Hello … is it cheese you’re looking for? (My new found love for all things cheese.)

It was nearly seven years ago that I was elbow deep in a three bay sink of suds, washing pots and pans for the esteemed and successful banquet department of the Radisson, Kalamazoo. Since my ‘days of detergent’ with Lionel Richie on repeat, I’ve worked hard and have learned from experiences and other people to shape the cook I’ve become. In January of 2014, I was offered a chance to attend the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy, and had the opportunity to shape the chef I wanted to be. With many long-winded arrangements, months of espresso driven planning, fun with obtaining visas and several successful months at Webster’s, my wife and I were ready to fly out a short week after our wedding.

This blog could go in any direction at this point. I could talk about my amazing mother, whom none of this would happen without. I should acknowledge the support of our chef and team, who all had to work harder to make this experience even possible. I want to shine light on our closest friend and the ‘goddess’ of our lives, whom put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our happiness. I might transition into the incredible tutelage of Chef John Nocita, and how the hardest thing to leave was all of the friends we made in school from around the world. I could write for hours on charcuterie, conserves and pasta making. Instead I am going to focus on my favorite technique I learned in Italy: cheese making.

Chef John Nocita - A true master of Italian Regional Cuisine, with an art for sharing his knowledge.

Chef John Nocita – A true master of Italian Regional Cuisine, with an art for sharing his knowledge.*

Every Friday morning we went to the market, and stands like these were everywhere.

Every Friday morning we went to the market, and stands like these were everywhere.

I was never a cheese addict. I’m not the guy at the party who jumps in excitement when somebody pulls out the Colby Jack cubes. I’m not sure why I latched onto cheese so much, maybe it was foreign, different and something I had never pursued to learn how to make before. It could have been arriving at the sheep farm far before dawn, and tasting the warm ricotta made from the whey of the pecorino only a couple hours after the sheep were milked. It could have been eating loads of grilled camoscio, a soft cheese like brie, with fresh honey, black truffles and valeriana greens. Whatever it was that turned on my formaggio ‘switch’, I am forever a lover of all things cheese.

Lunch at ICI: cheese was a way of life and we loved living it.

Lunch at the Italian Culinary Institute (ICI): Cheese was a way of life and we loved living it.

The sun rising at a local sheep farm in Calabria.

                                                 The sun rising at a local sheep farm in Calabria.

The farmer preparing fresh rennet to make pecorino and ricotta.

The farmer preparing fresh rennet to make pecorino and ricotta.

Breakfast of Champions - fresh, warm ricotta from that morning's milking.

Breakfast of Champions – fresh, warm ricotta from that morning’s milking.

Fresh sheep's milk pecorino

                                Fresh sheep’s milk pecorino

In school, we had the privilege of learning how to make several types of cheese. Our chef didn’t hold back when it came to beautiful ingredients, as we got to work with fresh milks, rennet, and cultures that were created by the chef himself from years of his own cheese making. Most of the cheese we made was not ready for consumption by the time the program was over, so we had the honor of tasting the cheese made from graduating classes before us. These weren’t your average blocks of cheese. We made curds that were pulled into mozzarella, pasteurized sheep milk that were cut into large curds to age pecorino with black truffles and saffron, and even extracted culture from gorgonzola to create our own. I ran to the closest internet connection we could find after class that day to email Stefan about finding sheep milk in Michigan. My wife and I started planning how we could turn our wine cooler at home into a cheese aging case. I was online ready to start filling up my cart on Amazon with cheese baskets and equipment we would need. This was an inspiring lesson and I was hungry for more.

Aged cheeses prepared by previous ICI classes.

Aged cheeses prepared by previous ICI classes. *

Freshly made pecorino al tartufo.

Freshly made pecorino al tartufo. *

Curds being removed from whey.

Curds being removed from whey. *

The class continued with several new types of artisanal cheese like caciotta, ricotta salata, taleggio, pecorino con peperoncino, provola, caciocavallo, camoscio, robiola: just to name a few. We even had a day of learning techniques and recipes that utilize leftover whey, milk and other ingredients from cheese making, our favorite being sheep milk gelato. I highly encourage looking up the Italian Culinary Institute and Chef Nocita’s work, a true master of his craft. They even hold small sessions throughout the year for a quick but full immersion into regional Italian cuisine.

