This week we're mixing Meet Your Maker up a bit. Sure, Washington's winemakers are talented and interesting and inspirational, but so are some of the other "makers" on the industry's periphery - like Andrae Bopp. Andrae is the visionary behind Andrae's Kitchen, Walla Walla's first - and only - gourmet food truck, and La Porte Brune underground dinners. Best-known for dishing out delectable burgers and a damn fine fish taco, Andrae's Kitchen is a must-visit roving wine country culinary destination - even the Canlis crew has been known to stop for a bite when in town. With the recent opening of AK's at the Co-op, folks will no longer have to chase down a bite from this talented chef and creative businessman - you can now order at the drive-thru or cop a seat and fill your belly at the tastiest gas station convenience store you'll ever visit. Note: for any Deadliest Catch fans, you have been served advance notice on the possibility of a mobile dinner you're not going to want to miss. Read on...
You'll want to eat pretty much everything this man makes.
If you could be doing anything else in the world what would you be doing?
This. I really enjoy it. I'm a pretty simple guy and I'm not looking to get rich or be famous. As long as the bills get paid it's pretty cool. We just do what we do and make sure we just KILL it on every level. I have learned if you do it right, it will come to you.
I went to the restaurant management school at Cornell and Michael Bonadies, who at the time was the managing partner for Myriad Restaurant Group (Tribeca Grill, Nobu, etc.), was a guest lecturer. He said to this class of chefs, "You know, you guys get into this business for one of two reasons: You either want to be rich or you want to be famous." I sat there for a while, kinda squirmed in my seat, and I just really didn't like that comment. So I was like, "Hey there, Mr. Bonadies, I gotta ask...what if you don't give a shit about either of those things?" He was like, "I'll talk to YOU after class". So after class I go down and introduce myself and asked my question again and he said "you're the kind of guys I hire to run my restaurants." So, it's true - if you do what you love and you do it well, everything else falls into place.
How did you discover your love of cooking?
My parents got divorced when I was about seven and my mom remarried a military guy. My dad was a corporate business guy so both of them moved a lot. Sad as it might seem, I was like a pawn between them - living with my mom sometimes, living with my dad sometimes. At the time it was like life was giving me lemons - I was little, had no stability, and no friends because we were always moving.
My mom and step-dad ended up moving to Germany and got custody of me back so I ended up going to high school in Germany. While we were over there, we travelled a lot - this was before the Berlin wall came down so places like East Berlin, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Spain, France...the whole thing. I was eating in all these place and really digging it so I kind of started cataloging all the food and trying to recreate some of the dishes. It was almost like playing music and learning by listening - you hear a song on the radio and on piano or guitar try and figure it out. I was the same way. I'd eat something and then go home and try and figure out how to make it. I just did this pretty much my whole life, not knowing where it was going to go because I had no aspirations of being a chef. I just really enjoyed cooking and eating food.
Was there a specific incident or life happening that brought you back to food?
About 18 years ago, I came home one day after work and was like, "I am so done with this." My wife was like, "Done for the day?" and I was like "No, I'm just done." She said, "Why don't you go into food somehow? That's what you love and that's what you do when you're not working." I thought about it for a minute and thought "Hey, it's a little bit later in life for me but, it could happen!" I had a buddy that owned a restaurant in Boise so I asked him if I could work in his kitchen for a while to see if I had the skill a) to even be in a kitchen and b) if I even LIKE being in that environment because I'd never really done it. He said yes, so I went - and I liked it. I had a knack for the whole thing and moved up pretty fast so at some point he told me I needed to go somewhere else and figure out how to make this a living because it was really where I belonged. So I ended up going to New York and went to school there.
So this is where making lemonade out of lemons comes in?
Yes, I say now I can see when life hands you lemons you really can make lemonade. But a lot of kids would probably look back unkindly at that period of bouncing back and forth in between parents and not making friends, but I look back at all that time and realize I actually was learning what I'm doing now. So it's kind of a weird way to get there, but I'm there now, and I made some REALLY good lemonade.
It feels good having a life journey that's not how it's "supposed" to be?
Well, yeah, and that's what I told these Americorps kids I talked to the other day. They all just knew what they were going to school to be already and I was like, well, maybe that's not what you're going to be? You might not be good at it. You might not like it. I mean, how many people do what they went to school for? I just wanted them to think about looking at what you enjoy and really what's your passion. I mean, I pretty much pushed all the chips in and said "Let's do this!" Kinda anti-establishment way of doing things but you know, there's a lot of guys who have done pretty well going that route.
It's pretty simple. I was living in Germany so it was schnitzel. I was like, "this is awesome! If I can make something that tastes this good..." Those traditional dishes were the first things I gravitated toward. We have a schnitzel sandwich on the truck right now so it has really come full circle.
How is it that you ended up in Walla Walla?
I had a restaurant in Boise and was building my wine list when my distributor insisted I go to Walla Walla and try some of its wines. So he set me up with Eric Dunham, Trey Busch, Jean-Francois Pellet at Amavi, John Abbott at Abeja, Caleb Foster at Buty, Justin Wylie, and Chad and Corey at Dusted Valley. I stayed at Basel Cellars when Trey was the winemaker there and we really just hit it off. So we built an amazing Washington wine list - it was huge - and ended up doing a lot of winemaker dinners, about 70 in the course of the six years. So Walla Walla winemakers were always in Boise or we were always in Walla Walla.
