Philosophy of “Coopetition” with Luke Bilda of The Informalist
What is your background as a chef? I am currently in my twenty-first year of cooking professionally. I started as a breakfast cook at Hardee’s in the northwoods of Wisconsin. I have held many jobs in a very broad range of establishments, from throwing pizza dough to flipping burgers. I wanted to learn everything I could about all facets of the food service industry. I was working at Fischer’s White House in 2001 when I finally decided I was going to make a career out of cooking. I attended Le Cordon Bleu that same year and did my externship in northern France. I worked in the Twin Cities area for a couple years at WA Frost under Chef Russell Klein (Meritage). I moved back to Eau Claire in 2005 to be closer to my family and have made the rounds at some of the best restaurants in the Valley.
How are local food and the farm-to-table concept important to you and incorporated into your restaurant? I am so fortunate to be a part of The Informalist, not only to bridge the gap between farmers and restaurants, but to set a precedent in Eau Claire that food doesn’t have to come off a big-box truck. The best food available is being grown right in our back yard! We believe in a “coopetition” philosophy here, and if people are having a hard time sourcing local food, they can most certainly contact me, and I can help them get in contact with a vast amount of local producers and growers to help build a better locally sourced culinary experience across the board in the Chippewa Valley.
What is your five-year goal personally and for this restaurant? My five-year goal personally is to grow and help develop future chefs. I want to instill in them the importance of sourcing local. To support our community of farmers in the area. To take pride in the food they produce because they have a face to associate with the food. They see the farmers daily, delivering products to the restaurant. They see the dirt under their fingernails, the deep tan from being outside under the sun all day, the pride the farmer has delivering beautiful product to us knowing that it will be treated with respect and their hard work is being recognized. You can’t teach that to young cooks when all they see is food being delivered off of a big chilled semi-truck. As far as the future of The Informalist, I hope to one day hand it off to one of the many chefs I am mentoring and help my ownership team expand and open other unique eateries in the Valley. To further what we have started with The Informalist.
What are your thoughts on the Eat Local Challenge? I don’t think I have been more excited for an event in my career. I get to work with the best chefs in the Valley to create a truly memorable meal. Showcasing locally sourced food on a scale that hasn’t been seen in the area is very exciting. The amount of talent that is behind this meal is absolutely mind-blowing. Be prepared for something very special!