For four days beginning Oct. 17, more than 9,000 visitors, a multitude of celebrity chefs and food vendors will descend upon the normally sleepy town of Kohler.
In fact, the Kohler Food & Wine Experience, entering its 13th year at The American Club, has such strong advance sales that organizers expect record-breaking crowds. Big draws this year include: Food Network star Cat Cora (the first female contestant on “Iron Chef” and co-host of “Around the World in 80 Plates” on the Bravo Channel); Fabio Viviani, owner and executive chef of two noted California restaurants and Siena Tavern in Chicago; and the Beekman Boys, stars of a reality TV show on the Cooking Channel in which they are transplanted from New York City to Beekman Farm in upstate New York.
Local and regional chefs also will be well represented. Familiar names include Michael Feker of Milwaukee’s Il Mito, John Coletta of Quartino and Jason Gorman (former chef at Milwaukee’s Iron Horse Hotel and Potawatomi’s Dream Dance) of Chicago’s Terzo Piano, Paul Funk of Milwaukee’s Hinterland, Dan Bonanno of A Pig in a Fur Coat, Tory Miller of L’Etoile (both from Madison) and Lynn Chisholm of The Paddock Club in Elkhart Lake.
Celebrity chefs returning to the event include: Jacques and Claudine Pepin; Christopher Kimball of American’s Test Kitchen; Tony Mantuano, an event favorite from Chicago whose restaurants include Mangia Trattoria in Kenosha; Chef Bart Vandaele, of Bravo’s “Top Chef”; and Stefano Viglietti, owner of Sheboygan County’s Trattoria Steffano.
The event runs Oct. 17–20.
Some sold out
Those who plan to attend the experience should waste no time purchasing tickets. Some of the best-known events were already sold out well in advance, including the fun, informal Taste of the Vine at the Kohler Design Center and the Champions Dinner.
But with more than 100 events to choose from, there still are options available, including complimentary events. Most events require tickets, ranging in price from $15 to $158, and many of the stage demonstrations range from $30 to $40, according to lead event organizer Tricia Rathermel.
“If this is the first time you have been to this event, you may want to purchase just a few tickets,” Rathermel says. “This will allow you some time to enjoy the free demonstrations at the Shops of Woodlake and Kohler Design Center, or even stroll around a sculpture garden enjoying the fall color.”
The goal, according to Rathermel, should not be to squeeze in as many events as possible, but to approach the event with a sense of fun and curiosity.
Although wine retains top billing at the annual event, it is not the only drink featured here. Tempting liqueurs and liquors – as well as beer – also are on tap at some demonstrations. New additions to the event include interactive workshops where experts show participants how to mix craft cocktails. Knife Skills with America’s Test Kitchen provides a hands-on approach to sharpening and using knives.
Culinary events continue non-stop throughout the long weekend. The best chance to mingle with chefs is during book signings. These are usually held right after a chef’s appearance on the main stage. Rathermel says books signed by famous chefs have become popular holiday gifts.
Rooms at The American Club and the Inn at Woodlake are sold out from Thursday through Saturday. But, as of this writing, rooms at both hotels were available on Sunday – although many of the visiting chefs have packed up and are heading home by then. A couple of events are scheduled for Sunday, however, including an elegant variation of the traditional Green Bay Packers tailgate party.
For last-minute lodging, your best bet is to look for accommodations in nearby Sheboygan. The Blue Harbor Resort, a seven-minute drive from the event, has reduced room rates and provides a free shuttle to guests to and from the Kohler events. The resort, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a great place to relax and reflect on one’s experiences. If the weather is warm, open your balcony doors and let the gentle lake breeze and sounds of the surf lull you to sleep.
Kenosha-born Dan Bonanno has attended the Kohler event as a visitor, but this year he’s scheduled among the presenters. He will demonstrate the preparation of Tuscan gnocchi with braised oxtail sauce, an occasional menu item at Madison’s A Pig in a Fur Coat. All of his ingredients are locally sourced, he says – even the flour. “That’s what they do in Italy, use what’s available in their area,” he explains.
Since the sauce alone requires eight hours to make, Bonanno is planning to employ some TV show magic. Just as he’s finishing prepping the sauce – voila! Out it will come, ready to serve. One reason he selected this item is that it’s “fun to make” and “is appropriate as a fall-winter dish.”
Bonanno says he feels “honored” to be making his first presentation at the Kohler event. He’s eager to spend time rubbing elbows with other well-known Midwest chefs. Tickets to his presentation are $32.
Chef Paul Funk of Milwaukee’s Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub is making his second appearance at the event. Last year, he made bacon. This year’s presentation will show the “pros and cons” of using meat marinades, rubs and brines. Not surprisingly, Funk also is the butcher at Hinterland. His presentation also costs $32.
Funk says his audience may be surprised to learn that he uses far fewer marinades than rubs or brines in Hinterland’s selection of meats. (The reasons involve tenderizing the meat.)
“I like doing demonstrations at this event, because those who attend are usually up-to-date in terms of cooking trends,” he says. “They want to see what I do, then go home and try it themselves.”
The Food and Wine Experience has grown considerably since its early days. Rathermel credits this trend to the growing number of cooking shows on TV.
“When we started, all you had available was maybe a couple of cooking shows on PBS,” she says. “Now, there are entire channels dedicated to food preparation. Also, we are always working to take this event to a new level every year. We see a lot of repeat guests.”
On the waist (or hips)
The Kohler Food & Wine Experience runs Oct. 17–20 at The American Club. Some events are sold out well in advance. Call 866-243-8548 or visit www.kohlerfoodandwine.net.