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Wisconsin Chef Teaches Cooking in Forests & Fields

Wisconsin Chef Teaches Cooking in Forests & Fields

David Swanson often brings his patrons to the very fields where their meal was grown (photo by creative commons user Wonderlane)

M.L. Johnson | Associated Press Writer

WEST BEND, Wisconsin-As more travelers show an interest in local cuisines, a Milwaukee chef is taking the trend a bit further with a cooking school that travels to the food’s origins.

The Braise Culinary School holds classes on farms and in forests during warm months. Most classes start with a farm tour – or recently, a walk in the woods – so students can see how food grows before they learn to prepare it.

“The idea, basically, is to reconnect people to their food,” chef and owner David Swanson said.

He came up with the idea while working on a business plan for a restaurant and attached cooking school.

“One question that I would think that would come up is: ‘Where is this food coming from?’” Swanson said. From there, it was a short jump to offering classes – sometimes literally – in the field.

Swanson, 39, worked in restaurants in the Chicago area and Milwaukee for about 20 years before opening the cooking school in 2006. Since then, he has cooked in apple orchards, wheat fields and breweries. This year’s first class began with a mushroom hunt in woods near the University of Wisconsin-Washington County.

Swanson partnered on the class with Britt Bunyard, a mycologist (fungus expert) and editor of Fungi magazine. Bunyard led about two dozen people through woods and clearings he had scouted the day before.

“There’s no need to run from spot to spot,” Bunyard said: Dozens of morels were waiting to be picked.

Gail Groenwoldt, 39, of Milwaukee, signed up for the hunt after seeing morels priced at nearly $50 a pound in her grocery store. During the hunt, she also spotted ramps. A side order of the onion-like plant cost her more than $20 in a Milwaukee restaurant.

“This is why we should learn to forage,” Groenwoldt said.

After the hunt, Swanson sauteed morels, ramps, asparagus and potatoes and then added veal stock to make a vegetable ragout. The cooking lesson, Groenwoldt said, was “a treat.”

Sara Wong, 33, also from Milwaukee, has taken Indian, sushi and Thai cooking classes. On a trip to Vietnam, she ate dog.