Ricotta Salata

Ricotta Salata *

Toma marinated in black truffles and extra virgin olive oil.

Toma marinated in black truffles and extra virgin olive oil. *

I hope to not only be making cheese at home, but to feature some house made cheese on Webster’s menu one day. Until then, we are going to keep sourcing some of the best cheese we can find from not only Italy, but all around the world. The mozzarella di bufala from Campania we are featuring right now is delicious, and impossible to find at any store in Kalamazoo. Cheese making was just one small part of our amazing journey to Calabria, Italy. I look forward to sharing more of our experiences at the Italian Culinary Institute in future blogs. Check back soon for my newfound knowledge and appreciation of conserves, and what we are conserving at Webster’s right now.

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Want to see what we’re up to in the kitchen? Follow me on Instagram @nate_is_cooking and follow our restaurant @webstersprime

*Special thanks to ICI alumni and friend Michael Reale for sharing his ‘Cheese Week’ photos with us.

All other photos taken by my beautiful wife!

Nathan Shaw

Webster’s Prime – Sous Chef

Wedding Bells, Restaurant News and Italian Adventures … What’s up with Webster’s?

The past eight and a half months have been quite the ride here at Webster’s. The madness began last December when I married the love of my life, and coincidentally our Sous Chef, Nate. We had our dream winter wedding at the restaurant, and took off for Calabria, Italy a few short days later to attend the Italian Culinary Institute for the next four months. We made it back to K-Zoo, reunited with our Webster’s family in May and we couldn’t be happier to be home.

There is nothing like a beautiful sunset in Southern Italy, I miss these a lot.

There is nothing like a beautiful sunset in Southern Italy. We saw this nearly every night outside of the Italian Culinary Institute.

My favorite part of Italy?  THE WINE!

My favorite part of Italy? THE WINE!

Attending culinary school was a dream, and I was so lucky to experience this with my husband.

Attending culinary school was a dream, and I was so lucky to experience this with my husband.

Things have been busy, busy in the world of Webster’s Prime and everyone on the crew is excited and ready for the direction were heading. Nate has recently accepted the Sous Chef position and we all look forward to his continued leadership of our team … and his delicious snacks, WE WANT MORE RAMEN! Our bar team was thrilled to be given an Award of Excellence this year from Wine Spectator, recognizing outstanding wine lists from across the globe. Speaking of wine, I recently passed my Level 1 Sommelier Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and have plans to pursue the Level 2 certification in the coming year. Our prep cook/steward Kenny was married to his beautiful bride earlier this month, and they had a gorgeous reception in the restaurant. Keep your eyes on Facebook or follow us on Instagram to check out some of the awesome shots from that day, it was unreal! So much more is happening in our world, from developing a brand new website, to our own cook Amy winning Salsa Cook-Off, to creating and executing fun and creative

Tasting Menus for you (seriously, follow us on Instagram!) and the list goes on.

Follow us on Instagram @websterprime to see what we're up to in the kitchen.

Follow us on Instagram @websterprime to see what we’re up to in the kitchen.

We love putting together Tasting Menus for our guests, and would love to put one together for you!

We love putting together Tasting Menus for our guests, and would love to put one together for you!

I was going to give you all of the details of our Italy trip this time around, but I think I will save that story for Nate to tell in his next post. Check back soon for Nate’s Culinary Adventure – Italian Style, but not until you check out the story and sneak peak of our fairytale winter wedding at Webster’s Prime.

The Wedding – Mr. and Mrs Shaw – 12.27.14

The Tasting Room was the perfect setting for our intimate ceremony.

The Tasting Room was the perfect setting for our intimate ceremony.

These days everyone is on the hunt for the most unique wedding venue and location. Rustic barns and farmhouses, shoreline ceremonies and receptions or a chic downtown loft are usually at the top of every bride’s wish-list. My mind wandered in those directions as we started the long, crazy, exhausting but still somewhat enjoyable process of planning a wedding, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that our location was right under our nose.

The festivities took place on December 27th, just two days after Christmas, which meant downtown Kalamazoo was still dripping with lights and the spirit of the season. We decided to go with a small, more intimate celebration and invited 36 of our closest family and friends to join us at Webster’s for our ceremony, dinner and reception.

I designed and printed all of our paper materials for the wedding, and our guests used a vintage typewriter to sign in!

