Madison's Best New Chefs
What's next in our culinary scene
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More so than in any industry, being a chef means working your way up the ranks. These up-and-coming executive chefs have done just that—and now hold the keys to Madison’s culinary future, bringing us regional Italian eats, Japanese and Taiwanese ramen and dumplings, contemporary cuisine and, yep, even deli sammies. We wanted to get to know these culinary innovators and ask them: what’s next?
The Multicultural Mastermind: Rodey Batiza
Executive chef, Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar
Rodey Batiza’s fourteen-year cooking career has had him working in several genres of cuisine, from Italian (Lombardino’s, Griglia Tuscany, Biaggi’s) to fine dining (Madison Club, Johnny Delmonico’s, Magnus) to seafood (Ocean Grill) and even bagels (Gotham Bagels). Now Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar is a total departure. “I’ve spent more time than anything else doing Italian. At the fundamental level a lot of cooking is really all the same as far as taking good ingredients and cooking them correctly. I’ve found that if you read up on the history of the style you’re doing, and find out why those techniques were employed, making that jump is not as a big of a deal as it may seem.”
You were last at Gotham Bagels. How is it making ramen and dumplings?
[Umami co-owner] Randy [Ng] is a partner with Gotham, so I knew him through that association. And when I heard about this concept I thought it sounded very good, so I got on board.
We studied under a ramen guru from San Francisco who had been working on the concept with Randy and Mike Ding (also co-owner). While most cooking is similar, there were a few finer points of the ramen that we really wanted to work through, and it was great.
You note that some of the cooking techniques can be challenging for making this type of food.
In French stock making there are a lot of steps to get the broth clear, and you’re cooking it at a low heat so [you don’t] “aggravate” the stock at all. In our pork broth, for example, you’re taking everything you’re taught for making veal stock and you do the exact opposite. The pork broth cooks at really high heat at a hard boil and you add fat to the stock instead of trying to make it clear.
The broth for our Tonkotsu ramen is one of the things I get the most satisfaction out of making. It’s a really lengthy process [in which] you have to soak bones in different soaks for a long period of time to remove impurities. The stock cooks for fourteen hours … it’s a dynamic process, watching the stock change from clear and bony to milky, white and wonderful.
How much of the menu is a collaboration? What local ingredients do you use for your Far East menu?
The ramen recipes were developed and tweaked as a group. We had a lot of consensus because Randy and Mike had
concise ideas on what they wanted to serve. Some of the dumpling recipes were by Mike’s uncle, who’s a chef in Taiwan.
We buy our eggs from Dean Dickel at New Century Farms and we work closely with Black Earth Meats. We use hogs that come from a variety of places—Uphoff Farms is one place—and we try to source meat from around here whenever possible. We go to the farmers’ market for vegetables that are in season. Madison Sourdough bakes the cookies that we use in our ice cream sandwich. And the Midwest Clay Project made some of our dishware.
Where do you like to eat in your free time?
I really like Brasserie V; I eat there all of the time. I like Lombardino’s a lot; they’ve done really solid food the whole time they’ve been open. Smoky Jon’s on the north side has phenomenal ribs.
What’s your favorite comfort food to make?
For comfort food I make a Bolognese recipe this guy Mario Maggi, an Italian chef, gave me. He was a consultant who traveled the world opening Italian restaurants and I met him through Griglia Tuscany. [The recipe has] chicken liver and mortadella—it’s wonderful. That’s my day-off cooking.
The Locavore Lover: Timothy Dahl
Owner/executive chef (along with wife Elizabeth), Nostrano
Everything at Nostrano on the Capitol Square is carefully planned down to the last detail. And yet, this year-old eatery is not shiny and new; the interior is sprinkled with vintage décor (a wine bottle chandelier, vintage pressed-tin accents, reclaimed tables, retro faucets, old seltzer bottles), the space itself is in the historic Jackman Building (1913) and there’s at least one Italian place within stone’s throw that focuses on Emilia Romagna cuisine (Osteria Papavero). It’s that razor-sharp focus of knowing what’s out there—that Madisonians have many choices at their fingertips—that keeps Timothy Dahl on his toes. “Building this place out took a year, and there’s not an inch we didn’t focus on.”
You’re a Madison native and were most recently living in Chicago. Where were you and Elizabeth working?
Elizabeth worked at Naha, Charlie Trotter’s and Boka. I worked at NoMI in the Park Hyatt, Naha, Blackbird and Avec. We were executive pastry chefs at all of those places. Coming back up here, though, I wanted to get back to savory, which was my training.
There are a lot of Italian places. What’s your spin on it?
When my wife and I got married, we went to Italy—and ate throughout Italy. For us that was a defining moment—we thought, “this is what we want to cook every day.” A lot of people think of Italian like in a red sauce/pizza kind of way, but there are so many different types of cuisine in that country.
You noted that even when you lived in Chicago, you had a garden in Madison and would travel up here every so often to harvest ingredients. Now that you’re back, do you feel like it’s a farm-to-table jackpot?
The majority of our menu is from the garden. We use grapes, tomatoes, chiles, eggplant, mustard greens [and more] from our garden. I go to the Jones Valley Farm stand at the farmers’ market to get Italian varietals—artichokes, onions, bitter greens. We use Harmony Valley, too. We also have an herb garden. And we use Ancora for espresso.
We do [almost] everything in-house. That was our decision from the start. We bake our bread. We have a butchery program. We have a separate downstairs kitchen for baking and ice cream. We just want to represent the old-school artisan tradition, when you can tell it’s made by hand.
What are the culinary trends you’re seeing right now?
Now it’s all about the artisan—we’re making salumi, for example—and it’s simple and pure.
Our bartender, Grant, who came from the Drawing Room in Chicago, is making untouchable drinks right now. We’re seeing not only pre-Prohibition [cocktails] but [the industry is] even moving toward soda jerks—making your own bitters and phosphates. We’re looking not only at recipes from the early 1900s, but even looking at liquors and what they tasted like back then—like cognacs. That’s pretty amazing. Everyone’s taking a step back.
How will Nostrano continue to evolve?
Our menu is constantly changing—we’re always trying to make things interesting. Our next step is our charcuterie program, ice cream and preserves, and hopefully selling those things wholesale to grocery stores and co-ops. Ice cream and jams are things I made with my grandparents—I mean—all of those things could just be another extension of the business. In the [time] we’ve been open, I’m happy where we’ve gotten.