An Interview With Marcel Biro (part 2)

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Marcel Biro’s Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Basil, Mozzarella, Extra Vecchio Balsamico & Aioli  

What follows is part 2 of my interview with Marcel Biro.  In part 1, which can be found here, Marcel shared his business expansion plans, cooking with local ingredients, his cookbooks, and the upcoming season of Kitchens of Biro.  In part 2 we talk about the terrible review Biro recieved from the Milwaukee Journal’s Dennis Getto, his cooking school, what other restaurants he likes, and his role as the Ambassador of German Cuisine.  I was going to split this into three parts, but decided two was enough, so here is the second and final installment of the interview:

Part 2

EatWisconsin:In 2003, the Milwaukee Journal’s restaurant critic Dennis Getto didn’t give Biro a positive review and awarded you only two stars, yet everyone I have talked to who has eaten there loves the place and ranks the food as some of the best they have eaten in the state.  How did you deal with the review?  Did it alter the way you did anything?

Marcel Biro: Dennis Getto didn’t just give us a bad review, we understand he gave us the worst review of that year!  I’ve worked in Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Europe, in some of the most cutthroat markets, and always had outstanding reviews, so it was a new experience to get blasted in the press.  As they say, there’s a first time for everything!  Mr. Getto called us an American bistro, even though we have an entirely European menu.  He misidentified several ingredients.  And though he bashed our food, he cleared his plates both nights that we spotted him in our dining room.  Sometimes less prolific critics have an agenda, and whatever his was in trying to tarnish our reputation, he failed.  Our business instantly spiked, and we got countless pieces of fan mail.  Two weeks later, The Chicago Tribunesaid we had best food on Lake Michigan.  Accolades in major magazines followed.  Today, we thank Mr. Getto, because he strengthened our resolve and made our guests all the more loyal.  (By the way, we love this question!  We’ve never been able to comment on this most unfortunate event!)

EW: What are some other Wisconsin restaurants that you enjoy?  What about nationwide, are there any favorites in New York, California, Miami?

MB: Of course, Sandy D’Amato of Milwaukee does a great job.  Magnus in Madison is a great restaurant.  Shinji Muramoto, chef/owner of Muramoto in Madison, is a standout.  Here in Sheboygan, Stefano Viglietti does a great job with Italian.   In New York, Peasant is one of the most underrated restaurants—for now.  In Los Angeles, Lucques is always a sure bet.  

EW: What has the response to your cooking school been? What about the cooking classes that you offer to regular home cooks??

MB:The response to our school has been overwhelming!  We’ve welcomed people from across the country, which we love.  Education is my passion, and our classes range from basics, to intensive certificate classes for home cooks, to degreed programs for professionals.  My job is to give people a great foundation, and to help them build on it.  In keeping my classes small, I am able to give customized instruction.  We’re always adding new curriculum, and people can click birointernationale.com to see what we’re presently offering.  

EW: In 5 years, where do you see Biro Internationale restaurants, cooking school, etc?  

MB: In early 2007, we will launch a Biró cookware line, which is very exciting.  We will be expanding the Ó concept nationwide, and continuing our mission of demystifying classic culinary technique.  Eventually, we will expand internationally.   

EW: Has the rise in popularity and interest in chefs and cooking surprised you?  

MB: Looking back to the time of Carème, chefs were held in high esteem.  In Europe, we’ve always had respect.  I am pleased that this sentiment has crossed the Atlantic, because this is a profession to be proud of.  We are part of the most important moments in a person’s lives—from weddings to funerals, retirements to birthdays—and this is a great honor.  

EW: If you could stage in any restaurant in the world, which one would it be and why?

MB: Always in my own!  Which means I hope to always be successful and have a place to call my own.  I’m thankful for my success and hope to do great things with it in the future.  

EW: What do you do in your capacity as the Ambassador of German Cuisine?  

MB: On behalf of the German Agricultural Marketing board, which is called CMA in the US, my role is to dispel misconceptions about German cuisine, and to demystify, preserve, and promote German food, wine, and beer.  This may involve conducting large public cooking demonstrations, appearing on television to prepare a German dish, or appearing at a trade show.  I also develop great recipes for www.germanfoods.org, and the CMA’s monthly e-newsletter.  Like the CMA, I do not endorse specific brand names or companies, but rather promote the German food and beverage trades as a whole.  I like to say I’m presenting the Old World in a new light.

EW:What challenges do you foresee in trying to get people to think beyond sauerkraut, Wiener schnitzel,  Spaeztel, Beef Rouladen, and other old world German food?  

MB: When some Americans think of German cuisine, they picture food that is brown and heavy.  Germany is actually the birthplace of organic farming techniques, and food from my homeland is packaged under some of the world’s strictest guidelines.  This means that in addition to our traditional dishes, Germany offers an array of light, fresh, and flavorful offerings.   For instance, one of my dishes for spring is white asparagus that’s sautéed in a light herb butter, and then placed in a bergkaese tuile over mesclun greens.  In the summer, I prepare a fat-free Black Forest Cherry soup with Asbach Uralt, which is a popular German brandy.  Germany’s bread is good for you, too.  More than 300 whole-grain varieties are available, and trust me, when you’re eating the good stuff, you don’t need to feel guilty about bread consumption.  

EW: When you make appearances and do demonstrations as the Ambassador of German Cuisine, what types of foods would you typically prepare?  

MB:To give you an example of what I’ll be preparing down at Whole Foods Market in the Miami area later this month: Purple Potato Salad with Pickled Whitefish & Herbed Double Cream;  Filet Mignon with Asbach Uralt Crème, Spätzle & Black Forest Ham-Wrapped String Beans; and Kirschwasser-Scented White Chocolate Mousse.  

EW:I read in the November Biro newsletter that you are closing Biro starting November 11 and changing the restaurant.  What types of changes can people expect? Is this the end of Biro restaurant in Sheboygan?

MB: We’ll be making a formal announcement in a couple of weeks. The menu and décor will change dramatically.  (As I mentioned at the beginning of Part 1, the new restaurant is called Level and it is run by some friends and former employees of Marcel’s. )

Thanks again to Marcel Biro and Heather Blamey for the interview!

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4 thoughts on “An Interview With Marcel Biro (part 2)

  1. Great website! I never knew this was out here. I have been to Biro and every time, I was very pleased. I have taken two courses with Marcel (one was the French Intensive Certificate Course) and was very impressed with his sense of humor, knowledge, and ease in the kitchen. I would love to hear more about this website. I am looking to connect w/ people in WI who love to eat and cook food beyond the (Foodnetwork)

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