This week we sat down with one of Milwaukee's best Chef's; Executive Chef Mitch Ciohon of Sabor and Beta by Sabor. Enjoy the interview.
How did you get your start in the kitchen?
I started in the kitchen when I was 14 years old. I made sundaes and burgers at The Kiltie in Oconomowoc. My love for cooking and spending time in the kitchen with my grandma grew in my time there.
After going to college for hockey, I moved back to Milwaukee and started working at Gil’s Café on the eastside when I was 20 years old. Right away, I fell back in love with the kitchen.
Where else have you worked?
Gil’s Café as sous chef
River Walk Bistro as sous chef
Sabor Brazilian Churrascaria as sous chef
Iron Horse Hotel as sous chef
Sabor & Beta by Sabor as executive chef
When did working in restaurants change from “just a job” to a career?
The change happened for me when I was at Gil’s Café. I started as a line cook, but very quickly realized how passionate I was about the kitchen and cooking. A lot of the things I was learning just made sense and I caught on really quickly, which gave me that feeling of, “holy shit, I think this is what I am supposed to do with my life.” So I rolled the dice and here we are.
What is your passion in the kitchen?
I have a serious love affair with food – the ingredients are the key. I get so excited about the things I get to cook, especially the ingredients I grow myself or forage in the beautiful woods of Wisconsin. For me, that is where my passion comes from. Nothing to me is more exciting and gratifying than finding a beautiful morel mushroom in the woods and knowing you can eat it; or pulling a sun warmed tomato and eating it in your garden. Those are the kinds of things that do it for me. Getting excited leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results (not all the time – trial and error).
I also find happiness in teaching and sharing my craft with those around me. I have been lucky to have a great team here at Sabor and Beta by Sabor to help with everything we do. And don’t let me forget the huge amount of passion and drive that comes from my family; I am always trying to make them proud and happy!
What do you think of local food sourcing? Passing fad, serious trend, or way of the future?
Local food sourcing is a serious trend and way of the future. I love supporting the farmers and learning about where ingredients come from. It’s also good to learn about the farmer, farm and its history. Then, when a guest asks me about something, I can give some background on it. I think it enriches the dinning experience, makes it more romantic.
Another way of the future is the urban farm/city gardening. I think it is going to get pretty big. Luckily, with Will Allen near us, we are on the forefront in that area. I feel like that is a neglected idea for downtown restaurants.
Who are your top go to vendors for locally sourced food and what do you use them for?
I currently source from almost 20 local farms/purveyors:
Bernard (a personal contact and farmer)
Bolzano Artisan Meats
Clock Shadow Creamery
Hometown Sausage Kitchen
A personal contact for honey
Local farmers markets
One Guerrilla Farmer
Sassy Cow Creamery
Sweet Water Organics
Sysco, who has a great relationship with Growing Power
Yuppie Hill Poultry
How do you incorporate this into your menu?
As mentioned above, I get excited about local sourcing and that leads to the ideas that start bubbling in my head, trying new things and the great results.
The seasons have a significant impact on what is available here in Wisconsin, but when the time is right for certain ingredients I build menu items around it. At Beta we have the opportunity to change things often – pending product availability, new ideas and popular items on the menu. Lucky for us, the local products make frequent changes easy.
What are your favorite dishes on the menu at the moment?
The Cheeky (braised veal and seared halibut cheek) is my favorite.
Seared scallops on bacon and fried banana puree with green grape gastrique is another gem. I enjoy the different flavor combo on this one, all the flavors really work well together.
Fresh pork rinds – This is one of my most simple dishes, but I love it. Crispy little pillows of pork goodness.
Everything on the menu is tested and modified to perfection, that’s part of the fun! I can honestly say I like each item. If I didn’t like every item on the menu, I’d be selling myself short.
People know you use liquid nitrogen for some of your desserts and cocktails what other uses have you found for it in the kitchen?
We use the NitroCream Machine for desserts. That’s where it fits best, but there are certainly other uses for it in the kitchen. The heirloom radish salad is topped with liquid nitrogen frozen peanuts and golden raisins. They are then blended with a coffee grinder into a super flavored dust.
I like dusts – We use bacon dust to flavor the scallop dish and the pork rinds. What better flavor to put with pork than pork? We cook the bacon, blot the fat off, freeze and grind to use as the most perfect bacon “bits” ever. We use the machine for all of our powders – onion, garlic, tomato, and jalapeno, just to name a few. We dehydrate the produce and then freeze and blend it. When it’s frozen, it breaks up really well.
I’m looking forward to bringing back the tomato salad this summer, which is sprinkled with fresh mozzarella powder, oils and balsamic. You can swirl together your own mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette on the plate.
Any big plans or dreams for the future?
To keep working with as many local farmers as logically possible and get together with some other chefs to start the Milwaukee Chef Alliance. The alliance will make it easier for everyone to work together and put a star on the map for Milwaukee in food culture.
To continue doing our best here at Beta, bringing fun new cocktails and food to the growing Milwaukee food and drink scene.
Most of all, just to have a good time and smile …the food tastes better when you’re happy!