been a chef in kitchens
around the globe, working in Florida, San Francisco, New York City,
Nantucket, Montana and Shanghai. Since he took over the kitchens at
Smyth and the Iron Horse Hotel in May of 2016, he’s enjoyed working
with Wisconsin ingredients. He sat down with M Magazine to talk
about cooking, making baby food for his young son, and more.
Tell us about
your culinary philosophy at Smyth.
Smyth, really what it is, is that it’s very locally
centric — a local restaurant for local residents in the city. It’s
not your typical hotel restaurant. With Smyth, we have a lot of
local (regulars), and it’s very important we have a footprint in the
city. Except for the bread, which comes from Rocket Baby (Bakery),
and the ice cream, which comes from Purple Door (Ice Cream),
everything is made in-house. My viewpoint is (that) simple food is
not easy to do. To do it well, it takes a lot of effort and
How important are
local ingredients to you?
We use a lot of local producers, like Big City Greens
and Pampered Produce. What I really like about Wisconsin is that it
reminds me a bit of being out in northern California with the
abundance of produce that is here. We preserve whatever we can when
it is in season.
How do things
work in your kitchen?
I’m a firm believer in my team. My executive sous
(chef is) Alex Lyskowicz, (and) we work a lot on food together. We
take an idea, and we talk about it, and then we put it on a plate —
four, five, six times before it comes together. We meet together as
a team, all of the chefs and line cooks, and we develop a consensus
about the dishes. Everyone takes pride in all of the dishes. Our
chefs and cooks tend to be pretty excited about the food we make.
How do your
dishes come together?
They don’t magically appear — we work together. The
seafood charcuterie came about from a conversation Alex and I had.
So, we took the (parts of a traditional charcuterie) plate, and we
broke it down. Each dish we make has to be balanced with acid and
fat to salt to umami, with different components of the dish all
coming together. Some things take a lot of time, like the scallop
dish. We roast those tomatoes for six hours.
Tell us about
your family and cooking for them.
My wife, Qing, she’s from Shanghai, and I have a
9-month-old named Elijah, and we’re expecting a new boy, Micha, in
March. I cook for Elijah. We’ve done squash, avocado, kiwi, beets,
salmon, banana, apples. We take whole foods and make (baby food)
from them. My wife loves ramen, wontons, spring rolls, and right
now, whatever my wife is craving, I make, like ice cream for her. I
also make pho at home.
What’s always in
There’s salt — six different salts. My guilty
pleasure is a condiment called Spicy (Chili) Crisp from Shanghai. I
find it at the Asian (International) Market. For me, it’s like
ketchup. I always keep two in the cabinet.
What are your
favorite kitchen tools?
My favorite tool is my chef’s knife. I also love my
plating spoons and one pair of tweezers. At home, I love my Vitamix
and KitchenAid. The tweezers are important for microgreens or leeks.
Everyone who works in Smyth has one. If you use your fingers to pick
up a micro, it gets stuck on your fingers.
What are you
looking forward to as the seasons change?
forward to blood oranges, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and celeriac,
and hefty greens, like kale.
Quinoa Granola from Chef Joshua Rodgers
1 cup red scarlet quinoa
1 cup flax seeds
1 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup slivered almonds
¾ cup 100 percent maple syrup
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl,
combine all ingredients, then transfer to a baking pan lined with a
silicone pad. Put in oven for about 12 minutes, until the sugars
have dissolved and the granola starts to clump. Then, remove from
oven, and mix with a spatula. Put back in oven for about 7 minutes
longer, remove, and check for texture: If still very hard, put
quinoa back in oven for another 5 minutes. Remove, and let cool.
Break the granola apart once cooled, and store for later use. Makes
about 3 cups.