When the lease on the restaurant space in Boise was up I had planned on opening a place in Capitol Hill and all the folks in Walla Walla were like "What? You're not going to Seattle - you're coming to Walla Walla!" I never even thought about that but the group I was working with on opening this gastropub was totally into it. Then the economy really started wobbling, and I was just thinking this is not a good time to open a restaurant. We had already closed Andrae's in Boise and planned our move to Walla Walla and I just didn't know what to do. Luckily, they needed an assistant winemaker at Dusted Valley, so I did that for a couple of years, and now here we are. I'll have a traditional brick and mortar place eventually, but I like this whole gas station thing right now. It may be a gas station, but we'll be doing some pretty killer food out of there.
The gas station thing is called AK's at the Co-op, right?
Yeah. The truck can many times be found at 9th and Rose (in Walla Walla) and the gas station there has a drive-thru. So we're opening up an Andre's Kitchen in the gas station with an expanded menu and hours beyond what we normally do with the truck. Like breakfast. I make pretty mean biscuits, so we'll be doing biscuit sandwiches, chilaquiles, a savory bread pudding; I make bread of the bread pudding, or buttermilk biscuit dough, roll it out into a sheet and I'll put like a roasted red pepper puree and green onions, and cheese, maybe add sausage, and roll it up, slice it, top with cheese, bake 'em and they're like giant savory breakfast cinnamon rolls. Then you can put an egg on top maybe with some gravy, you know - things like that. It's like truck food - fun and interesting and different. I don't try and copy anyone and definitely have fun with my own ideas.
Will you run the truck with same frequency then?
Absolutely! The truck needs some down time anyway. This way I can focus on getting the Co-op going and then middle of March get back to the truck and go out to our usual locations.
When you first started Andrae's Kitchen how did the community react to a "gourmet" food truck?
It was interesting. When we opened almost two years ago it was a little slow getting locals to catch on. But the winery people, tourists and other people from outside the area caught on really fast. Then the wineries started asking me to come out during the busy season - because most of them don't serve food - so that evolved and has kind of taken off now. During Spring, Summer and Fall we're as busy as we can handle with events, weddings, reunions - it's really fun,
What's the strangest event you've catered?
Well, let's just say we've done some pretty wild parties at wineries. We went to Sasquatch last year and that was really fun.
You went to the Mobile Chowdown in West Seattle. How was that?
We got our ass handed to us. I kinda figured we would because Hanna Raskin and some others wrote about us coming over there because it had always been Seattle or Portland trucks and nobody had heard of a Walla Walla truck so, we got creamed. We've done big events but we got slaughtered over there - it was a blast. Just the way it's set up, there's no way you can't get slaughtered. When you do made to order food, people are going to have to wait longer so it is what it is. We had a good time and we'll go back and do it again for sure.
Do you think you'll ever have any competition in Walla Walla's gourmet food truck arena?
I wouldn't mind if I did. Competition makes you better and if you don't have strong product then you might have to rethink your strategy. So, I don't mind competition. I've always been a competitive guy so that would be awesome.
A lot of people think running a food truck it a totally easy thing to do - uh, no. It's actually easier to run a restaurant than a food truck. You have to completely pack your kitchen up every night to move - it's not like a restaurant where you clean up, put things away and walk out. We have to make sure liquids are stored a certain way, our refrigerator is packed a certain way, bungee cords are on this and that and and every night we're packing to be on the move. There's dealing with fresh water, grey water, propane, all these lists of things you don't have to think about with a brick and mortar place. It's a pain but it's fun.
I think we're around 5500. It was a fun thing to do and not so much a self-serving thing, but really a count for our community. It's less like WE sold 5500 burgers but more like that's 5500 burgers from our local meat company, 5500 buns from our local bakery, however many onions and green tomatoes from our local farmers - I think we pickled close to 500 pounds of green tomatoes this year. So, it's not like a pat me on the back kind of thing - it's a back them on the back kind of thing. It takes a lot of people to make the burger counter so, that's the way I look at it. This is a burger counter for Walla Walla, not for me. I'm just putting it all togerther - I'm the facilitator here. Everybody should take pride in it - The Walla Walla Bread Company, Blue Valley meats, Lucati farms, everyone.
It sounds like you've got your hands full with the truck and AK's at the Co-op. Will you still be doing your La Porte Brune underground dinners?
Oh, it is on. It is rocking right now. March 23rd we're doing a dinner in the barrel room at Col Solare and we got other great stuff on the schedule too: dinner with Dick Boushey, at Reynvaan up on top of the Blue Mountains, and another in the glass Gazebo House on top of Seven Hills.
I get the feeling these are pretty sought after tickets?
My Valentine's one sold out in 18 hours! They're really fun.
Who's been the most surprising visitor to the truck? (INSIDE SCOOP ALERT!)
Kyle McLaughlin - he got a brat and fries. But I also do a lot of fun work with other well-known folks - a lot of personal chef-ing for the band Queensryche. Geoff and Susan Tate are some of my best friends. We've had Scott Campbell from the Deadliest Catch. In fact, we're talking about doing an "underground dinner" this summer with Sig Hansen from the Deadliest Catch - out on Puget Sound on his crab boat. If it happens it's going to be amazing - I'll cook out of the galley and Eric Dunham, Trey Busch, Justin Wylie, Brian Rudin from Cadaretta and Andrew Trio from Corliss are all lined up to pour wine.
I love what I do, man. I'm just passionate about food and wine and I really love what I do.