Posts Categorized: Chef on the Block

Chef on the Block: Simply Coffeehouse


Chef Doug Tesar, Simply Coffeehouse

By Inspire(d) • Originally published in the Fall 2012 Inspire(d)

Simply Coffeehouse and Eatery in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, is right at home in the charming downtown Blackhawk Avenue area. From the high ceiling interior to the rustic furnishings, Simply is a great place to stop and take a break. Part coffeehouse, part cafe and bakery, owner Doug Tesar’s eatery has become a local favorite and a must-stop for out-of-towners like us (and soon, hopefully, you too).


They serve up an ever-changing breakfast menu, and for lunch, offer homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches – seriously – as big as your head! From Simply grilled cheese on housemade bread to the Kick-N-Roast Beef made with their own roasted meat, the options are seemingly endless. Always suckers for chicken salad, we gave Simply’s a try – it certainly did not disappoint. It was – simply put (haha) – delightful: a wonderful made-from-scratch mixture of sweet, crunch, and salt that complimented the chunky chicken perfectly (that’s only half the sandwich pictured below!). We suggest you also try their chocolate frappe, plus the cookies, bars, and cupcakes are killer, too, and often sell out by noon! So get there early, curl up with a coffee in a street-front window or with a magazine (may we suggest Inspire(d)?) by the giant aquarium where the “pet” (and giant) fish swims happily every day, and enjoy some time for yourself. Or stop by for an early morning coffee before hitting the river and grab lunch to take for a picnic in the park – it’s simple!

sandwich frappe

doug1Name & Age: Doug Tesar, 41
Restaurant: Simply Coffeehouse and Eatery
Number of Years Cooking: 25!

Formal Training or Live and learn?
Live and Learn… From short order cook, to sous chef, and somewhere in there a food and beverage purchasing agent. I’m now owner and operator of my own restaurant!

What’s your most significant memory of cooking?
I would say my earliest (professional) memory was cooking stir fry and broiled tilapia for Bill Clinton and his campaign staff. Recently, it would be an auction for the hospital to raise money for their hospice program. I and my superstar helper, Carly, were auctioned off to cook and serve a group of 6 to 8 people in their home for $3,400! (What to make right? Haha!)

baristaWhy did you decide to become a chef?
I really didn’t decide, I just started off on dishes and kept on rolling ­– before I knew it, I was getting moved up in positions, making money, and just really enjoyed doing it.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
Sea Bass with a mustard and balsamic crust.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Sauerbraten with an 18 pound prime rib!

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
Cheap hot dogs, peanut butter on a spoon, and mac and cheese without the butter and milk.

What’s your favorite…

Ingredient: Course salt and pepper
Dish: Broiled Scallops
Cooking Tool: Rubber spatula
Vegetable: Corn
Fruit: Strawberry

Chef on the Block: Oneota Co-op / Johanna Bergan


Introduction and photos by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Winter 2014-15 Inspire(d)

In Decorah, when we think about fresh, local food, the first place that comes to mind is often the Oneota Community Co-op. Inside, there are beautiful displays of the aforementioned fresh and local food: vegetables, fruit, bread, pastries…you get the idea. But the Co-op is so much more than just a grocery store. There’s the awesome hot bar (hellooo, Thursday Taste of India day!), catering options, cheese-of-the-month clubs, great beer and wine, and some pretty darn cool classes.

JohannaTeachingFor years, the classes have been held in a small room in the basement of the Co-op – they were capped at just eight students – additionally, a few were taught off-site at schools or work places. But in late 2014, they opened a lovely, new space in the adjoining building at 310 Water Street. The new co-op kitchen classroom can accommodate up to 40 students – which is great, because attendance is on the rise, especially with fun offerings such as the Wednesday Well-kid series offered during morning late-starts in Decorah. This class, for students in kindergarten through 2nd grade, teaches the importance of breakfast, eating well balanced meals, and encourage trying new foods. Classes will be varied in theme, but will always provide breakfast, activities for students, and a walking school bus to John Cline School.

They also have E.A.T. (experience, ambiance, taste) classes that feature a local “celebrity chef” who hosts a cooking class, and a series on Mindful Eating. New class series for Fall 2015 launch September 2. See for details on these classes and more – there are so many awesome options!

Johanna Bergan, the Co-op’s former education and outreach coordinator (but current teacher), is super excited when each season’s new class schedule launches. As always, the programming focuses on acquainting students with whole foods and teaching skills that can transfer easily to their home kitchens. In the process, they hope attendees learn the love of making and eating good food as well!

JohannaName: Johanna Bergan
Age: 27
Restaurant or Kitchen: Co-op Kitchen Classroom
Number of Years Cooking: Teaching – four years

Formal training or live-and-learn?
Live and Learn

What’s your earliest or most significant memory of cooking or being cooked for?
My earliest memories of cooking all take place in front of the 1954 stove in my parent’s kitchen – the only stove I used until I graduated from Luther. We knew how old it was because a piece in the clock had been replaced with a quarter from the year it was purchased. I made apple cinnamon muffins from Betty Crocker with my little sister after school in the oven and strawberry pie and jam for 4-H projects in middle school.

Joel, my then boyfriend, made me polenta for the first time ever, in our first little apartment kitchen. He served this whole grain mush that had taken over 40 minutes to cook with a shrimp pasta sauce from the Joy of Cooking. I was sure I would hate it. I fell in love with polenta and the shrimp recipe is still marked as a favorite today. And I decided I’d marry him if he ever asked (ed note: he did).

