As the mastermind behind every delicious culinary creation at Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center, Executive Chef Dave Diedrich has experienced a lot during his 35-years with the property.
In this interview with Cory Falter from Lure Agency’s InnSync Show, Chef Dave talks about his love of cooking, experience with Jesse Jackson’s food taster, and how he approaches menu planning for conferences and retreats.
A Chat with Wingspread’s Executive Chef, Dave Deirdrich
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm from Wisconsin. I grew up in Oshkosh, which is a two-hour drive from here in Racine. I started in this business as a dishwasher in an Oshkosh supper club until the fry cook quit, and they asked me if I wanted to cook, and I did!
And that's where all the food passion started.
So what's been your biggest influence in culinary?
My biggest influence is actually the food! But I also love training our service team to understand, appreciate the components and introduce each dish to our guests.
What brought you to Wingspread?
I was working for a food service company who wanted Wingspread as a client, and I applied for the chef position they posted. They called a week later and told me they had good news and bad news. The good news was that they got the account, but they hired someone else to take the chef job.
It was disappointing, but then a week later, I got another call that said the chef they hired failed culinary testing, so they asked me to take the test. I did, and I passed, and the rest is history.
Can you tell us the importance of Wingspread’s culinary experience and how it relates to convening?
I think the dining experience with our guests is extra special here. They interact and connect over great food worth talking about. I believe dining might be the most important part of their convening. At Wingspread, they're not sitting down in some food hall. Wingspread is magical and inspiring. And they're not structured - they're throwing ideas at each other and getting to know each other. The food is a big part of why I think they get more accomplished at Wingspread than in a typical meeting or hotel setting.
It would appear that Wingspread’s living room and central area are purposely built to interact with food. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Well, the entire space may not have been purposely built for dining back in 1939, but we have done a lot of beautiful things in those spaces. You know, I've been here 35 years or so. we've had the opportunity to do so many many things creatively out there with guests. Culinary competitions and team-building events; charity food constructions; high-end dinners and casual receptions.
We can do so many fun things with a team. We do a tapas-creation challenge where medals can be earned. Some groups have creative challenges and build their own salads, entrees, and desserts (they create, we judge and serve). We have a lot of plate design challenges, and then we pick a winner from that. It’s all so much fun.
We love having that interactive piece.
What do bees have to do with culinary?
Pretty much everything. Every plant and flower needs pollination.
We have four going on six hives on our property. I use that honey in alot of dishes and sauces, and I probably go through ten to twelve gallons a year.
And with that, as much honeycomb as I want. We put those on display during meetings, events and breaks that not only educates but that people enjoy.
We have a few bee suits, too, so if folks want to go down and see the bees, they can.
That’s immersive programming right there.
What is your single most memorable or favorite guest experience that you could share with us?
There are so many after 35 years. But I remember once after I had been working here for maybe eight years, Jesse Jackson came for a meeting here and he brought his own food taster. The taster came back into the kitchen and tasted all his food. It was satisfactory.
So they brought it out, and he ate it, and everything was good. Of course, Jesse liked his dish, but that was certainly one of the most memorable experiences.
No pun intended; what's a little bit of the secret sauce to your success?
Well, probably not too much of a secret but because I've been here as long as I have, i’ve earned the trust and respect of my clients and I'm allowed the freedom (thank goodness) to be creative and cook anything I want. I can be as cutting-edge as I want to be.
Presentation and creativity are important to me. I love trying new things and new approaches to presentations and combinations. I’ve done a chocolate pedestal with some homemade ice cream or custard perched on top. One thing I did recently for the Johnson Foundation board of directors was stuff a beef tenderloin with pork tenderloin; I imagined it would turn out great - and it did!
As the executive chef at Wingspread, David Diedrich oversees our food & beverage operations. He works closely with our conference planning team to create a culinary experience that's inspiring, dynamic, and perfectly tailored to meet your group’s specific dietary needs.
Chef Dave joined our team in 1996 as executive chef and has 37 years of culinary experience.
Utilizing local and fresh ingredients is a core tenet of his culinary philosophy. He consistently creates new food and beverage offerings to personalize the guest experience. He also oversees our various Wingspread gardens, orchards and beehives.
He participates in many community outreach activities through our Employee Impact Committee, such as Habitat for Humanity, Hunger Task Force, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
Learn more about Wingspread’s Culinary experience here.