In our series What’s Cookin’ in Your Kitchen? we have been impressed and inspired by the chefs and farmers interviewed this year. A consistent message of community and relationships has been one of the most prominent themes, especially when it comes to considering the kitchen as a major gathering place of the home.
Today, we’d like you to meet Joel Chesebro, Corporate Chef for Sub-Zero and Wolf in Madison, Wisconsin, at the state-of-the-art Westye F. Bakke Training Center, named after Sub-Zero’s founder. Jim Bakke, President and Chief Executive Officer for Sub-Zero Freezer Company, Inc. and Wolf Appliance Company, talks about the demonstration of the continued excellence in residential refrigeration design:
“My grandfather worked hard to build a quality product and company in Sub-Zero,” Bakke said. “I think he would be extremely proud of the strides we have made to expand his vision of differentiating our products through quality, design innovation and technology, and the opening of this facility is the greatest honor we could pay him.”
With over 62 acres, the Bakke Training Center has ensured that fresh ingredients for cooking demonstrations are at their fingertips by way of the Harvest Haven Garden. This expansive garden drives the menu at the Training Center, allowing Joel and his team to deliver an experience that Sub-Zero and Wolf is widely known for.
We spoke to Joel and asked him to “dig a little deeper” when it comes to explaining what they “do” at the Bakke Training Center. It’s more than just selling appliances, we can tell you that…
PB Kitchen Design – When guests/designers visit you at the Bakke Center and Harvest Haven Garden, what do you hope they take away with them after their experience?
Joel Chesebro – Of course at the end of the day I would love guests and designers who visit to buy Sub-Zero and Wolf products. I really believe in the company I work for, and being able to know the owner (Jim Bakke), and talk to him on a regular basis, to know his values and see what he brings to the sales floor – this relationship is unique.
The Bakke Center is reflective of the Midwest and the values we have here. Combined with Jim Bakke’s leadership style, his intuition and commitment to quality, I daily tell my staff that everything we do from a service standpoint needs to represent that mindset.
PB – How do you “do” customer service?
JC – Every interaction with the guest is purposeful and thought out. For me personally, I want people to see the presence of creation, that we as humans need to sustain our bodies with food and nature provides a cornucopia of ingredients! We can develop dishes by moving these things around with different ways to prep food. That’s what has always resonated with me – the manipulation of flavors using heat and spices and ingredients.
PB – What are the benefits of letting the garden determine your menu?
JC – For most of our history, allowing the garden to determine meals was the reality, and now we’re coming back to that. If you can’t manage your own garden, put your money back into the local economy right where you live by visiting local farmers. Going to the garden and getting inspiration unleashes creativity. Inevitably, if you engage that mode of cooking, you teach yourself a craft instead of simply putting ingredients into a dish from a standard recipe.
Plus, your dish is going to be better because you are letting the best ingredient drive the recipe. This is truly how you learn to cook, or at the end of the day, become a chef. For me, it means I can get x,y,z in the garden and that drives the process of creating what’s delicious.
PB – What impresses you about residential kitchen design today?
JC – I’ve spent a lot of time in other chefs’ kitchens. I really like the value of negative space, multiple workstations, and simplifying the aesthetic. It provides a clean slate for creation. Your skill of keeping your stuff organized is directly related to your amount of creative freedom. Sure, there’s chaos in creativity but you have to have an organized frame work to still function.
One silly thing I love in residential kitchen design is a spray faucet like they have in professional kitchens! It’s imperative to clean up. Yep, a nice big sink and a spray faucet.
PB – Tell us about your home kitchen space.
JC – One of the blessings of my job is to work with the product at home. I like the way my kitchen is lined up now. We have modular inserts for refrigeration, and both induction and gas cooking. Precision techniques are a nice touch, like sous vide and steam oven cooking. Induction is super practical, but there’s something that’s coded into our DNA about using fire to cook.
I do really love outdoor cooking pieces, like my Argentinian style wood fire grill.
PB – How does fresh food impact our lives beyond what’s served on the plate?
JC – Guests come in and we serve a fine dining meal, but we do a lot to make it interactive. We start off with a crudité, which is a representation of veggies growing in dirt in our garden. We talk about the value of fresh food from a chef’s perspective all the way to being a home chef. This dialog allows us to inform each other of styles and ingredients and troubleshooting.
Look back at the history, people like Alice Waters pushed big for local sustainable agriculture and cultural shifts. The value of Sub-Zero and Wolf and food preservation, has always gone above and beyond, mirroring this desire for sustainable food excellence. So we go and buy all this fresh food and it rots by the time we get to the check out… I’m very familiar with the concept Sub-Zero and Wolf has consistently practiced, and the value of doing things above and beyond the average.
Plus, there is a community value sourcing food. We learn so much and meet so many people. One of my favorite things is meeting farmers that we buy produce from – that is the biggest value to me. The concept of an intergenerational community is being lost in our society on some level.
If you can find that space with your kids and do things like bring them to the farmer’s market, an apple orchard… we are passing that love for cultivating to generations beyond our own. And it can only help us long term.
A source of the lion share of the produce we see coming in, comes from our garden, but we also have great relationships with animal farmers, pork sources, lamb and duck farmers.
PB – How are you helping people get more “connected” with their food?
JC – I try to practice what I preach. My wife and I are pretty busy with three kids. As a home cook, we have complex routines and rhythms, but I always make fresh crepes for the kids on Thursdays. Our family visits farmers’ markets regularly and one of our friends has an apple orchard that we frequent. This offers our kids a chance to see and feel what they are eating before it gets on their plates. That appreciation is invaluable.
Catch up on the rest of our What’s Cookin’ in Your Kitchen? series with interviews from an impressive line up of chefs, farmers, and restaurateurs.