Getting to know Chef Brian Frakes

The Pfister has received countless compliments on their Marcus Celebrated Chefs series. Many of the compliments centered around the hotel’s Executive Chef Brian Frakes. People talked about how generous he was with his knowledge and always sent them home with extra food. Guests went home energized with new ideas of how to invigorate their home cooking.

It turned out I’d met Brian briefly when I first came on as narrator. Concierge Peter Mortensen was giving me the introductory tour and we walked downstairs by the kitchen. Brian and I briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings. There were so many people and although good with faces names have never been my strong suit. We were in the kitchen but his manner was so welcoming it didn’t occur to me he could be the hotel’s chef. Most of the chefs I’ve observed in the past exude a territorial bravado (and, to be fair, it’s possible I’ve clicked the television past too many “reality” shows where the chef is always yelling about something), and Brian didn’t carry himself this way. He has a calm confidence and an “ask questions first, then respond with an informed answer,” way about him.

It’s quite possible that is why Brian’s events have translated so well. Yesterday Brian and I sat down and talked about his start in the business, his experiences in the kitchen, and how he ended up in Milwaukee as the Pfister’s Executive Chef. Listen in to give your ears a little taste of his experience and philosophy. Either click play below or download the track to listen later.

 

Getting to know Executive Chef Brian Frakes by Ed Makowski

What’s in a birthday?

One day I was sitting in the lobby lounge waiting for something to happen. It can be a strange feeling to think qualitatively about conversation, hoping for a moment of random brilliance to spring from a happenstance stranger. This random Tuesday evening my mind started drifting for all the typical reason’s one’s mind wanders from the task at hand while working. Bills, or maybe errands forgotten or neglected. Maybe the current song grabbed my attention and reminded me of another song which presented a memory of an old friend and I pictured the car they drove which stranded us outside of the Boundary Waters in Ely, Minnesota. My thoughts had drifted somewhere up near the Minnesota/Canada border.

While my mind canoed past several islands a gentleman sat down next to me.

We exchanged hellos and pleasantries and went on to talking about how our day was going. I asked what he was doing at the hotel this particular evening. He explained that he was visiting to celebrate his birthday. Given the four restaurants inside the Pfister there are probably people celebrating birthdays every meal of the day. I’ve even had 31 of them. But this wasn’t any typical birthday. This man’s 52nd was an especially unique year. A birthday of gilded proportions. Not as in golden birthdays, but golden that despite extreme health issues he’s lived this long.

The gentleman’s name was Daniel and he graciously allowed me to record the story of how he arrived at the age of 52. I’ll let him tell you for himself  in the audio clip below. It’s an intimate life story and I’d rather let him speak for himself than give away any details. For me it was a great reminder of not only how lucky we are to breathe every day, but that we can never know how special another person’s day is- until we ask. Without further ado, here is Daniel’s story.

Daniel talks about why 52 was such a big year for him by Ed Makowski

24 Hours: Family at the Pfister

Ok, here’s the plan. (Trumpets, please.)

24 hours. The whole family. Take on as much of the Pfister as we possibly can. Take pictures and let you share in the fun.

 

Ready…

Set…

 

Wait…not just yet!

 

OK…

 

GO!

 

 

Outside the elevator doors inside the parking garage there are cards. These cards state which floor you're on to remind you of where your car is parked. This entertained the kids to no end.

 

Checking in under the grand murals of the Pfister lobby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una learns how to operate the keyed elevator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our chalet for the evening.

 

 

Shortly after we checked in there was a knock at our door. Everyone was excited to have dinner challenged by milk and cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bye bye milk, on to getting dressed for dinner.
But not before we learned how to lock our valuables in the safe. Toothbrush, socks, the last cookie...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this thing on? We encouraged everyone to take pictures, even 4 year old Edmund.

 

 

 

 

Getting ready for dinner...hang on...you've got an eyelash...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All dressed up and ready to go.

 

 

While the lobby lounge and Mason Street Grill are spectacular places to eat we didn't think they'd be the most fitting place for a 4 year old. So we took a walk...

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and found ourselves at Sake Tumi. Sushi=finger food. Perfect!

 

 

 

 

Where's the mom of this brood been the whole time?! (Susan is usually behind the camera, which is her preference.)

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei and Una taking a moment to be silly between trying to figure out the ancient art of chop sticks.

 

 

 

 

 

Where to now?

 

 

 

 

"Well I have to find some excuse to wear this robe..."

 

 

 

 

What else is on the 23rd floor?

 

 

 

 

The beach!

