Nate Warnke (left) welcomed chefs Michael Sollinger (center) and John Pickle to his kitchen.
Last fall, Nate Warnke, owner and brewmaster at South Park Street’s Rockhound Brewing, was looking for a new chef. Staffing a kitchen in Madison these days is no easy task, so when Warnke’s friend Adam Haen, manager at the FEED Kitchens incubator, suggested hiring a food cart operator over the winter (while many carts are on hiatus), Warnke leapt at the chance. John Pickle, who operates the Pickle Jar barbecue and pie cart, became the kitchen manager at Rockhound. He in turn brought on Michael Sollinger, of the new Braisin’ Hussies cart, as a cook.
“It’s been fun experimenting with recipes and specials. It’s been a positive collaboration that benefits everyone,” says Warnke. Cart chefs get a chance to play around with dishes too complex for their carts, while infusing new ideas into the Rockhound menu.
The Pickle Jar’s homemade pies have made their way onto the dessert menu at Rockhound, as has a well-received bread pudding. Specials have included barbecued ribs, blackened catfish and a succotash side from Pickle’s Southern-inflected cooking. Look forward to a braised pork shoulder from Sollinger.
While some restaurateurs might flinch at hiring a chef just for the winter (both Pickle and Sollinger will depart at the end of March to once again concentrate on their mobile kitchens), Warnke says it’s been a win and is prepared to offer another “winter residency” to a food cart chef or chefs next winter. In collaborating with another arm of Madison’s food scene, he sees many possibilities for cross-promotion — for instance, labeling the new barbecue sauce on the menu as “Pickle Jar sauce” as a way to bring a new audience to Pickle’s small business.
At the end of March, Warnke wants to hold a special dinner highlighting the two cooks’ food cart entrees, paired with Rockhound beers: “If the three of us put our minds to it, we can make it happen.”