BELLEVUE, Ky. - We invite you to dig into our weekly column spotlighting different chefs from the Greater Cincinnati area. Each Sunday, WCPO Contributor Grace Yek takes you into their kitchens and talks to them about their food. The chefs reveal their inspirations, philosophies, and provide a glimpse of their authentic selves.
"I have this philosophy, if you're not busy out front, then you should be busy doing something. That's why we make our bread, sausage, and smoke our own pastrami."
You wouldn't know it, but Matthew Buschle was terrified to be on TV. Even as he explained to Guy Fieri, the host of Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," how he crafts andouille sausage from scratch, Buschle was a bundle of nerves.
"I was sweating and taking a drink between takes," he recalled.
It's been four years since Food Network paid Buschle a visit, catapulting his homegrown restaurant onto the national stage in just six minutes of air time. Buschle is the chef and owner of Virgil’s Cafe in Bellevue, Ky.
Far from the dizzying speed of television, Buschle’s arrival at Virgil’s Café was the result of a gradual search by a craftsman for a creative outlet.
One of 13 kids, Buschle grew up in a very hands-on household in Fort Thomas, Ky.
"I had a bike shop out of the coal bin at home when I was nine years old, changing tires, repairing chains and putting on new brake cables," he said.
When he was older, Buschle pursued carpentry for a time, because he wanted to design and build his own furniture.
He spent his college years learning how to create and construct theater scenery. On a visit to Florida, he saw a piece of jewelry that inspired him to try his hand in jewelry making.
“I came back, and started cutting stones, making platinum, gold and silver pieces," he said.
Buschle's other interests, food and cooking, started early in his life .
"I grew up in an industrial kitchen. We used giant pots and pans to make food," he said, referring to his large family. "We went berry picking to make jelly, and when my brother made dandelion wine, we went out with him to pick dandelions."
Buschle bought his first Escoffier book when he was in 11th grade, to research the food he saw on cooking shows.
"I watched a lot of PBS cooking shows like "The Frugal Gourmet," and "Justin Wilson's Cajun Cooking." I remember thinking, wow, these people are taking regular stuff and turning it into great things," he said.
Buschle did not set out to make cooking his career. He started cooking in restaurants when he realized his "palate outweighed his pocketbook." He worked at various places, including Aurora Cafe, Allyn's Cafe and Jack Quinn's while engaging his other artistic interests.
Buschle's single-minded return to the restaurant industry can only be described as fortuitous. He was talking to the Bellevue Historic Preservation officer, Jody Robinson, about putting up a wrought iron fence in front of his house, when, according to Buschle, she asked, "What would I have to do to convince you to open a restaurant here?"
It's been five years since Buschle answered that question with Virgil's Cafe (pictured above). The craftsman that he is, Buschle is still driven by the process of creating, which may explain why the food at Virgil's Cafe is made from scratch.
"I look at cooking as high craft. I don't consider myself more than just a good cook, a good craftsperson," Buschle said. "I have no aspirations to change the culinary world. In reality, most chefs are working class folks just like plumbers, electricians and carpenters."
Food and cooking philosophy
"Aside from a few things like mayonnaise, we pretty much make everything else ourselves. Me and the guys in kitchen are pretty proud that things are consistently good."
"Cooking by committee is a great thing," Buschle said. He does not subscribe to the idea of "too many cooks."
"If people can communicate and have a good relationship with one another, they make a better product."
"I try to support local farmers," Buschle added. "Nancy Ogg (Shady Grove Farm) has milk-fed goat coming. I'll probably do something curry with it."
Buschle grows produce and herbs in the back of the restaurant.
"Eric, the bartender, is also our horticultural guy. The garden stuff usually becomes features on menu."
Buschle has more than enough from the garden, and has given some of it away.
"I gave away seven pounds of sorrel to Jose Salazar not long ago."
Essential ingredients & tools
Buschle's kitchen must-haves include:
- A knife (But Buschle notes some ingredients, like lettuce, should be torn instead of cut)
- A good peeler
- A heat source
- A way to keep things cold
- Potable water
- Kosher salt
- Wheat flour (Live dough is important in Buschle's kitchen, and he marvels at how it can transform into "thousands" of things)
- Whole pig (Buschle notes he can put together a great menu using every possible part of the pig)
"Inspiration is completely and utterly everywhere," Buschle said. "I'm inspired by other really good cooks. I'm not doing anything new. I'm just grabbing things people have done for years and years, and giving them a twist."
Fellow chef Jimmy Gibson inspires Buschle.
"He understands a lot more about spices, textures, flavors and ingredients than almost anybody else in town. He's very much a mentor; someone who reminds me to keep my head down, shut up and cook. And don't take it all too seriously," Buschle said. "At the same time, you've got to be proud of what you do."
Buschle used to stage in Thai restaurants on his days off, to learn and draw inspiration from a totally different point of view.
"My daughter and wife, and the people I employ count on me to get stuff done. You have to be self-motivated."
Favorite meal to cook for family: Eggs Rossini
Buschle eats what his wife and mother-in-law fix at home.
"They usually do lots of grilled light protein with asparagus," he said.
Buschle is partial to eggs because they are "ridiculously versatile." He shares his idea for a decadent breakfast item, Eggs Rossini. True to his craftsman's approach, he is only providing the framework so that the process can be fully explored.
- Dredge in flour and fry two slices of foie gras in butter
- Place two poached eggs on toast points
- Garnish with reduced veal stock with black truffle and foie gras.