Why did you decide to become a chef?
An interesting combination of ‘A Splendid Table’ podcasts, cheap produce markets, Chicago Public Library shelves of cookbooks and an immense feeling of guilt that Joel worked, went to school, AND cooked all of our food, joined together at a time that I was mostly at home with our daughter. I had little excuse not to hang out in the aisles of Whole Foods staring into other people’s shopping carts, wondering “what is that stuff?” I did food like I do life – jump in feet first.

Back home in Decorah, working at the Co-op was the perfect fodder for my new love of food. I soak in recipes, from the radio, Pinterest, magazines, restaurants. This inspiration follows me into the kitchen where I try something once and tweak from there. I cook in a completely gluten free kitchen, for a family with several dietary restrictions including no dairy, eggs or peanuts, and some vegetarians. Please don’t feel sorry for me! This is my ultimate food challenge and one that I relish conquering day after day after day.


What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
I couldn’t answer this question myself. My mother says peach pie, my daughter says her birthday cake and my husband says blackberry pie. Funny answers since I am a self-confessed, terrible baker and feel confident only on top of the oven.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Red Velvet cake, three layers, frosting – gluten free and vegan. This cake wasn’t made, it was built. Only after cutting it, topping with ice cream and serving did I find out I had used cinnamon in place of cocoa powder. Spicy!

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
Hmm… I am a practicing vegan, a carbon footprint vegan, this means I choose not to eat meat to lower my output of carbon into the environment. This is balanced by a desire to let nothing go to waste. So I eat animal products when they have become other people’s waste. Feel free to invite me over after you cook the bacon and I’ll pour off the fat and run home to cook my tofu burger in it! Heaven to Betsy – don’t throw it out!

On another note… I love potato chips…especially Dill Pickle!

What’s your favorite:

Ingredient: Garbanzo beans
Dish: Massaged Kale Salad with Tamari Dressing
Cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
Random (or not so random) kitchen tool: Pressure Cooker
Vegetable: Spinach
Fruit: I’d rather eat a vegetable (No joke)


The Oneota Community Food Co-op is a cooperatively-owned grocery store – currently, there are more than 4,400 members! This is the Co-op’s 51st year! They’ve been bringing local, organic, and sustainably-produced food and wares to the community since 1974.

Check it out!

Chef on the Block: Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery


Intro by Aryn Henning Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2013 Inspire(d)

Between Stewartville and Spring Valley, Minnesota, just off the intersection of Highways 16 and 63, there sits a beautiful, modern, barn-red building. You might wonder what crops they grow…that is until you notice the grapevines rolling out past the patio situated under a giant, gorgeous pergola. Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery combines what they call “Minnesota-nice and casual elegance” to create a unique dining – and, of course, wining – destination.

Inside, the tasting room/restaurant is well designed and fun. Big chalkboards announce the wines to taste ($5 for a flight!), and they are indeed tasty – not just by Midwestern standards.


Also tasty? The food. The kitchen is open whenever the winery is open, and the menus (which change frequently) feature plates ranging from chicken fried olives to burgers hand ground (with bacon!) fresh in the Four Daughters kitchen. You can also get French Onion dumplings or classic deviled eggs or even an Italian grinder pizza (just to name a couple).


If you’re lucky, you might even catch the Four Daughters’ father cheerfully walking around the tables, greeting guests like a host in his own house making the whole experience feel even more of a family affair. (Above photo courtesy Four Daughters.)

Four Daughters’ head chef, Erik Kleven, really shines at their Dine in the Vines events, a special full moon series of dinners that only happen four times a year. It’s served up – you guessed it – right in the vineyard, under a full moon to boot.


Another dinner series they host is Thursday night Chef’s Dinners. These happen every week, all year long, and each meal – ranging from five to six courses – is literally never the same. (Above photo courtesy Four Daughters.)

As the family is known to say, Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery isn’t just a restaurant; it’s an experience.

ChefEricName:  Erik Kleven (pictured at right, photo courtesy Four Daughters.)
Age (if you’re willing): 42
Restaurant: Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery
Number of Years Cooking: 20

Formal training or live-and-learn?
I choose the formal training route and attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland Oregon. Culinary school teaches you the passion and professionalism, but learning on the job gives you the skills for the day to day work.

What’s your earliest or most significant memory of cooking or being cooked for?
I grew up in the restaurant business and my best memory is of my dad teaching me to make meatloaf when I was young.

Why did you decide to become a chef?
I have always liked the restaurant business and had many front of the house jobs. When I graduated high school I tried college for a couple of years and that didn’t hold my attention enough, because I always found things to do that were more fun than classes. So I decided that pursuing a career in the restaurant business would offer a bit more excitement and I have loved it ever since.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
I think that my best things have come in some of the specialized dinners that we do at Four Daughters. The Dine in the Vines dinners that we do every summer are my favorite. We do multiple course dinners down the middle of the vineyard under the full moon. We create fun dishes for these and the Lobster boil that we do at the end of the summer is a blast.

Do you have any monumental food fails you’d like to share with us?
Probably my most frequent fail is putting things in the oven and forgetting about them…I do this more often than should. My great kitchen staff usually saves me so that it is not always lost.

How about secret food indulgences you don’t normally talk about? Will you tell us?
I will eat anything in the refrigerator wrapped in a tortilla, like most leftovers, leftover spaghetti is my favorite.

What’s your favorite…
Duck or Bacon Fat
Dish: pan fried sunnys at the lake
Cookbook: All of Charlie Trotter’s books – interesting ingredients and awesome pictures
Random (or not so random) kitchen tool: Hand blender
Vegetable: Potato
Fruit: Tomato