 

 

 

 

Well, ok, maybe the beach is a mural. But there is a pool!

 

 

 

 

And the winner is...

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a tie!

 

 

After swimming we came back to the room to write letters (more about that tomorrow) and watch the movie In Time- from our beds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone else decided for another round of morning swimming. (while I slept in)

 

 

 

Don't worry about that snow, it sure is nice in here...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei and Edmund splashing about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una penciled in a workout before breakfast.

 

 

Is this the right way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Ah, that’s how the camera works. I ordered Susan one of Valerie’s special Pfister Bloody Marys with breakfast, but unfortunately it was gone before we could get a picture!

 

 

 

Did you know that there is a mail chute at the Pfister? Did you know it starts at the 7th floor and you can see letters drop all the way into the box?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yes, we dropped those letters and took turns watching them arrive safe in the lockbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strike a fire. Then a pose. Vogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there was one more surprise in store...

 

I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE HAVING AFTERNOON TEA IN BLU!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una concentrates on pouring steeped tea while contemplating the harp.

 

 

"See that Northwestern Mutual building to the east? It was built on a swamp called Lake Emily using wood pilings..." blah blah blah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei's tea was incredible, hints of orange and chocolate all at the same time.

 

"To become one with the haute chocolate one really needs to properly capture it's scent," explained Edmund after coming up for air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ordered that herbal tea just for color composition, I swear.
All this activity lead to a sleeping toddler. Which leads to...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...smiling parents! I hope you enjoyed joining us for the ride, we all had a great time. Tell us about your Pfister adventure!

Take your grandmother out for Afternoon Tea

Tea butler Juan Rodriguez assists patrons. Outside sun sets on the Federal Building.

Last weekend my grandma and I decided to go out for afternoon tea. I don’t believe anyone’s ever taken tea with my grandmother, aside from a bag she dropped in a mug above her stove. When my mom called to remind her, my grandma asked what she should wear for such an occasion, what is appropriate attire for tea? “We didn’t go out for tea when I was a girl. Am I supposed to wear her long white gloves? I would if I had them.” Fear not, we found that beautiful silver can be placed in front of you in an environment that isn’t stuffy.

My grandmother, Phyllis, grew up in rural North Dakota. People have asked for years why her skin looks so fantastic and she attributes this to never smoking or suntanning. Like everyone in her hometown she worked on the farm before and after school and despite the fact that all the kids worked on a farm they did their best to not look like farmers. She’d work in the field wearing a long dress or slacks (her word), a long sleeved shirt, gloves, and a big floppy hat. When Hollywood started producing suntanned movie stars the population of Minot, ND decided the west was a bunch of fools.

Our tea date happened on one of the last sunny days of autumn. I decided we should take our time and drive through the Miller Valley en route to the hotel. Somewhere near Hart Park I could feel her looking at the side of my face. After a few moments she announced, “Eddie- you’ve got white hairs in your beard. How old are you anyway?” We’ve reached ages where it’s now the younger person’s job to remember details. She’s 86 now and as a mother of 7 has recently acquired the title of great-great-grandmother.

Mary Keppeler’s harp pairs perfectly with afternoon tea.

A sidebar reason behind our afternoon date was to record my grandma recounting some of the stories our family has heard many times over. When I was offered the position of Pfister Hotel Narrator I immediately purchased the professional-grade audio recorder I’d been lusting after (Instead of replacing the clutch on the Subaru. What can I say, art uber alles) and I’m still getting acquainted with my new toy. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to record Grandma’s stories for our family archive.

No need to conclude your evening with tea. This is the Wisconsin Gas Building as seen through a glass of red. The flame changes according to the weather forecast. A blue flame means unchanging skies ahead.

After parking we rode the elevator to the 23rd floor. Straight out of the elevator my grandmother wrapped her arm inside of mine. This is not something often done by ladies of my generation. It caught my attention akin to aftershave.

My grandmother wore a lovely sequined blouse and pant combination and I had on some variety of tweed poet/1920’s iron worker juxtaposition. Once inside Blu we walked past the harpist, Mary Keppeler and sat across from the ceiling to floor windows overlooking Lake Michigan. Assistant Manager Juan Rodriguez brought over the tea cart to explain our tea options for the afternoon. Juan explained the ingredients and offered scent samples of all the teas. During his explanations we’d look at one another from time to time and grin. We’re announced simpletons when it comes to tea. Juan was patient and concise in explaining the origin and nuance of every leaf and spice and how flavors interact. Grandma went for Earl Grey and I opted for the same but with mango thrown in.

