Cultivating Local Tastes
chef Nathan Berg strives for a delicious balance
To put it simply, Nathan Berg is the kind of chef you need in a thriving community because he is simultaneously innovative and locally focused.
Berg is the former proprietor of Native Bay restaurant outside Chippewa Falls, a place where the cuisine was both immaculately presented and locally sourced. It was the super club for those of us who appreciate ethical cuisine.
Blending local sourcing and fine dining comes at an obvious cost, he acknowledges. “I’d like to think that, on some level, the problem is not actually getting people interested in local foods, but getting people used to the idea that restaurants which serve local food are going to have to charge a little bit more than the other places,” Berg says. “Certainly, my culinary experience is in fine dining and that brings its own higher prices, so I’m fighting a double battle in that regard.
“I’d like to think that, on some level, the problem is not actually getting people interested in local foods, but getting people used to the idea that restaurants which serve local food are going to have to charge a little bit more than the other places.” – Chef Nathan Berg, on the challenges of serving locally sourced cuisine
“But even if there was a place that just served burgers and fries but used predominantly local ingredients, their items would probably cost a few bucks more across the board,” he adds. “And while there’s a certain percentage of folks that would absolutely love and support such a place, the majority would stay away simply because they think they can get the same thing for less somewhere else.”
In Berg’s opinion things are improving in the Chippewa Valley food community despite the tough economic times we’ve gone through in the last few years.
He also points to the mainstream media as being part of the change. “These days, the food channels show (local foods), magazines and newspapers write more about them, the news talks about them,” he says. “So it’s to the point that most folks incorporate at least a small amount of them into their regular diet. And even those who don’t have at least heard enough about them so that they don’t think of the people that find them important as being from another planet!”
That’s a victory in and of itself. When we first opened Native Bay in 2005, Berg notes, “Many folks wouldn’t want to order our burgers because we mentioned that they were made with organic, grass-fed beef and a lot of people assumed that meant that they were veggie burgers.”
Four Chairs is Berg’s next innovation in the dining experience. The concept behind the restaurant, which Berg hopes to open in Chippewa Falls, is simple: It will serve a six-course meal to only four diners at a time (thus the name). Berg says that this idea came to him in a dream several years ago, and he searched in vain for such a restaurant in the real world.
“I’ve never found anything exactly like it, at least not here in the U.S.,” he says. “Mostly, I think that there aren’t very many talented chefs who are willing to sit around and take on all of the cooking, serve the customers and do all the dishes night-in, night-out, which I am.
“There’s so much that I feel (diners) can gain from this experience,” he continues. “If they don’t know much about food going in, then I can tell them a ton about the farms and producers where their ingredients came from. If they’re already embedded in the local food arena, then they can learn more about the cooking itself – general culinary techniques, flavor combinations and how to free yourself from recipe cooking. Or if food isn’t their passion, then they can get to know a bit about me and talk about anything under the sun.”
If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite there will be a launch party on June 23,where the epicurious can make donations and try a whole slew of food with all proceeds going to making Four Chairs a reality.
Four Chairs Launch Party • noon, Sunday, June 23• Tomahawk Room, 306 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls • donations accepted • 715-726-9433 • search for “Four Chairs” on Facebook.com.