Bill Horzuesky, the chef and co-proprietor of Bluephies Restaurant, is the author of Bluephies New American Cooking: Recipes Your Mom Never Made You. Published by Itchy Cat Press, the volume includes such non-maternal dishes as chile-infused sweet potatoes, euro scallops, all-dressed-up meat loaf, Thai peanut chicken and vegetable strudel. Other ways to distinguish Horzuesky from your mother include his striking visual presence, which starts from the top with his shaved head and also includes an assortment of tattoos as impressive as his command of the kitchen.
During the Wisconsin Book Festival, Horzuesky is scheduled to appear at "The Book and the Cook," a panel discussion on writing about food, at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at Whole Foods. A food and wine reception follows from 7-8:30 p.m., with Horzuesky and other authors signing copies of their cookbooks.
The Daily Page: What can your Wisconsin Book Festival audience expect from your presentation?
Horzuesky: An animated and candid discussion about good food.
Why should people buy a copy of Bluephies New American Cooking?
The book is user friendly and fun. It also represents the people and the food of a great restaurant.
What is your first memory of food?
My grandmother making a mustard and vinegar salad dressing and her making pickles.
How old were you when you took your first restaurant job? Where was the restaurant, and what was its name?
I was 15 years old, it was at my mothers restaurant in North Riverside, Illinois.
What sorts of duties did you have during that first job, and what lessons from that first experience do you still draw on today?
I was the busboy and dishwasher helper. Sometimes I helped out selling bakery stuff too. The most important lesson I learned from that is that it pays to start at the bottom and work your way up. You learn more about the job and develop respect for every position in the restaurant.
Among the chefs for whom you've worked, who taught you the most and what was the most substantial single thing you learned from him or her?
Craig Zimmerman. He showed me how much fun food could be as well as the kind of leader I wanted to be.
What was the title of the first cookbook you bought? Is it still in your library?
The Joy of Cooking and it is pretty much in ruin right now.
What was the last cookbook you bought for yourself that you would recommend to friends, and why would you recommend it?
Patina, a restaurant in Hollywood, he has such an elevated concept of food and the pictures are incredible. It is also the inspirational mold for my book.
When you're at home cooking for yourself, what do you most enjoy preparing and eating?
I am a sucker for spaghetti and meatballs and goulash.
What did you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday?
I never eat breakfast, lunch was chicken pot pie and dinner was leftover goulash. (That is the only leftovers I ever eat.)
From concept to first customer served, how long does it take you to create and refine a new recipe for the Bluephies menu?
That depends, sometimes things just work and it is really easy, then other times I work on an idea for a whole day.
What was the best meal you ever ate, and why is it your favorite?
Olives, Las Vegas, one of Todd Englishs' places. I remember every dish we ate there. He was expediting that night. The reason it is my favorite is that it was a surprise from my wife.
Among the other Food Fight restaurants, what is your favorite dish?
I don't really know, but my endorsement could be purchased!
Chocolate-chip cookie dough egg rolls, Butterfinger won tons -- are there any two ingredients you would ever consider too counterintuitive or mutually exclusive to try in a recipe, or is every day Anything Can Happen Day?
Bleach and ammonia are a couple of things I shy away from. It is hard to say but, lately I have been making food that is simple, a few ingredients at a time.
What is your definition of retro-chic?
Old fashioned dishes that are dressed up and reworked.
Do you lean toward the retro or the chic?
I am an old school kind of guy.
Which of your tattoos is the most retro, and which is the most chic?
None of them, I am a collector so each one is a piece of me.
How many of your tattoos are food-related?
I have "head chef" tattooed on my fingers and getting a steak and potato done on my thumbs soon.
What design are you thinking about for your next tattoo?
A copy of the pin striping from my '52 Chevy done on my stomach.
What recipes are you considering for the next addition to the Bluephies menu?
The fall menu is pretty much ready to go, but it is time for chili and squash to make a presence again.
Where do you find inspiration when conceiving and tweaking new recipes?
Random times and random places. Like everyone that I know that is good at what they do, I am my own worst critic. I always wonder if I took the easy way out or did I do enough. It gets frustrating.
Besides cookbooks, what other sorts of books do you read. What was the last book you read, unrelated to food, that you would recommend to your friends -- and why would you recommend it?
I have been reading about how to switch a car's electrical system from a 6 volt to a 12 volt set up. All my friends are in this little car club so it would be helpful for all of us to be good at it.
Which of the other presenters at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival do you find most intriguing?
There are so many of them I would not know who to begin with.
Did you ever read In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak?
No, is it good?
What is the best food-related joke you've ever heard?
It is not appropriate to share with everyone. But two of them are hilarious.