In search of...The taste of Port

Adventure-cook and food enthusiast Ian Brown is trying to tell the story of his hometown in the medium of wild fruits and nuts and backyard produce

Ian Brown checked out grapes he foraged in the backyard of his Port Washington home. He wants city residents to join him in making a food portrait of Port by growing and cooking with produce naturally found in the city. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Food enthusiast Ian Brown has worked with several chefs across the country but now that he’s back in Port Washington he wants to create a culinary snapshot of his hometown.

Using wild fruits and nuts that grow in the city, Brown hopes to involve others and the produce of their own yards to tell a short story of what Port tastes like just by taking a walk through town.

“As Port grows, and it has done so in a very noticeable way since I was a kid,” the 35-year-old 2004 Port High grad wrote on Facebook, “this might be one of the last chances to get a snapshot of the small town that’s still standing but quickly disappearing.”

Port has plenty to offer. Brown has seen apples and pears in his neighborhood and grapes, blackberries and raspberries along the Ozaukee Interurban Trail that runs through the city.

Brown has already started cooking with treasures from his backyard. Black walnut-crusted pork steaks are awesome, he said, though he warns, “You have to be careful with black walnuts. They’re strong.”

He makes two to three pounds of fudge oat crumble for his next-door neighbor.

“She devours it. I love it,” Brown said.

He makes cookies for a neighbor three doors down on West Chestnut Street. The man later knocked on Brown’s door offering a trade.

“He gave me deer hearts. What do I do with deer hearts? I’m an adventurous cook,” he said.

Brown’s adventures have taken him across the country — New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, Portland, Ore., Washington State and the Grand Canyon.

“If you could go everywhere, why wouldn’t you?” he said.

Through hotel management positions, Brown has come across a variety of chefs and cuisine. One of his most memorable experiences was working for Dan Sikorski, the corporate chef at Hannah’s Bretzel, a sandwich shop in Chicago that Brown described as “basically the speciality department of a Whole Foods.” Sikorski saw something in Brown.

“He stopped me point blank,” Brown recalled. Then the chef said, “Look at me. You taste it. You get it. You closed your eyes. You chewed slowly. You got it. What can I do to inspire you?”

The pair began playing around with recipes. Sikorski suggested mixing a white truffle with goat cheese, adding Parmesan cheese and putting it on bread made from a recipe from Stuttgart, Germany, from 1654.

The bread gets dipped in lye — not the traditional butter or grease.

“Lye gives it its color. It boils off if you bake it properly. Essentially, it’s an acid wash,” Brown said.

Sikorski had other ideas. He once said, ‘Hey Ian, let’s have some fun with butter.’”

The two came in at 6 a.m. before the restaurant opened and experimented with butter from Europe and created a new sandwich.

They took ends of a Serrano ham, cut it thin like bacon and added a whole-grain mustard and aged Gruyere cheese with just a small amount of vegetables.

Sikorski, Brown said, taught him everything he knew.

Brown never aspired to be a chef but he loves to cook and bake.

“When you’re a chef, you never stop working,” he said.

Brown’s younger sister is a chef.

“I’m not a real chef. You know what I am? I’m a fake,” he said.

But Brown still knows his way around the kitchen and knows flavors.

He suggests Port Salut for grilled cheese. “You’d melt,” Brown said of people who try it.

His travels have led him to recommend a few different delectables. Brown has a thing for chocolate and mayonnaise.

His favorite chocolate is the Hachez Premier Cru 88% Dark Chocolate Bar from Germany.

“That’s as pure as it gets,” he said.

Brown also favors the Lake Champlain caramel and sea salt chocolates.

When it comes to mayo, Brown loves New York City-based Sir Kensington’s all-natural version so much that he wrote the company and asked for the recipe. He was sent back something that was close and made it.

“It’s pretty good,” Brown said.

When it comes to oysters, Brown said, he knows some people prefer East Coast varieties and some like West Coast ones. Brown suggests visiting Netarts Bay Oysters on the Oregon coast.

“You’ve never had a best oyster” until you try theirs, he said.

While cooking has always been a passion for Brown, baking was not.

“I was never one of those people who wanted to bake,” he said. But one day he wanted to expand his repertoire. One of his friends gave him a recipe for apple bread cake stuffed with cheesecake.

“That sounds awesome,” Brown said.

But his friend said, “‘I think you could do better.’”

Brown did, adding his own twist. He mixed in chai spice flavor just for a tweak.

Now, Brown is back home taking care of his mother, who has cancer.

She is the one who taught Brown to make people happy when he can.

“I want to make an entire meal for the whole neighborhood. It’s fun. I’ve had such an inspiration from so many people that I’ve worked for,” he said.

He already has a plan for a dessert using local ingredients.

“My wish is to not buy anything. It’s a snapshot of who we are,” he said.

“My idea is to make a pie, with just a little bit of rum with a maple and buttery crust.”

Brown hopes to document what residents do with their local edibles.

“Let’s do it. Let’s make Port have a voice. What can you do at the end of the day? Let’s be brave,” he said.

Brown will continue to cook and bake for those who live nearby.

“I found a way to take care of my neighbors. If I’m ever down, my neighbors will have my back because I had theirs first. I don’t ask anything in response. It’s not in my nature,” he said.

“You’d be surprised when you are nice to someone. They’ll find you, and they’ll always make you smile.”



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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