Our tea arrived and shortly after our food also arrived. Crab cakes, fresh baked scones with lemon curd and strawberry preserves, curried quail eggs, smoked salmon, herb roasted turkey. Oh, and there were just as many desserts too. Chocolate dipped strawberries, pumpkin muffins, opera torte, savory crepes.

My grandmother and I sat next to one another watching as Lake Michigan whitecaps tickled the breakwater. Cars the size of ants entered and exited 794, which was once “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Grandma told me about the tiny convertible that looked like it was smiling; the one her dad drove after all the kids were grown up. From time to time we’d raise our teacups and tilt the pot until our cup filled steaming once again. There was a table of young ladies seated with their mothers and aunts near us. My grandma told me about the aunt and uncle I’d never met, the twins whose monument she visits annually. She told me about her brother Kenny, who my brother Kenny is named after. How Kenny and my grandma and my great aunt Shirley were like the Three Musketeers. The skyscrapers began reflecting the west golden sunset. She talked about the time my uncle got sprayed by a skunk. The time her uncle was accused (Falsely, darn it all to heck!) of being a horse thief. We watched the sun fade while a woman played the harp. My grandma has the stomach of a bird, I finished both of our food trays. Suddenly the Wisconsin Gas Building’s blue light brightened the Milwaukee skyline sparkle. We kept talking and enjoying our remaining Earl Grey after the sun went to bed, even after the bartenders began pouring cocktails. She told me part of the reason she married my grandfather was because his father was such a nice man. I didn’t record any of it. Why interrupt a perfectly perfect afternoon?

Baking Up Hope This Holiday Season

Marcus Restaurants donates 500 cookies to Hope House

MILWAUKEE – December 22, 2011 – For the third year in a row, chefs from Marcus
Restaurants are helping to make this holiday season a little sweeter for those in need. This
morning, they donated 500 cookies to Hope House in Milwaukee. Hope House is an
emergency and transitional living facility serving those in need of food and shelter.
Hope House is sharing the treats with its residents and patrons of its food pantry. The
recipe for the White Chocolate Chip Chewy Gingerbread Cookies was provided by Anna
Baird-Luedke, winner of Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest, which was held by Marcus
Restaurants. For winning the contest, she will receive dinner and an overnight stay at one
of Milwaukee’s Marcus Hotels.
Marcus Restaurants Chef Brian Frakes and Pastry Chef Jennifer Carlson say their staff
sampled all of the recipes and the chewy gingerbread cookies came out on top. Frakes
says his favorite part of the contest is the chance to help others. “We took time to bake
and deliver these cookies not only because it was a really great recipe, but also because
they were going to an amazing organization,” says Frakes. “Hope House is a true
community supporter and we were honored to play a small part in helping to make the
season a little brighter for its guests.”
Marcus Restaurants would like to thank Roundy’s Supermarkets and ThirdCoast Digest
for co-sponsoring the cookie donation. For more information, please contact April Dart at
262.523.3900 ex. 29.

The Sparkling Season

Heather Kanter-Kowal

I am a geek for sparkling wines.  This is one of my very favorite seasons as there are so MANY occasions to elegantly sip Champagne and share toasts with my friends and family.  I cannot imagine a Christmas Eve dinner at my house without a few bottles of something bubbly chilling in my outdoor cellar (AKA-the snow drift on my patio), patient a Christmas morning without Mimosas and waffles, or a tiring but rewarding night at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve without toasting at midnight with my battle weary co-workers.  Here are a few of my favorite brut Champagnes and few other international sparklers that make me feel festive!

  • Krug Grand Cuvee Brut of Reims, ampoule Champagne.  As my pals at the American Club used to say, “No Krug? No thanks!” ( usually when being offered anything else bubbly).  If a budget is of no concern to you, this is the real deal.  This is the bottle for when you really have something fabulous to celebrate!  The Grand Cuvee is made from all three permitted grapes of the Champagne region, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but is predominately based on crazy good Chardonnay.  This is a more full bodied and bold style of Champagne that screams for osetra caviar.
  • Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut of Epernay, Champagne.  I recently tasted this again for the first time in years at the sparkling wine event that we hosted at Mason Street Grill on Monday night.  Really impressed with the depth and quality of this wine!  Buttery, toasty, with baked bread, pear and apricot notes with hint of smokiness.  Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in this cuvee.  A dash easier to locate than Krug, and a great deal more affordable.
  • Argyle Brut of Willamette Valley, Oregon.  Made from classic Champagne region grapes using classic Champagne production methods, this is a fun number from here in the States.  Their entry level brut is bright and racy with flavors of apple, lemon, and more of that baked bread nose.  Delightful and crisp, yet again, more budget friendly.  If you want to try something really special, track down their “Extended Tirage”, and taste it side by side with your favorite vintage Champagne.  Prepare to be shocked.
  • “Naked on Roller Skates” by Some Young Punks of South Australia.  I wonder sometimes if that name were in French if it would still seem as naughty… This bubbly is made from Shiraz and Mataro grapes.  Yes, this can happen.  No, this is not a sweet wine.  It has a darker reddish/pinkish color than you may imagine, and is dry yet balanced with flavors of red berries, spices and dark fruits.   Bring this to a party as a hostess gift, I dare you.  Your bottle will be an unwitting topic of conversation ALL NIGHT.

