We popped up to the Kohler Food & Wine Experience this weekend in the idyllic setting of Kohler, Wisc., about two hours north of Chicago. Despite the rain, the annual intimate foodie fest was actually a really pleasant and quaint experience. It doesn't have the uber-star power of a Chicago Gourmet or Aspen's Food & Wine Classic, but some household names, like Bryan Voltaggio, Aida Mollenkamp, Sara Moulton and Graham Elliot all trekked to the sleepy burgh built by Kohler (as in the toilets, y'all).
While we spent time strolling the little village set among tall trees fully in color-changing mode, grabbing beers in the Belgian tent (hosted by Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe -- all free, all the time. Don't worry, we paced ourselves and made off with some new glassware) and catching a couple of cooking demos, most notably by Graham Elliot and his chef de cuisine, Merlin Verrier.
The pair, fresh from a night of singing karaoke in a local pub with Voltaggio, were in rare form presenting to the hundreds of excited attendees (many who came up from Chicago for the weekend). They demoed a few dishes, including a Wisconsin-inspired risotto with nine-year aged cheddar, pearl onion, cooked-down PBR, fall apples, bacon dust and some bratwurst folded in. The best part? it was garnished with Cheez-its, natch. Elliot called it the "ultimate tailgate food," as he prodded the crowd with taunts of Brett Favre. Elliot compared the thickening risotto to rice crispy treats and proclaimed he's a "rice crispy treat ninja." And if we were ever going to get into a scuffle with any kind of ninja, it would have to be this one.
They also prepared pan-seared scallops over a butternut squash puree, swiss chard and savory oats. It was finished off with Basil Hayden maple jus. At that point in the discussion, Elliot riffed on how if you ever want anything from him (or Verrier) to offer maple candy. He proclaimed: "That is my Kryptonite!" Sadly, they didn't have enough scallops to feed the room (that stuff's expensive, yo!) but invited anyone up to taste what he made. We naturally beelined to the stage and may or may not have knocked over an old lady with a walker on the way up. Just sayin.
The hourlong-plus demo included a lot of freestyle conversation and questions from the audience. Some things we learned about Elliot:
· All of his tattoos tell a story; he now almost wishes he could get rid of them because ink is too trendy.
· He lived in the Philippines as a kid where he ate odd food, including dog. "It was just a golden retriever. Nothing cute like a lab." We're pretty sure the specific breed was a joke.
· He hates broccoli.
· He doesn't have any signature dishes at his restaurant because then things would get boring and stale—and if you know GE, he's anything but boring and stale.
Want to know what else happened at Kohler? Well, some things we can't tell you (we simply can't remember), but Eater National Senior Editor Joshua David Stein was also there and he has some pretty good stories, too. (He may just even have a video of said karaoke time.)