Unusual collection makes fine recipe for life satisfaction

19 Apr, 2014

by Molly Snyder

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When Shari and Al asked Pfister executive chef Brian Frakes to sign a toque (chef’s hat), he was honored.

“I was truly honored and requested to be displayed between (celebrated Chicago-based chef) Charlie Trotter and Julia Childs, both heroes in the business,” says Frakes.

Shari and Al obliged Frakes’ request and during a recent visit to their home, I saw his white hat positioned proudly between the other two Greats.

The 76-year-old couple from Bay View have been collecting signed toques for decades and have an impressive collection which includes signatures from Julia Child, Charlie Trotter, Paula Deen, former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, Sandy D’Amato (James Beard award winning former owner of Sanford in Milwaukee), the California-based Tim Au and now, Chef Frakes.

“The toques are all very dear to me,” says Shari. “I treasure them.”

Most of the toques are displayed in glass domes on a shelf in the couple’s kitchen and two are flattened and famed on the wall.

“I need another shelf,” says Shari.

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To get the toques to stand upright on their own, Shari says she puts rolls of paper towel inside the hats as makeshift forms and, one time, used two stacked rolls of toilet paper because she was out of paper towel.

Shari and Al started collecting signed toques because they have always admired talented chefs and both are avid autograph collectors of famous people. Shari started collecting autographs as a child and Al, who worked as a limousine driver for almost 18 years, received many autographs of famous folks while on the job.

Hence, a large portion of their house’s wall space is covered in framed autographed photos.

“Al drove a lot of people around and even though they were celebrities or big hot shots they were very nice to him,” says Shari.

To obtain the autographed toques, Shari usually sent the toque with a letter requesting a signature and a self-addressed, stamped mailer.

“I was never refused,” she says. “It’s amazing to me.”

Shari and Al have already purchased another toque and plan to soon ask Milwaukee chef and restaurant owner Joe Bartolotta to sign it.

“Al and I think anyone who has worked hard all of their life and they can make it through hard work, well, we’re so proud of them,” says Shari. “If you don’t have any interests in life, what do you do?”

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About the author

Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She started keeping a diary when she was four and published her first poem at age 10 called “The Unicorn” in the now-defunct Shorewood Herald. Today, she writes less about mythical creatures and more about Milwaukee people and places. She is a senior writer at OnMilwaukee.com, where she has worked for the last 12 years. Telling people’s stories is her passion.

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