Kohler Co. launches new, locally focused foodie event

Anne Siegel, Contributing writer

When Wisconsin’s needle-sharp winds start to pierce the parka, it’s time for a midwinter getaway. But if you’re a foodie, don’t head south this January — try looking in a more northerly direction, toward a new culinary event in Kohler, Wisconsin.

In response to the growing farm-to-table movement, The American Club, a luxury spa and resort run by the Kohler Company, is hosting a new event, Wisconsin Food Favorites. The event, to be held Jan. 23-24, will focus on Wisconsin cuisine of all sorts, kicking off with the most elaborate Friday fish fry you’ll probably find anywhere and ending Saturday with a cook-off featuring area brews and Johnsonville brats. Several chefs from the Kohler kitchens, including the famed Immigrant Room, will demonstrate their skills.

According to event organizers, Wisconsin Food Favorites is a spin-off of its popular Food & Wine Experience, now in its 15th year. That event, held in October, attracts nationally known chefs, as well as those from the Midwest ,for an endless variety of food-related events.

“At our newest, culinary-themed event in January, we wanted to start with a much smaller, casual and more focused approach,” says Tricia Rathermal, Kohler Company special events manager.  “Our goal was to showcase some of the best things this state has to offer, with food demonstrations geared to products you can pick up at the supermarket.”

While Rathermal acknowledges that most outsiders still associate Wisconsin with beer, brats and cheese, she said that’s only a small part of Wisconsin Food Favorites. The event includes cooking demonstrations, a taste of pure Wisconsin maple syrup, jams, nationally recognized cheeses and a version of the state’s signature drink, the old-fashioned, created by Death’s Door Spirits.

As much a part of the event as the food is the Kohler property itself. Different events will be held throughout the resort, with the Friday fish fry taking place at the Blackwolf Run clubhouse, the Saturday cook-off at Kohler Design Center and venues like the elegant Wisconsin Room and Winery Bar playing host to additional dining and demonstrations.

For many of these businesses, it’s the first time they’ll be featured at a Kohler-sponsored event, thanks to the Wisconsin focus. “We were looking for a way to partner with local businesses — many of which are located in our backyard — that didn’t always ‘fit’ with our other events throughout the year,” Rathermal says. She added that many out-of-state visitors had expressed an interest in trying local foods. “They definitely want to try things that you can only get here,” she noted.

Saturday morning’s event, for instance, will feature Wisconsin-made maple syrup from Meuer Farms, located near Chilton (about a 45-minute drive north of Kohler). As hungry guests gobble up maple-covered pancakes, waffles and French toast, Meuer Farms owners Dave and Leslie Meuer will be on hand to answer questions about the maple sugar-making process. Dave Meuer plans to bring props such as maple tree sap sacks, taps, and a video to accompany his presentation.

At Meuer Farms, maple syrup-making is an old-fashioned, labor-intensive process. Once the sap is gathered from sugar maples, it must be boiled down in a process that requires the constant heat of a wood-burning fire. “During maple-sugaring time, that fire is checked and restocked with wood every 15 minutes,” Dave says. 

Later in the afternoon, Bertram’s Jams, Jellies and More will be available for sampling at a tea party. The event combines the sweet and savory, with tea sandwiches served along biscuits and scones topped with the company’s products.

Jayne Bertram-Ries and Randy Ries started selling pepper jelly (using her mom’s recipe) at farmer’s markets in 2010. They were such a hit that the Sheboygan-based business now offers about 40 jams and jellies throughout the year. The “secret” to their success, Bertram-Ries says, is using only the finest ingredients, like tart, award-winning cherries from Door County. 

That successful pepper jelly — described by Jayne as a mild mix of sweet and spicy — also will be featured at the tea party. More best-sellers planned include a citrus jelly using locally picked raspberries, Michigan blueberries and oranges, and several wine-infused jams, some featuring wines produced right in Door County.

IF YOU GO

Wisconsin Food Favorites will be held at The American Club, 419 Highland Drive, Kohler. Prices vary by event from $24 to $40 and a full schedule can be found at kohlerathome.com. Visit the website or call 800-344-2838.