Chef & Bar Profiles Food+Drink
The Secret Ingredient: Kitchen Technique
chef John Bender is diversifying and influencing the local culinary scene, and he's nowhere near done
McKenna Scherer, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
John Bender’s recipe for success? Passion, commitment, and the craving to continue learning. Locals may know Bender from the various cooking classes he has led at Forage in downtown Eau Claire, his consultant work at eateries like Reboot Social and Northern Taphouse, or his cooking videos from Instagram and Facebook that ultimately led to his business, Kitchen Technique.
Building up Kitchen Technique as a one-man show over the last handful of years, Bender has spent more than 20 years cooking, learning, and teaching the craft all across the culinary spectrum: managing a kitchen and more than 100 employees, training chefs, cooking in various roles, and working in all kinds of restaurants from fast casual food to the highest fine dining and Michelin star eateries.
So, how did he end up in our slice of Wisconsin? Born in Eau Claire, Bender has worked all over the country, beginning his culinary career at 18 in his home state.
“(Cooking) became something I knew I was going to pursue after I landed my first gig at 18,” Bender recalled. After about one year, Bender had the opportunity to go up to Chetek and work at Canoe Bay as a sous chef, and that was a key turning point in his career and life.
“The guy that I worked under, Scott Johnson, he took what he was doing and, I mean, there was nothing but perfection expected. That really turned things around for me where I realized, either I was going to commit, or I’m not,” Bender said. “I knew if I was going to take that risk and learn to be a better chef in the field, that was the person who was going to push me as far as I could go.”
During his time at Canoe Bay, they earned a Mobile Five Star and AAA Five Diamond rating – one of just a handful of Wisconsin resorts to do so – and were reviewed by The New York Times.
After years of honing his skills and working throughout the culinary spectrum, Bender returned to Eau Claire and graduated from the CVTC Hotel and Restaurant Management program in 2006. Fast forward more than a decade later during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bender was back in Eau Claire and was doing what he loves: cooking. During that time, though, he also shared his passion by posting cooking videos online.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted to work or where my place (in Eau Claire) would be,” he explained. “I had a couple of gigs consulting, leading kitchens, and building teams, helping restaurants be successful, but then COVID happened. That’s when Kitchen Technique launched.”
what I'm doing, it's because of the passion I have for it; i love it, it drives me every single day, and it hasn't gotten stale.
CHEF & KITCHEN TECHNIQUE OWNER
Creating and posting videos on Instagram detailing general kitchen knowledge, his posts started to gain traction and reach the right people, he recalled. Viewers began asking if he offered any instructional courses online, and with Zoom becoming a go-to for communicating and gathering during the pandemic, he began teaching online classes.
Kitchen Technique continued to evolve from there, now a frequent host of cooking classes and multi-course dinners, tasting menus, beer and wine events, and continued consulting work from Bender. But really, it’s all right in the name: offering kitchen techniques to all, from full-scale kitchens to the just-learning home cook.
“I founded Kitchen Technique through hosting classes, dinners, and helping other businesses; I want to see other businesses and people grow and succeed,” he explained.
While his family is ultimately what drove Bender back to Eau Claire and to put roots down in his hometown, the community has also become a driver for his continued motivation. Currently offering special dishes a few times a week out of the Covizza kitchen in Banbury Place (800 Wisconsin St., Suite 210, Eau Claire), Bender said it’s independent cooks and eateries like Covizza that continue to inspire his work.
“I see people doing unique, very skilled things that are not just the main commercialized stuff. They’re smaller independent people putting in the effort to perfect their craft, every day,” he said. “I think just noticing those people and really loving their work and working with people that are passionate, that’s kept me inspired.”
Bender also teased a new offering he hopes to launch this summer, shopping at the Downtown Farmers Market and then creating dishes right from the fresh local produce and vendors. For now, you can find him alongside the Covizza chefs with a new kind of special just about every week, and hosting classes and dinners.
“What I’m doing, it’s because of the passion I have for it; I love it, it drives me every single day, and it hasn’t gotten stale.”
Keep up with John Bender on Facebook and Instagram. You can reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.