One of the hallmarks of a definable cuisine is the ability to identify when it is being used as a highlight, a complement, to another approach. When a chef uses a slow roasted pork, glazed in hoisin, and served with an Asian Pear salsa as a taco appetizer, we can identify the elements of Latino cuisine and the Asian cuisine. In a similar way, this dish:
A chicken sausage prepared in the same style and with the same spices as a traditional bratwurst. The coleslaw is cabbage, carrots, and pea shoots with a traditional mayonnaise based dressing but the addition of a Saison craft brew vinegar echoes the tang of serving bratwurst with sauerkraut. A light, summery take on a very traditional brat and kraut. We can see, feel, and taste the influence of Great Lakes Cuisine.
When defining cuisine, particularly as it applies to the work of talented chefs across the region, innovation often makes clear delineation difficult. We discussed the problems of “defining a cuisine” in a previous post and we won’t repeat that discussion here. The particular idea we address here is Italian-American Cuisine. Anyone traveling throughout the Great Lakes Region realizes a significant immigrant population settled in the region and in many cases have held strong to their ethnic, culinary traditions. The deep-dish pizza in Chicago is a unique testimony to this process. The cuisine is at once clearly Italian and clearly American, which is why we have previously maintained that Italian-American is not part of Great Lakes Cuisine, because it is clearly and definable part of another tradition.
It should be no surprise, however, that such a clear line exists only on paper and not in the kitchen. We have detailed in the past the contribution Chef Jason Gorman has had to the ideas we present here. It is appropriate then that his interpretation of Italian food at Mangia in Kenosha, WI would present a hybrid of these two cuisines. The offerings are firmly rooted in Italian cuisine, but also bring a lovely blending of Great Lakes Cuisine. Here are some samples from a recent dinner:
We began with a several appetizers and among them was this offering – Tuscan Chicken Liver Spread with Door County Cherries. Lush, earthy flavors of the liver spread created the perfect contrast to the tart fruitiness Door County Cherries.
Another offering featured goat cheese curds, heated until just softened with N’duja and Pachino tomatoes. Goat cheese curds, such as those you can purchase from LaClare Farms, have an appealing “chew” to their texture and a bit more pronounced flavor than traditional cheddar curds. N’duja is a spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria (or you can get a great version from Underground Meats in Madison, WI).
In addition to a table full of excellent Italian-inspired dinner offerings, we enjoyed a Walleye Pike with chickpeas, garlic spinach, Pachino tomatoes, grilled leek gremolata. The flavors and preparation throughout the meal were unmistakably Italian, but the ingredients were local and often featured in unique ways.
Mangia is unmistakably Italian cuisine, but in the hands of such an innovative, and accomplished chef, elements of Great Lakes Cuisine still shine through. Though we will not add Mangia to our Restaurant section, as it does not fit the stricter definition of Great lakes Cuisine we are utilizing here, it is truly great cuisine.