Frakes, executive chef in Milwaukeeís venerable, century-plus Pfister Hotel,
has more than a bit of the Irish in him, even if he is a native of Brookfield,
Wis. Thereís a twist in that family tree, as well. His mom Karen is from
the Finnish side of the family, hitting a 100% heritage mark with the last
name of Partanen. Both sets of those great-grandparents were directly from
Frakes said his dadís side has the Irish connection, to balance that
Scandinavian influence. His mom went long with all that Irish stuff, he
confided, chuckling that the Finns were among the Vikings and probably
plundered Ireland once or twice.
"Itís worth noting I got in a lot of trouble saying mom wasnít that
good of a cook," he laughed about about comment he made a few years back.
"Had to send flowers, was a little bit of a misquote! However, she did
a pretty darn good job keeping us Irish boys well fed," he admitted admiringly
of her pot roast and rice casserole made with Irish ingredients, of course.
Frakesí great-great grandpa immigrated to Ohio via Canada. His great-
grandpa then moved to Wisconsin. His grandpa, Russel Frakes, had eight
children. One of them was Frakesí dad, Harley.
Frakes has done his own galavanting, as well. At 15, he got his first
job in a restaurant, where cooking meant extra money to help with college.
Nearing the end of securing a psychology degree at Florida State, he considered
heading back into the kitchen, with cooking as a career. The culinary bug
bit hard, so he dove into the food world, albeit on a higher level than
his kid days doing dishes.
Frakes sharpened his skills at Florida's Boca Raton Resort, then chefed
at the upscale Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood. He returned to his hometown
in 2006. "After working my way through West Palm Beach and Los Angeles,
it was the perfect way to move back home. And Iím incredibly proud to be
the chef of the 120-year-old grande dame," he said of the Pfister where
he can indulge some of his dishes with good old-fashioned Wisconsin bacon,
cream and butter.
But Frakes didnít just walk into the place and take over. For management,
he had to perform an 11-course tasting menu in the hotelís original main
kitchen. "They liked it a lot," he said. A typical cooking interview maxes
out at three courses, so he really showed his culinary stuff. Frakes feels
the spirits of past chefs hovering around the Pfister kitchen, offering
suggestions. He agrees that If there are ghosts in the old hotel, they
were certainly the cooks.
"We take the tradition of cuisine here very seriously and want to continue
to carry on what those who came before us have established," he asserted.
Frakes will also be working in Irish dishes such as salmon and stews to
the Pfister menu, especially for March. Frakes isnít sure there were any
other Irish chefs in the hotelís long culinary lineage but he just came
across a menu from 1962 with corned beef, young cabbage and steamed potatoes.
The price was $1.30.
Hotel chefing is not different than that in restaurants or resorts.
Itís all cooking, Frakes said. He loves sharing his experience, citing
his passion for teaching. "There are no less than 15 former cooks of mine
who are now executive chefs around the country. People say Iím the creative
type. Yet we are only as good as the last plate we serve. That keeps us
very motivated," he added. Frakes also holds regular cooking classes and
is happy to give demonstrations, enjoying the chance to share his love
of food and food prep.
Frakes is generally free to develop his own menus, rather than rely
on directives that come down from on high. "I have matured enough to know
the DNA of each of our outlets and stay true to that, while staying ahead
of the current trends in the culinary world. Sure, we have some sacred
dishes that will always be part of our tradition here at the Pfister,"
he confirmed. Guests can even order off-the menu. "We never say no at the
Pfister," he exclaimed.
Hotel owners Greg Marcus and his dad Steve visit often, especially enjoying
the signature Mason Street Grill. They are wonderful supporters of the
hotelís restaurants, according to Frakes. "They are very passionate about
food and beverage," said Frakes proudly.
But back to the Irish. "My brothers and I have always celebrated St.
Patís day a little more than everyone else," Frakes said. "The Irish flag
and green clothing have always been part of our regular wardrobe. In college,
I designed a Green Bay Packer tattoo adorned with Irish clovers that resides
on my left arm," offered, pointing out his body artwork. More clovers are
being planned, he hinted.
For another touch of the Celtic, one daughter is 4-year-old McRae, "which
was going to be the name of our daughter even if she were a son," he laughed.
The story goes, that when emigrating to the United States, the family name
was McRae and was changed to Frakes. He admitted that it was a little unclear
as to when or where that happened. He and his wife Gina Chirchirillo Frakes,
have another daughter, Tiana, 5. Gina happens to be of Italian background.
Heís always been partial to movies with an Irish accent, enjoying such
productions as Far and Away. The 1992 Ron Howard film features Joseph
Donnelly (Tom Cruise) as an impoverished 19th-century Irish tenant farmer
who lost both his father and his home to the evil landlordís agents. On
a mission to avenge the injustice, the hero meets the landlord's daughter
and the two run off to America together. Just as they should.
Even with his hectic schedule at the hotel, Frakes finds time to roam
around Milwaukee Irish Fest every year, loving the Celtic dancing and music,
the mead and the people. Although heís never been to Ireland, Frakes indicated
heíd like to pursue his heritage, following in his dadís footstep tracking
down the familyís roots. "If I had the time Iíd love to dig in deeper,
it fascinates me. I know there are a lot of Frakes and we did stop on a
road trip in Kentucky to take a picture of street named Frakes.
As a chef, Frakes likes to experiment with the Irish style of cooking,
with lots of root vegetables, fish and lamb He loves the comfort of Irish
cuisine. "I enjoy doing modern twists with the classic ingredients," he
said. "I really enjoy coddle. Love me some Guinness! Smithwickís and Bass
ale too! The perfect beer is a black and tan," he pointed out, recalling
that he first drink that beverage as a sous chef on Marthaís Vineyard in
the Ď90s and have loved it ever since.
Thatís not bad for a half-Finn.