This is an extended version of the interview flight series with Hinterland Sous Chef Josh Swanson.
It's part of the big run-up to Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week.
1) Describe Hinterland's style and what a customer can expect when going there?
We try to pair our food with our beer, and we understand
that not everyone is a beer drinker, so we do have a great wine list that’s
available and some craft cocktails for diners.
Head chef Kelly (Qualley) and I are just big food dorks and we’ve got a great staff that helps us accomplish that. We cook the food we’re interested in. We have some staples on our menu, some things that don’t change like the Andouille encrusted mahi mahi. The fish will change from time to time depending on the season and what’s freshly available. The rest is our culinary playground.
We’ll read a book or experience dining someplace else that will inspire us, talk it over and get it on the menu. The Korean BBQ for example is born for our love of Korean BBQ. Both of us had experiences with it, and say if they can do it, why can’t we. We do some research, bring it into the kitchen, experiment with it and then get it on the menu.
We try to give people good food experiences, and we’re not locking ourselves into one type of cuisine. We’re able to, if we want sushi on the menu, we will. We try to get oysters in, because it’s something that not a lot of places around here have. At the end of the day, it’s about listening to your ingredients. If you listen, they will always tell you a story. We get the freshest ingredients and get inspired by things.
2) What's your favorite meal to prepare?
Right now I’m really enjoying Vietnamese Pho. It’s something we’re doing as a special on Monday’s. When I’m at home, I really like to grill steak. It’s not something that I do often, probably 3-4 times per year. But I enjoy the process of grilling meat. At work, we have a wood-fired grill, and I love toying with it.We’re trying to do more with charcuterie here, making our own stuff. When you start out on a journey with a piece of food, a raw product, and take 7-10 days to cure that product. Then a full day to dry that product, then smoke it properly. All the love that’s gone into it at that point, it’s a great experience.
3) Where do you like to eat, and whose food do you enjoy?
In the GB area, I like S.A.L.T. in De Pere, I like their cuisine. I like Chives up in Suamico, and they just opened Bleu in Ledgeview. I really enjoy J.R. Schoenfeld's food.
When I travel, I try to find the back alley restaurants that only the locals know about. I try to find that in town also. There’s Asian Taste Supermarket on Bodart Street that I like to frequent. Try to find as much ethnic food that’s available.
I had a nice experience in Chicago at Alinea, a 3-Michelin star restaurant. Got to see how that operated. But I’m happiest at a strip mall somewhere that serves really great Korean BBQ, nothing fancy but if the food is there, I’m there.
4) In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc.?
I would say vinegar, or just generally an acid, which you can get in the form of citrus. Just a dash of vinegar in a pot of stew can make all the difference. We use it here like salt and pepper, it’s a seasoning process. You’re not making anything taste acidic or tangy, what you’re trying to do (1 tsp. for 3 quarts of soup) is just bringing out more flavor.
The other ingredient that’s not often used, but I like to use, is fish sauce. It's something that if you smell it, it’s not quite right, but when used with the proper accompaniments, it can really make something beautiful.
We can go to the farmer’s markets and buy whatever is fresh. Coming up is asparagus season; I would say get your fill while you can.
5) Are you excited to take part in the Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week?
It’s exciting to get some of the local population that hasn’t experienced our cuisine. I think that any time we can get anyone thorough our doors, if we can get a plate of food in front of them, I think we can win them over. We put a lot of love in our food and it’s really high quality product, so we’re excited to get new people to experience our food.
6) How do you decide what to put on the tasting menus?
You get a couple different shots to show people what we’re all about. With the way that they’ve done the menu, with different courses, we already do some similar tasting menus. It’s a fun way to take the diner on a journey. The Japanese call it omakaze, where you let the chef lead you where he’s going to lead you and experience the tastes.”
We may have some changes to the menu, depending on if new things became available produce wise or protein wise, but yeah we’re excited.
On Friday, May 24, Hinterland is doing another one of their Firkin Fridays.
I asked Josh the obvious question, what is a Firkin?
Firkin is beer that’s put in a cask, called a Firkin, and it continues the
aging process in the cask. Start with raw ingredients, and you wait until it’s
time to pop it. You find out then what you’re going to get, because different
things could occur. Typically they’re pleasant, there’s a small chance they won’t
be, but we’ll take our IPA and add extra hops to it. We’ve taken our Bourbon
Barrel Stout and put it into a Firkin. What happens is it naturally continues
fermentation, that’s how it carbonates itself and ends up with what the English
call ‘real ale’ that’s still fermenting in the container."