A cold spring; the slightest hint of warming. Squirrels chase across budded trees swaying, still leafless. Settling down behind the barn, hiding from the wind, sunlight creeps in slowly. But chives peek through the soil.
Milwaukee chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs have secret room, a sacred place, tucked inside their restaurant, DanDan. The memory of their great-grandmothers, their recipes, and their sense of family becomes a gathering space, a place to bring memory and imagination together in food, a place they call EsterEv. The tasting menu, eclectic and unconstrained, ranges freely across cuisines, culinary approaches, and flavors; all seasonally inspired.
Though globally inspired, occasionally the Great Lakes roots of these chefs peek through on the monthly-rotating menu selections. Chicken liver financier, “deviled egg”, and latke with smoked salmon started off a recent visit, the “deviled egg” an egg white meringue filled with a savory puree. A previous menu included a pastrami-style short rib, red cabbage puree, crisped pumpernickel, potato cake, pickled mustard seed and red mustard leaves. These are the tastes of Great Lakes cuisine peeking through in newly inspired ways. Our inspiration for the dish below was a potato soup they served with a dollop of mashed potatoes in the center; could be the perfect canvas for our spring garlic chives. We used Yukon Gold potatoes, originally developed by Gary Johnston to thrive in the soils of southern Ontario, where the Great Lakes moderate the temperatures and former lake beds create fertile soil. This recipe involves several steps, but much of it can be done while waiting for potatoes to boil. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the rich, creamy indulgence of the soup on its own. But don’t forget the fresh chives.
Potato Leek Soup with Shallot Mashed Potatoes
8 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large leek, chopped (white, pale green sections)
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried marjoram
6 cups vegetable broth
Add butter and leaks to large stock pot on stove-top over medium heat, sprinkle lightly with salt. As leeks begin to soften and just start to caramelize, add half of the wine. As wine cooks off, add remaining wine. When wine has cooked off a second time, add broth, bay leaves, marjoram, and potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to fall apart, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree until smooth. Additional broth retained from next step can be used to thin to desired consistency before service.
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
3 Tbs. softened butter
1 large shallot, peeled and diced fine
1 Tbs. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a large pot over high heat, bring potatoes, broth, and bay leaves to a boil, then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to soften (but not fall apart). While potatoes cook, add 1 Tbs. butter to a sauce pan over medium heat with shallot and thyme. When shallot begins to become translucent and just start to caramelize, add wine. Simmer until wine is completely cooked off, then remove from heat and add remaining butter and stir together. When potatoes have finished, drain and save broth. Add the potatoes back to the pan and mash along with all of the butter mixture and the heavy cream until very smooth.
1 large Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into wide matchsticks
1 Tbs. pork lard and vegetable oil or 2 Tbs. butter (see note)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
Note: We used smoked pork lard derived from our method of preparing Nueske’s bacon, butter can be used as a substitute here. In a sauce pan over medium-high heat add the lard and oil (or butter) and the potatoes. Allow to cook until deeply browned, but not burnt, the color of dark caramel, but not chocolate. The potatoes should be drained on a paper towel when finish to drain the oil. Lightly salt to taste.
We served grilled cheese sandwiches alongside, featuring a blend of three different aged white cheddars. A dollop of the shallot mash potatoes is surrounded by the potato leek soup, bacon-flavored matchstick potatoes as crisp “croutons” on top and dotted with freshly chopped chives.