August 10, 2012

Chef Peter Sandroni from La Merenda

One of the great things about my job are the employee perks, such as "lunch and learns."  Today's topic was eating locally sourced food and the guest speaker was Peter Sandroni, owner and chef at La Merenda.

It's been 5 1/2 years since La Merenda opened in Walker's Point, and they've earned an excellent reputation in that time.  It doesn't matter which online review site your search, the reviews are all excellent...from Open Table to Urbanspoon to Yelp to Trip Advisor.

I really enjoyed hearing both Chef Sandroni and Chef Jason Gorman speak about their commitment to using locally sourced food, both at La Merenda and at home.

The first course was a salad with blue cheese from Monroe and greens from Turtle Creek Gardens in Delavan.  Chef Gorman is a cheese ambassador, so he has great knowledge about all of the wonderful cheeses from Wisconsin.

The main course was trout, served with potatoes and arugula.  The trout came Rushing Waters Fisheries, which is in the southern unit of Kettle Moraine.  They have 56 ponds and each pond only has the number of fish that would occur in a natural state.

Chef Sandroni places his order in the morning, when the fish are still swimming, and the trout arrives at his restaurant that afternoon.  Rushing Waters is open to the public, so you can see their ethical fishing practices for yourself.

I do not eat fish, so when Chef Gorman told us he was leaving the skin on the trout, I didn't realize that was unusual.  Chef Sandroni then told us that most Omega-3 is in the skin, so they leave it on which "allows the customer to decide if they want to eat the most nutritrious part" as he put it :)

La Merenda currently sources their food from 45 local farms, and their menu is very fluid and changes seasonally.  They take what is leftover after each farm has packed their CSA boxes. In addition, many farms cellar things for the restaurant to extend the availability of local food through the winter.

The dessert course was a thick, decadent brownie.  Again, the ingredients were mostly local, with Freis Von Kiel butter (all other dairy items for the restaurant come from Sassy Cow Creamery), and eggs from Yuppie Hill Poultry in Burlington.

Omanhene Chocolate was the main brownie ingredient, and I found the story behind Omanhene to be very interesting.  Steven Wallace founded the company in 1991 and is producing world class chocolate entirely in Ghana, as opposed to exporting the cocoa beans.

"The sale of Omanhene chocolate results in higher revenues and consequently higher wages for both workers at the chocolate factory and for local cocoa farmers."  Locally, you can buy Omanhene Chocolate at Sendik's.

Photo Credit: Omanhene Chocolate

The message today was clear.  You can make a difference by carefully choosing where you shop and which stores you choose to support.  Being able to talk with the people who provide your food is a wonderful aspect of shopping locally.

He also encouraged everyone to ask for him when they come in to dine at La Merenda, especially because he cannot cook for the next 6 weeks due to a hand injury, so he has plenty of time to chat with customers.

It wasn't until he mentioned that he hurt his hand butchering a pig that I remembered seeing Wisconsin Foodie post a photo of Peter in the hospital back in early July after he sliced his tendon.  Ouch!

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Foodie


  1. Sounds like a great event!

  2. Wow, awesome that your job does things like that. La Merenda is great, I should put that on my list of places to go since Chris has never actually been there yet. I always go with the girls!

    1. I naively thought we'd go tonight, went to Open Table to make a reservation and found one 9:45. Sounds like a place that's worth planning ahead for :)

  3. I interviewed Peter for the last story I was writing and I was wondering why he said he couldn't email - poor guy!