Todd Weisenbeck is the executive chef at Blackhawk Country Club in Madison.
A Healthy Beginning
While the rest of us were eating Hamburger Helper and canned vegetables, Todd was being raised on a diet based on fresh foods (from the family farm), balanced meals, and healthy entrees. Todd’s mother was a Weight Watchers Leader in a time when most people weren’t even thinking of their health. The focus on making family favorites in the healthiest way possible has stuck with Todd throughout his career.
His career began in high school at The Anderson House, a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in Wabasha, MN where he worked as a waiter. After high school, he attended Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, WI and he received an associate’s degree in their culinary arts program.
Dare to Ask for What You Want
During college, Todd was very active in the International Food Service Executive Association (IFSEA). He was the president in his last year and often came to Madison for senior branch meetings. When asked if there was any new business at one of the meetings, Todd stood up and told the group that he would be graduating and needed a new job. One of the business professional members, Mary Ellen Thomas, told him that he should come to Blackhawk Country Club to work after college. The rest is history.
Blackhawk Country Club
Blackhawk Country Club was founded in 1921 in the village of Shorewood Hills. Both the course and the land on which it was constructed, overlooking Lake Mendota, has a rich history.
Todd has been at Blackhawk Country Club for 20 years. After that fateful meeting of IFSEA, Todd put in an application and started as a line cook. Through the years, he moved up in ranks and has been able to put his own spin to the country club favorites.
With approximately 400 memberships, Todd has a large, captive audience. He must balance members’ favorites while also infusing the menu with new twists to keep the membership from getting bored. The kitchen serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
Every Thursday night, Blackhawk Country Club offers a Taste of the World Night and features foods from different countries. With his regular menu, he showcases family favorites like homemade macaroni and cheese, steak, and hamburgers alongside dishes showcasing seasonal or local food items like Roasted Duck with Door County cherries or seared scallops with sherry pistachio reduction sauce.
With his mother as his inspiration, he strives to find ways to make the dishes healthier and more balanced. He also credits his staff (including past featured chef Julie Przybylski) with infusing the food with love and integrity. The staff at Blackhawk Country Club maintains a family atmosphere since many of them have worked together for 10-20 years. Todd believes that you can taste the loyalty and respect in their food.
Blackhawk Country Club Local Partners
Blackhawk Country Club incorporates local ingredients into their dishes through the help of local partners, Garden to Be, Black Earth Meats, and Black Earth Valley Farms as well as through the use of their own gardens.
There are two gardens at Blackhawk Country Club. Sous Chef Beau Shellhause oversees the main garden, Whippoorwill Farms. On the one acre plot, they grow tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, lettuce, beets, and potatoes. Recently, they added a second garden on the roof of the club. Chef Todd oversees the rooftop garden which produces multiple varieties of herbs and tomatoes. This recent addition has made their efforts more visible and drawn the membership into conversations about the importance of whole foods and fresh produce.
Blackhawk Country Club Special Events
In addition to the weekly Sunday brunch at Blackhawk Country Club, they also offer some special event brunches: Santa’s Brunch in December, an Easter’s Brunch, a Mother’s Day Brunch, and Father’s Day Brunch.
Each quarter, they feature a winemaker’s dinner that pairs California wines and a tasting menu.
Last summer they began a new tradition by preparing a dinner under the stars and on top of the roof. They helped members access the roof by a ladder, an escort, and a few prayers. Set within the roof garden, the members enjoyed a special evening dining al fresco.
Badger Girl Goes on the Roof
After our interview, Todd led me up to the roof. It was a windy Fall day and I have to admit I was slightly terrified. For the record, dressy flats are the not best shoes to scale a roof and maybe I should have mentioned that I am afraid of heights…
What if I don’t belong to the country club?
Village of Shorewood residents can eat at Blackhawk Country Club from January through March. For the rest of us, we need to get an invite from a Blackhawk Country Club member or attend a private function hosted by a Blackhawk Country Club member.
Todd’s Advice for New Cooks
- Walk before you can run. Start out with basic recipes and concepts. Slowly build your way up to more complicated dishes and techniques.
- Turn on the Food Network. Cooking shows and Hollywood chefs offer a lot of good tips and shortcuts.
- Embrace mistakes. Mistakes are the best to learn how to cook. As Todd tells the new cooks in his kitchen, the culinary police are not going to track you down.
- Don’t be afraid to share information. Share recipes, start conversations, and learn from your peers. No need to hoard a great recipe: get it out there!
Fave tool: Chef Knife
Fave magazine: Saveur
Fave Flavor Combo: Todd waxed poetically about the pairing the right wine with the right food and how the flavor explodes in your mouth. Here are some of his favorite wine and cheese pairings:
- Chardonnay, white wine butter sauce, and lobster
- Pinot Noir and grilled Salmon
- Savignon Blanc with Smoked Scallops (to smoke scallops, cook them at a low indirect heat with wood chips)
- Cabernet Savignon with Hook’s 10 year Cheddar Cheese
Todd’s Good Ole Chicken Noodle Soup
Todd shared with me this easy and healthy recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup.