Table Chat: Jed Hanson
As a kid Jed Hanson wouldn’t eat certain foods, so his mom came up with a plan. If he helped cook, she reasoned, he’d be more likely to eat a meal. It worked.
Now the executive chef at MOTOR Bar & Restaurant at the Harley-Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal St., Hanson calls his approach comfort food with a twist, always with a nod to what he learned from mom.
Hanson, who started out in the kitchens at The Grove (formerly in Elm Grove), attended culinary school at Milwaukee Area Technical College and worked his way through local professional kitchens from Hotel Metro to the former River Lane Inn and Big Daddy’s Brew and ‘Que.
He lives in Greendale with his partner, Andrea, and her sons, Kian, 14, and Colden, 12.
Question: How did you get started cooking?
Answer: I started at home with my mom. She was the one who got me interested in cooking food. When I was a kid, there were certain things I wouldn’t eat. I hated onions, the crunch drove me nuts. Kid stuff. She had this theory that if you got the kids involved in making the meal, they’ll eat it. Apparently, it worked.
Q: What was your first kitchen job?
A: I was at a get-together and somebody there was a cook. I was talking about getting into the culinary industry. He had me call his boss, and I was offered a job even though I had zero experience. I was on line cooking, sautéing, thrown in to the fire pretty quickly. That was at The Grove, which has since shut down, but it was an Elm Grove staple.
Q: What’s your Milwaukee meal, something to introduce to people?
A: At this point, it would be one of the gastropubs that has popped up around town. Milwaukee is built on beer, and past that, sausage. Going out and getting a brat with sauerkraut and a beer pairing, that’s one of my favorite meals. It’s simple, classic and filling. It is not a salad.
Q: How do you define your cooking? What’s your kitchen style?
A: It has always had to be comfort food. What my mom taught me was classic dishes with a comfort food twist. My bearnaise sauce that I make is something that she taught me.
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
A: I like deep-frying stuff. It is an over-the-top sensation putting things in the fryer and seeing how they come out. One of the first things I put on the MOTOR menu is the deep-fried Oreo, and that has done very well for us. It is very Wisconsin.
The first tasting I did when I proposed these for the menu, everybody’s eyes ballooned. That’s the reason I got into cooking. It makes me very happy to see something so simple make people happy.
Q: What are your current go-to ingredients?
A: Butter. That is always at the top, … I’m also a big fan of brussels sprouts, whether shredded, charred, roasted or deep-fried, but my girlfriend can’t stand them. I’m working on that.
Q: Are you a cookbook fan?
A: I’ve become more of an online person. I generally don’t take recipes directly. … I’ll use them for creativity and inspiration. I’ll see ingredients and come up with a translation that works for us.
I’ve got cookbooks galore. Some of the cookbooks I’ve been leaning into recently are the Steven Raichlen books, “The Barbecue! Bible” and “Project Smoke.” He uses a lot of different smoking techniques, and we have two electric smokers in house. They’re loaded every night.
Q: What things did you think about when revamping this current menu at MOTOR?
A: This is a smaller revamp than what I’m hoping to do this summer. The best seller right now, and something I’ll probably never be able to change, is the chicken avocado club …
Whenever I change the menu, I just think of those meals I make for myself at work, throwing stuff on a sandwich, and thinking wow, that works. The menu here is 98 percent stuff I want to eat on a daily basis.
Being Harley, we’re local and we get our cheese curds right across the river from Clock Shadow Creamery. Harley has been supported by Milwaukee for so many years, pay it forward.
Q: Did you ride or have any familiarity with motorcycles before this job?
A: No, and my mom would kill me. I did ask when I started, do we get a discount on motorcycles? The answer is no. But it is a super cool, super interesting company, and very deeply rooted in Milwaukee. I started the Monday after the big 115th anniversary rally last year.
Q: Where will we find you on your days off?
A: At home, drinking coffee. My girlfriend and I bought our house 5 ½ years ago. Her two boys are here half the time, they’re 14 and 12, so on Wednesdays I pick them up from school and we do a family dinner. Wednesdays are always family day.