Chef Thi Cao met farmer Bryan DeStefanis through the latter’s business, Big City Greens, which supplies locally grown and foraged edibles to area restaurants. A mutual interest in hunting and foraging developed into a friendship and that became the seeds of a business partnership. The two plan to open the restaurant Wild Roots in West Allis in early 2019.
Cao, the executive chef at Buckley’s Restaurant (a position he holds through the end of this year), is accomplishing a longtime dream of running his own place. The partners will play off each other’s strengths, with the menu being “hyper seasonal,” says Cao, and rooted in foods sourced from DeStefanis’ 15-acre property in Shawano County, Wis.
Their West Allis space, briefly Ka-Bobs Bistro, will be the physical manifestation of their concept – woodsy, rustic, earthy tones. Not fine dining or pretentious. but a style approachable for any night or occasion. The partners are doing the remodeling work themselves, including building the chef’s counter (with seating up to seven diners) and the liquor bar.
The chef’s counter will allow Cao to explore with perhaps more unusual edibles and preparations of them. Yes, there will be wild game on the menu. Cao also mentions creations like a birch wood-steeped aromatic used to flavor mushrooms, and an Anthony Bourdain-inspired “Nasty Bits” menu section that changes weekly and might (might!) feature a dish along the lines of tripe ragu with gnocchi. He plans to push the boundaries of whole-animal utilization and tying that to the Wild Roots concept. “I believe in foundations. I associate that with the ‘roots,’” says Cao, alluding to everything from building flavors to using every part of an animal.
To begin, Wild Roots will just serve dinner. In time, service will include lunch and brunch. On Mondays, the day Wild Roots will be closed, Cao and DeStefanis will take the kitchen staff to the farm to learn about how that side of the restaurant works. DeStefanis also plans to grow edible garnishes at the Wild Roots space, again tying together the growth cycle to utilization in the kitchen.