Snake bites: Timber Rattlers chef elevates cuisine
APPLETON, Wisconsin -- It's one hour before game time, and Charles Behrmann is busy. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers executive chef is working out of a spacious ballpark kitchen, stationed in front of a battery of sizzling deep fryers and frequently checking on the various items baking in the adjacent ovens.
APPLETON, Wisconsin -- It's one hour before game time, and Charles Behrmann is busy. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers executive chef is working out of a spacious ballpark kitchen, stationed in front of a battery of sizzling deep fryers and frequently checking on the various items baking in the adjacent ovens. As Behrmann darts back and forth he is peppered with questions and requests from equally busy co-workers. Additional communication takes place over walkie-talkie; one particularly pressing call was in regards to locating a stash of "emergency vegetables."
So when would be a good time for an interview?
"Now's a great time," replied Behrmann. "I'm always multi-tasking."
Behrmann's name is pronounced "Beer man," but he's clearly more focused on the first half of the food and beverage equation. The native of Manitowoc, Wisconsin joined the Timber Rattlers staff in 2014, one year after the opening of Fox Cities Stadium's second-level Fox Club. The addition of this year-round event center, which includes six suites and seating for 250, resulted in corresponding new kitchen space.
"You think 'chef' at a baseball stadium, you think hot dogs, brats and nachos. What more can you do besides that?" said Behrmann. "But we really like to go above and beyond, even with basic items. We offer a huge variety, almost to a fault. There's a lot you can get here that you can't get elsewhere."
Behrmann, one of four full-time food and beverage employees on the Timber Rattlers staff, is a stalwart of Appleton's culinary scene and has been recognized as such. In 2016 the Fox Valley chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) named him its "Emerging Chef of the Year." Two years later, emergence complete, he was simply named "Chef of the Year." He'd been part of the Fox Valley chapter since college, and now serves as its president. The professional success was preceded by amateur interest, dating back to childhood.
"I would take a box of mac and cheese and add a bunch of stuff to it to make it taste better," said Behrmann. "And before all of the Food Network shows, I loved watching Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse. So I moved to Appleton, went to culinary school, got a degree in the culinary arts. Stayed in the area, worked in some hotels, just really trying to grow my career and learn as much as I could."
Behrmann said that, in the club level, one of his favorite dishes is the teriyaki rice bowl. That's part of a wide range of options generally not associated with ballpark fare, a benefit of working within a venue that (literally) caters to its customers on a year-round basis. Some nights you're cooking for thousands of baseball fans, on others you're hosting a wedding reception. It results in a high-brow meets low-brown kitchen environment, where butternut squash ravioli, sushi rolls and loaded nachos can peacefully co-exist. As far as cooking for a baseball crowd goes, "It's whatever you can come up with. Something different. Something unique."
"We try to take a ballpark classic and amp it up," said Behrmann. "Like the Big Mother Funnel [burger]. That was the previous chef's idea and we revised it this year, freshened it up a little bit. And definitely, there's cheese. That's what we're known for here in Wisconsin. We serve a Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese. Every year we have a 'Food Fight' where the fans come up with ideas and that was the winner [in 2021]."
Celiac disease prevented this writer from eating the aforementioned items, but Designated Eater David Meyer was on hand to give them a try. He gave the decidedly unwieldy Big Mother Funnel Burger "a solid eight," saying the funnel cake and meat combo worked better than expected because the former wasn't too sweet and the latter was well-cooked and topped with bacon.
As for the Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese?
"It's not showy, and has a little bit of pop," said Meyer. "A new take on a classic."
Devising new creations and riffing on others is a big part of being a chef, and the ballpark is a great environment in which to do it.
"You get to think outside the box," said Behrmann. "95 percent of [fans] might not try it, but what about the 5 percent who are foodies, who come here for the food? What are they going to try? What do they want to see?
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.