Kasana brings culinary vision to Third Ward

Mike Muckian, Contributing writer

Food is an art form to Ana Docta, president of the Kasana Group, a collection of culinary enterprises promoting a rich mélange of fine, nutritious and sustainable dining for Milwaukee foodies. Docta hopes to make Kasana’s adjoining bistro, gallery and commercial kitchen at 241 N. Broadway into the city’s premier gastro-hub and culinary incubator for budding chefs.

Docta has a strong culinary background on which to base her ambitions. A native of Argentina, she formerly served as a corporate food and beverage consultant and owned a restaurant in Porto Allegre, Brazil, before moving to the United States. In addition to Latin American influences, Docta’s food exhibits a strong commitment to health and nutrition, an appreciation gained during her formal training as a ballet dancer.

“When I cook, I want people to understand the different facets of the process – the smell, texture, consistency, flavor and comfort found in food,” says Docta, who owns the business with her husband Peter. “Fine dining does not have to be snobbish, but for me it does have to exhilarate my senses.”

Docta learned a lot from her father and mother, who ran an Italian restaurant and a candy kitchen, respectively, in her native country. Her enterprise’s name is a fanciful contraction of Casa de Ana, Spanish for “Ana’s house.”

“I just changed the ‘C’ to a ‘K’ to make it a little more funky,” she says.

Although Docta has been running a Milwaukee catering business for five years, specializing in “pop-up” dinners in homes and businesses around the Milwaukee area, the Kasana Group only began operating in the Third Ward space formerly occupied by Broadway Bistro & Bakery in January. Located on the ground floor, Kasana Café & Bistro is the business’ most visible component. It serves breakfast, brunch and light dinner fare, much of if drawn from Docta’s Latin-American heritage, with a nod to healthy, often vegetarian and gluten-free cuisine. 

The bistro’s Tortilla Espanola, baked with organic eggs, potatoes and carrots, is gluten-free and vegetarian. The three types of empanadas – one each with beef, chicken and a spinach-and-mushroom blend – feature organic ingredients. As much as possible, the menu is sourced from local providers.

The downstairs location also serves as headquarters for Kasana Gourmet, Docta’s long-standing catering operation; Kasana Good-to-Go, a line of take-away and vending machine items made from fresh, wholesome ingredients; and the Kasana Collective, a membership-based, shared-space commercial kitchen for budding food entrepreneurs who want to break into the market but don’t have their own commercial facilities.

Caroline Carter, owner of Chef Caroline’s Raw & Vegan Cuisine, regularly uses the 3,500-square-foot commercial kitchen to produce a line of crackers and other “unbaked” goods that emphasize nutritive value. Carter credits good nutrition with helping her to overcome a lifetime of depression. The Kasana Collective has enabled her to commercialize her passion for preparing and serving healthy foods.

“For small food producers like myself it’s difficult to find a licensed commercial kitchen that’s affordable,” says Carter, who plans to sell her products at various local markets and specialty food stores. “To be able to produce my food and do what I love is awesome.”

Carter’s approach perfectly suits the Kasana Collective’s goals, and her products extend Milwaukee’s culinary culture in meaningful ways, Docta stresses. Carter is one of several collective members whose goods are for sale in the bistro.

“Kasana is a values-driven business based on socially conscious and responsible practices, following the triple bottom-line construct of people, planet and profit,” Docta says. “We strive to generate positive social impact by creating jobs and providing wider access to healthy food.”

The bistro’s checkout counter also offers Docta’s baked items, including: alfajores, stuffed Argentine cookies made from organic wheat and available wrapped in coconut, pistachios, ground peanuts and chocolate; dry fruit bons bons, made from organic dates, organic walnuts and whiskey; assorted organic chocolate truffles; and other dessert items.

The gallery adjoining the bistro takes the enterprise’s artistic mission beyond cuisine. The walls are covered with for-sale paintings and photographs by local artists. It’s an aspect of expression that beautifully complements the restaurant’s creative cuisine, Docta says.

On May 3, Kasana took the artistic concept one step further by presenting a floral design workshop featuring Michael Gaffney, a nationally known designer who has both his roots and one of his schools firmly planted in the Milwaukee area. 

Gaffney, who has designed for clients from coast to coast and whose work was seen in the film “Black Swan,” taught the elements of exquisite floral design during a two-part, nearly four-hour session in the gallery’s adjoining exhibition space. Each student received a copy of Gaffney’s book “Design Star.”

“Kasana stands for quality, innovation and community empowerment,” Docta says. “We emphasize improving the quality of life of our customers, our employees, our communities and the environment.”

For more, visit www.kasana-mke.com.