I designed and printed all of our paper materials for the wedding, and our guests used a vintage typewriter to sign in!

Customized beverage menus and appetizers to keep the party going.

Customized beverage menus and appetizers to keep the party going.

The ceremony was beautiful and held in the Tasting Room, also known as are our bar area of the restaurant. We we’re married in front of the fireplace by a close friend and Webster’s alumni, and a favorite previous house piano player performed throughout the ceremony. Once we were hitched, everyone stepped over to the other side of the room, scarfed down some delicious apps and jammed with Webster’s favorite and Wine Down Wednesday regular, Steve Kamerling. He covered everything from Vanilla Ice’s, Ice Ice Baby to one of our favorite jams, This Must be the Place by the Talking Heads.

Dinner was in the main dining room, and I may have went a little nuts with the amount of evergreen and candles in the room, but it was so worth it! Pat Kirklin from Kirklin Farms in Kalamazoo is an absolutely wonderful woman, and provides our restaurant with farm fresh flowers throughout the year. She spent hours cutting me evergreen for the big day, and I couldn’t wait to show her what I’d done with her hard work, it was beautiful. Since Nate and I are total restaurant junkies, we of course fed everyone way too much food. Dinner was 3 courses, with each course named after something fun or quirky about us … and Nate even hand stamped the menu headings for me! (I had A LOT of late nights on Pinterest, which resulted in A LOT of DIY projects.)

We didn't hold anything back when it came to decorating the space!

We didn’t hold anything back when it came to decorating the space!

Handmade coloring books for the little ones.

Handmade coloring books for the little ones.

We customized our menu to reflect who we are as a couple, and featured some quirky details about ourselves.

We customized our menu to reflect who we are as a couple, and featured some quirky details about ourselves.

I'm the resident Cat Lady around here, so it made sense to have Cupcake Zoo make Cat Cupcakes for the occasion.

I’m the resident Cat Lady around here, so it made sense to have Cupcake Zoo make Cat Cupcakes for the occasion.

After dinner we were back in the Tasting Room and welcomed more friends for cocktails and dancing … and yes, more food. Our small private room in the middle of the restaurant (Diamond Room) was used as a dessert buffet and late night snack service of pulled pork sandwiches. Our DJ spun our favorite vinyls all night, Nate surprised me with a live rendition of our wedding song performed by Steve Kamerling and everyone danced … and ate the night away.

The dancing portion of the reception was held in the Tasting Room, and having our first dance in front of the fireplace was perfect.

The dancing portion of the reception was held in the Tasting Room, and having our first dance in front of the fireplace was perfect.

Steve plays live at Webster's every Wednesday in the Tasting Room and he is fantastic!

Steve plays live at Webster’s every Wednesday in the Tasting Room and he is fantastic!

Everything was absolutely perfect that day, and we owe all of that to our amazing staff. I planned every detail of this day down to a tee, and not only did they execute everything perfectly, they made me feel at ease and made both Nate and I feel special and loved.

Couldn't have pulled this day off without our #webcrew

Couldn’t have pulled this day off without our #webcrew

Some might think that being the Event Planner for your own wedding could be exhausting, but you want to know what? THEY ARE TOTALLY RIGHT! Our wedding day was perfect, amazing, over the top and exactly what I wanted, but I was so tired! With that being said, have your wedding, rehearsal dinner, engagement party, bridal shower or any special event for that matter at Webster’s and let me be the exhausted one. It’s your special day, you deserve to feel relaxed and let someone else take care of the details, and we are more than happy to take that burden from you.

Feel free to call or e-mail me anytime with questions, or set up a time to stop in so I can give you a tour of the space. The restaurant is available in many different capacities for special events. You can rent our Tasting Room, choose a private room or our main dining room, or rent the restaurant in it’s entirety and utilize all of the space for your special day. We are a unique, upscale yet still cozy and rustic venue and conveniently located in the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Downtown Kalamazoo. Your guests can stay in the hotel, explore downtown at their leisure, enjoy our other hotel restaurants, visit local breweries and attend your event at Webster’s without every having to get back into their car.

Every event that is special to you, is special to us and we look forward to helping your create that perfect moment.

Now hurry up and call me!

Alexa Shaw-Tipton

Event Coordinator

269.226.3144

atipton@webstersprime.com

  • Wedding Photography by Stephanie Karen

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