20Q: Catching up with chef/restauranteur Tyler Sailsbery


Angela Major

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Tyler Sailsbery

Chef Tyler Sailsbery is passionate about real food and where that food comes from. In his quest to educate and encourage farm-to-table seasonal eating habits, he has had numerous recipes published, taught various classes and has appeared on both the Food Network and on Wisconsin Public Television's “Wisconsin Foodie.”

Sailsbery owns two restaurants in Whitewater: The Black Sheep, 210 W. Whitewater St., and Casual Joe's, 319 W. James St. The Black Sheep focuses on elegant farm-to-table dining and Casual Joe's is centered on barbecued meats and comfort food.

Sailsbery's culinary passion comes from being raised on a farm and eating simple foods in their natural states.

To watch a short video interview with Sailsbery, visit GazetteXtra.com/Videos.

For more about Sailsbery and his restaurants, visit facebook.com/cheftylersailsbery, instagram.com/chef_tyler_ray or websites for both restaurants: EatAtBlackSheep.com and CasualJoes.com.

1. How old were you when you decided to become a chef? I knew I wanted to be a chef when I realized not all steak tasted like shoe leather. Growing up in the country, we ate what we grew—but we had little understanding of seasonings. Mom and Dad both worked a lot and didn't care to spend a lot of time cooking, so I spent a lot of time burning pasta. But there was nothing better than feeding someone something amazing after they had had a long day.

2. What separates a chef from a “good cook”? Taste everything. I feel like I say it 100 times a night, but it's what creates experience, and experience plus a willingness to embrace failure is truly what separates a chef from a cook. Often, that means building a strong palate. I took the traditional method and started culinary school thinking I would graduate as a chef, but it soon dawned on me that it was going to take time, a few terrible dishes and an open mind. The good news is I can usually fix that meal that I added way too much XYZ (ingredients) to.

3. A good chef's most important tool is: His team. I count on my team to make sure my ingredients are prepared the way I need, to the size I need and with just enough prepared to keep everything fresh. There is no way I could single-handedly cook and clean without my team, and I would be lost without them.

4. You're in a hurry and only have time for fast food. Where do you go, and what do you order? Grocery store sushi. I know, I know … but it's my guilty pleasure. I always get extra ginger.

5. The best advice I ever received about preparing food was: Break all the rules. There is a reason we are called The Black Sheep. If the other guys are doing it one way, we do it the other. We were, by far, the first to bring farm-to-table to the area because we believed in it, not because it was popular. Flippantly, I will say we do what we want, and our customers appreciate it.  

6. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I love people—like an unhealthy amount—and I am usually pretty entertaining. We do lots of cooking classes, etc., so I get my corny humor out of the way. But I refresh best in those quiet and alone hours in the kitchen. My favorite spot is the dining room window seat before staff comes in, enjoying a tiny espresso all to myself.

7. How many cooks does it take to spoil the soup? We encourage all hands in the pot, but not until the pot is most of the way done. We are inventors—we are typically creating things for the first time, so we love everyone's opinion. Ultimately, I leave it up to the cook and myself to make the final decision.

8. What was the first dish you ever prepared? I remember two dishes from childhood, and they were failures. I decided to bring gravy for a teacher breakfast and, after staying up almost the entire night unable to make the gravy, my dad drove me to the local truck stop where the cook was kind enough to supply me a can of the pre-made stuff. I now make killer gravy. Also, I once hid about 6 pounds of spaghetti under a bunch of other garbage in an effort to hide my embarrassment at mixing some terrible herbs into ready-made pasta sauce and pasta. I still struggle with not being too heavy-handed when adding a new ingredient to spice up a dish.  

9. Are you a big believer in the farm-to-table movement? Huge. I would say, by far, the most committed in the area. It starts with knowing and offering a superior product. Food that is served when it's supposed to be served and grown in the ground just tastes better, and I believe it's better for you. But then there are the amazing social reasons. We help provide an income for people in our area, so your money stays in the community you live in, and we create a sustainable farming community for future generations.

10. Is it hard to stay in shape when you're constantly taste-testing? What do you do to avoid weight gain? Oh, I'm supposed to be avoiding weight gain? I knew I was missing something. But really, what we are serving is mostly good for you; it's real food, not processed. I would say my weight gain comes from that big jar of Nutella on my desk that my staff keeps stocked to keep me pleasant when it gets stressful. When I'm eating only my food, I'm often in the best shape. I still eat the same dessert at least once a week. There is a reason our pot de crème is the only dessert that has been on our menu from the start.

11. Many chefs have tattoos. Do you? About one year ago, I took 12 of the staff on a cross-country road trip—all expenses paid. They could come along, but every stop and destination was a surprise. It was an amazing trip to California's wine country and oyster farms. The staff begged me to let us all go to a tattoo parlor so some of them could memorialize the trip. When we arrived I found out their real reason for the stop was to thank me for the trip with a tattoo. I had never really thought about a tattoo, but it took me two seconds (and a few aforementioned glasses of wine) to decide I would tattoo The Black Sheep logo on my forearm. It's a brand I wear proudly, and I have not regretted the choice. (OK, once after hearing the needle get started for the tattoo).

12. What was your first car? A Ford Escort station wagon. You can only imagine all the food that spilled in that car. I grew up on a farm in the country, and that car carried everything from ducks to emus.

13. People would be surprised to know that I: Learned the most about food and cooking while working as a flight attendant while I was studying at business school. I got to travel and see the way the rest of the world ate.

14. Name one item on grocery store shelves that you could never bring yourself to buy. Velveeta cheese. I just can't do it. Yes, it melts easy, and yes, it's cheap … but I just can't do it. Especially when I can make something else easy.

15. Have you ever met anyone famous? I met Christian Bale (Batman) while working at the airport. I knew he was familiar and just assumed he was a regular. It wasn't until someone came up to me after he had left and asked what it was like talking to Christian Bale that I realized I had just spent a half-hour talking with someone famous. We have served a few actors including Sean Hayes from “Will and Grace,” Kurtwood Smith from “That '70s Show” and Justin Long from films such as “Dodgeball” and “Accepted.”

16. Wine pairings have become a huge part of dining. How deep is your wine knowledge, and how important are pairings to the dishes you serve? It wasn't until I opened my restaurant that I had my first sip of wine. I practice drinking it, so my palette has improved drastically over the last five years. One of the things I love about wine pairing now is that it doesn't require red wines with red meats, and we often pair the nuances of the flavors.

17. What is it about comfort food that we find so … comforting? Memories and fat. They say fat is an important brain food that helps us relax, but those comfort foods from childhood also often bring up amazing memories of an easier, more relaxing time. Our passion for comfort food has pushed me to travel the U.S. and create Casual Joe's, which is mostly comfort food with a little twist.

18. What season offers ingredients you most enjoy cooking with? Without question, it's fall. I love slow food, slow roasting and root vegetables. You get to make beautiful, rich dishes that easily touch all the tastes and have great umami (flavor).

19. Name one dish your mother still makes better than you: My mother still makes a better pot of chili. It was a meal we grew up on because you could easily make two weeks' worth at a time. Somehow, Mama's chili will always be one of my favorite meals. Not too spicy and very chunky.

20. What is the most gratifying thing about sending a dish out of the kitchen to a customer? Watching someone's facial expression as they try something I've made. Some people just know what they were born to do, and I feel lucky to be one of them.

If you're involved in the arts and entertainment community and think you or someone you know would be a great subject for 20Q, send an email to kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.

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