Cheers!

Heather Kanter-Kowal

A Great Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest Entry

Here at the Pfister, we love a great story. When we received this great story from Jill Drury who entered our Marcus Resturant’s Milwaukee’s Best Cookie Contest.

Nothing says tradition like a grandma passing great recipes, techniques, and a few special secrets to the next generation. Great story Jill, thanks for sharing…

It was a crisp Fall afternoon and I had just gotten home from another rough day of first grade. I sat down in my bedroom, unzipped my backpack, and pulled out my homework. Just as I was about to open up my math book, the smell of fresh baked goods vented into my room and drew me to the kitchen. Unnoticed, I watched my Grandma from the hallway. She rolled cookie dough with her hands, filled up a cookie sheet with perfectly round circles, and paced around the oven listening to the oven timer click away. When the bell went off and she went to retrieve her batch, I slowly crept into the kitchen on my tiptoes. Very quietly, I slid under the table with the bowl of remaining cookie dough in my hands. Just as I was about to feast on dough, I looked up and could see my Grandma’s feet in front of me. She was standing over me. Just as I tried to creep away in the other direction, she reached down, grabbed the bowl from my hands, pulled me up, and told me that if I wanted a cookie, I had to bake one!

Living with my Grandma motivated me at an early age to cook, bake and eat everything on my plate. Baking easily became a bond that we shared. Besides having fun in the kitchen, my Grandma was a great teacher and if anything,
she always had a recipe that would cure my killer sweet tooth!

Making holiday cookies became a favorite tradition of ours. After all, it was the only way she could stop me from eating half the dough!

Everyone in my family had their favorite. From sugar to ginger to good old-fashioned chocolate chip, every cookie was promised and delivered on time for the holiday season. No one had to worry that their favorite wouldn’t be waiting for them on the famous cookie platter.

Unfortunately, for the longest time I had a problem finding my favorite. I liked them all but I never loved or craved a single one. Until one day when my Grandma started having me mix my favorite flavors: chocolate and orange. We came up with a unique cookie that I can now call my favorite every holiday season.

I thank my Grandma for her patience with me in the kitchen. Without her, I’d still be eating dough! And…everyone else’s’ favorite cookie.

– By Jill Drury, Guest Blogger for The Pfister Hotel 

Valencia Delights

Cookie 



  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup butter
  • Softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel

 

Glaze


  • 6-oz pkg. (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Heat oven to 375.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off.

Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and orange 
peel. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar to 1/8 to
1/4-inch thickness. Bake at 375 for 6-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets. In small saucepan over low heat, combine glaze ingredients, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat.

Pour glaze into glass measuring cup; set in pan of hot water.

Dip ½ of each cookie into glaze; shake off excess chocolate. Place dipped cookies on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets. Chill until glaze is set, about 10 minutes.

Makes about 6 Dozen cookies.

Don’t forget to submit your submission to Marcus Hotels Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest. The winning baker will be chosen by culinary experts from Marcus Restaurants and will receive a special overnight stay and dinner for two at The Pfister, InterContinental Milwaukee or Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Plus, the winning cookie will be baked by Marcus culinary and donated to Hope House on December 22, 2011.

HURRY! THE DEADLINE TO ENTER IS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2011. 

What’s your favorite story about your grandmother? Please share it below. We’d love to hear it.

2011 Pfister Tree Lighting Ceremony

We kicked off the holiday season with our annual tree lighting ceremony on Friday, Nov. 25th.

This year’s event featured cupcake and cookie decorating, complimentary holiday drinks and much more. And as always, Santa and Ms. Claus made a special appearance.

Thanks to everyone who came out. It’s one of our favorite events of the year.