BY JEANETTE HURT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Chef Joshua Rodgers grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., then lived in Utah and Seattle before high school in Florida. He’s been a chef in kitchens around the globe, working in Florida, San Francisco, New York City, Nantucket, Montana and Shanghai. Since he took over the kitchens at Smyth and the Iron Horse Hotel in May of 2016, he’s enjoyed working with Wisconsin ingredients. He sat down with M Magazine to talk about cooking, making baby food for his young son, and more.
Tell us about your culinary philosophy at Smyth.
Smyth, really what it is, is that it’s very locally centric — a local restaurant for local residents in the city. It’s not your typical hotel restaurant. With Smyth, we have a lot of local (regulars), and it’s very important we have a footprint in the city. Except for the bread, which comes from Rocket Baby (Bakery), and the ice cream, which comes from Purple Door (Ice Cream), everything is made in-house. My viewpoint is (that) simple food is not easy to do. To do it well, it takes a lot of effort and patience.
How important are local ingredients to you?
We use a lot of local producers, like Big City Greens and Pampered Produce. What I really like about Wisconsin is that it reminds me a bit of being out in northern California with the abundance of produce that is here. We preserve whatever we can when it is in season.
How do things work in your kitchen?
I’m a firm believer in my team. My executive sous (chef is) Alex Lyskowicz, (and) we work a lot on food together. We take an idea, and we talk about it, and then we put it on a plate — four, five, six times before it comes together. We meet together as a team, all of the chefs and line cooks, and we develop a consensus about the dishes. Everyone takes pride in all of the dishes. Our chefs and cooks tend to be pretty excited about the food we make.
Quinoa Granola from Chef Joshua Rodgers
1 cup red scarlet quinoa
1 cup flax seeds
1 cup chia seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup slivered almonds
¾ cup 100 percent
3 tablespoons brown sugar
|Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, then transfer to a baking pan lined with a silicone pad. Put in oven for about 12 minutes, until the sugars have dissolved and the granola starts to clump. Then, remove from oven, and mix with a spatula. Put back in oven for about 7 minutes longer, remove, and check for texture: If still very hard, put quinoa back in oven for another 5 minutes. Remove, and let cool. Break the granola apart once cooled, and store for later use. Makes about 3 cups.|
How do your dishes come together?
They don’t magically appear — we work together. The seafood charcuterie came about from a conversation Alex and I had. So, we took the (parts of a traditional charcuterie) plate, and we broke it down. Each dish we make has to be balanced with acid and fat to salt to umami, with different components of the dish all coming together. Some things take a lot of time, like the scallop dish. We roast those tomatoes for six hours.
Tell us about your family and cooking for them.
My wife, Qing, she’s from Shanghai, and I have a 9-month-old named Elijah, and we’re expecting a new boy, Micha, in March. I cook for Elijah. We’ve done squash, avocado, kiwi, beets, salmon, banana, apples. We take whole foods and make (baby food) from them. My wife loves ramen, wontons, spring rolls, and right now, whatever my wife is craving, I make, like ice cream for her. I also make pho at home.
What’s always in your pantry?
There’s salt — six different salts. My guilty pleasure is a condiment called Spicy (Chili) Crisp from Shanghai. I find it at the Asian (International) Market. For me, it’s like ketchup. I always keep two in the cabinet.
What are your favorite kitchen tools?
My favorite tool is my chef’s knife. I also love my plating spoons and one pair of tweezers. At home, I love my Vitamix and KitchenAid. The tweezers are important for microgreens or leeks. Everyone who works in Smyth has one. If you use your fingers to pick up a micro, it gets stuck on your fingers.
What are you looking forward to as the seasons change?
We’re looking forward to blood oranges, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and celeriac, and hefty greens, like kale. M