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.
For Jonna Froelich, food is beauty.
And the executive chef at Beloit’s Velvet Buffalo understands beauty. In addition to her culinary skills, she holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from Marquette University.
The West Bend native’s prowess in the kitchen came, for the most part, organically. She learned her craft mainly by cooking for herself and by working in and owning her own restaurants.
In addition to the Velvet Buffalo, Froelich also led the kitchen at I.d. in the Delafield Hotel. While there, she helped get the restaurant on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Top 30 list for the first time, and she helped keep it in the list’s top 10 until she left in 2017.
Froelich’s next stop prior to Beloit was at 2894 On Main, an organic cafe and grocer located in East Troy.
Away from the kitchen, Froelich spends most of her time with her husband, John, and the couple’s dog, ChangeUp, and their cat, Willie.
1. What is your favorite dish to prepare? Rum-flambeed sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar. This is a Thanksgiving tradition my dad and I do every year. Well, almost every year.
2. What is the single item/tool in your kitchen that you would be most lost without? Besides a good knife, a digital scale. Almost all of my recipes are scaled out by weight.
3. What is your favorite movie? “Inglorious Basterds,” because it’s hilarious, and who doesn’t want to blow up Hitler?
4. Can you share a single piece of advice for cooks that might help them have better results in the kitchen? Pay attention. That’s it. The food will teach you by its sound, look, feel, smell and taste if you pay attention to it every single day.
5. What made you decide to become a chef? Cooking is the only thing I can do all day and still really love.
6. When I’m in the kitchen, I like to have a glass of wine and music. Are there any rituals or comfort items you like to have nearby while you’re being culinarily creative? At home, yes wine and music. At work? Coffee, coffee and coffee.
7. What is your favorite condiment? Currently my favorite condiment is Szechuan chile crisp—chile oil with Szechuan peppercorns and crispy shallots. It is so good on just about anything.
8. Do you read cookbooks or watch cooking shows? I’m obsessed with cookbooks; just ask my husband. I do not have a favorite, but I really gravitate toward cookbooks that center around different countries and cultures/travel.
9. Are there any ingredients that you simply won’t use, or would prefer not to use? I’ve never used, nor do I plan on using, cheese out of a can.
10. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I’ve always wanted to learn how to throw pottery. I love working with my hands, and throwing pottery seems so relaxing—and you might get something really cool out of it.
11. Are you invited to dinner parties, or are people afraid to cook for you? I’m never invited to dinner parties. Most chefs I know don’t have vibrant social lives.
12. How do you build your menu? Are your specials based on market prices or seasonal items? I always start menus based on what’s seasonal and work from there. I don’t have a favorite season, but the change of season from winter to spring and then summer to fall are both so exciting from a culinary point of view. I’m always ready for the lightness and freshness spring ingredients offer after a long Wisconsin winter, and then the coziness of roasted fall vegetables and braised dishes that usher in autumn.
13. Can you share your previous experience in the restaurant business? I’ve done pretty much everything. I started in the industry in the front of the house as a server, spent time as a pastry chef, owned a restaurant, catered, trained culinary for a nonprofit organization, been a private chef, and been an executive chef at a handful of locations.
14. Name something that is easier to prepare than people think it is, and something that is harder to prepare than people think it is? Good homemade bread is easier than most people think—once you learn a handful of basics. Harder to prepare? I guess I would say nothing’s really hard to prepare if you learn how to do it.
15. Name a dish you’ve had at another restaurant that you wish you’d have come up with. A vegan Brunswick stew at Ubuntu in Napa, California, created by Jeremy Fox.
16. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I eat almost 100% plant-based. As far as a plant-based diet goes, its just the right thing to do for the animals and the planet. I believe someday it will be the norm, and it’s exciting to see more and more people interested in eating less animal-based foods.
17. What’s the one question you are asked regularly after someone finds out you are a chef? People always ask if I cook at home like I cook at work, and they assume my husband is the lucky recipient of such behavior. The answer is a resounding “no,” and I can see my husband rolling his eyes right now. We cook very simply at home most of the time.
18. Would you say you are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I consider myself an outgoing introvert.
19. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? I guess that’s all relative, right? I can remember the first time I had caviar thinking how strange that was. And I remember the total delight in eating finger limes for the first time.
20. Where do you find your culinary inspirations? Culinary inspiration comes from anywhere, really. The market, travels, other restaurants ... sometimes just out of necessity. Maybe I need a dish and have certain ingredients and limited time, and something really good comes out of it.