When it wasn’t easy for him to find appropriate student housing in Whitewater, he successfully established nomoredorms.com. The award-winning 2010 class project continues as an online guide to off-campus housing in Whitewater and Madison.
And when Tyler couldn’t find “food cooked for real,” outside of his own kitchen, the former culinary student decided to rent space to present specialty dinners.
Now he operates The Black Sheep restaurant, knowing it must stand out from the competition to survive because most new restaurants close within five years of opening.
The Black Sheep opened in March 2012 in a former meat market in downtown Whitewater. A majority of ingredients come from within 75 miles, and the go-local mentality is more than a trend for Tyler, who was raised on a farm.
“It just seemed natural to connect the farmer and the foodie,” he says. “This was an integral part from the start.”
Décor mixes antiques, abstract art and repurposed materials, including weathered barn boards and the deliberate mismatch of a few dining room chairs. Wine bottles fill slots of old filing drawers.
The menu also is curiously incongruous: mussels by the pound, chicken pot pie, a savory bread pudding of the day, a crostini of pulled pork and goat cheese garlic toast. The Jim Burger weighs in a two-thirds of a pound.
On a chalkboard are names of farms whose harvests enrich the offerings. Behind the bar are house-infused specials that include a chair pear martini and vodka raspberry limeade.
Themed cooking classes, each $25, during winter looked at immune-boosting foods, healthy desserts, therapeutic seasonings and more. “We offered these classes because we care about the subject matter,” Tyler says. Partners have ranged from local wineries to master gardeners.
“We have been blessed with an opportunity to partner with many groups for a variety of culinary experiences,” he explains. Beer and wine tastings are in the works, and his own work as a student continues.
“One of the projects that we completed in January was our pork tour. We spend 15 days on the road, blogging along the way, taste testing and doing research about the world of barbecued meats.
The Black Sheep, 210 W. Whitewater St., Whitewater, is across from Cravath Lakefront Park and open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. eatatblacksheep.com, 262-458-4751
Before this location, Tyler leased space in a converted farmhouse at the funky Fuzzy Pig Country Mall, 8660 Clover Valley Rd., Whitewater. The rural stop for shoppers is two miles south of the city and sells a mix of gifts, clothing, animal feed, antiques and edible treats. thefuzzypigonline.com, 262-473-4574
Black Sheep is a co-sponsor of the first Wisconsin Food Festival, Sept. 14-16 in and near Delavan. Most events happen at Lake Lawn Resort, 2400 E. Geneva St. An exception is the five-course dinner that Tyler prepares Sept. 15 at VDB Organic Farm; up to 100 people each pay $75 to tour the farm at 4 p.m. and then eat gourmet fare while dining in a field where the meal’s vegetables were grown.
The event coincides with the five-course Wisconsin Heritage Dinner prepared at 6 p.m. for 100 guests at Lake Lawn by resort chef David Ross. The cost is $125.
The festival begins with a 65-mile bike ride Sept. 14 from Madison to Delavan, fueled with Wisconsin-produced treats. In the Sept. 15-16 Wisconsin Food Showcase are 50 producers of edible artisan products.
For details: wisconsinfoodfestival.org, 608-616-9823.
Tyler and waitress Sarah Smith combined forces earlier this summer for “Food Court Wars,” a Food Network show that resulted in the opening of Casual Joe’s at Wausau Center, a shopping mall at Third and Washington streets. The twosome’s menu of Midwest comfort foods (especially barbecue) was pitted against the health food fare of competitors Carlie Peterson and Briana Shidell; the winner gained one year of rent-free food court space.
The show is rebroadcast at 1 p.m. Sept. 8. For more about Casual Joe’s: casualjoes.com, 262-458-2227.
Other major events for hungry and curious Wisconsin foodies include:
Wisconsin State Chili Cookoff, Sept. 7, Deacon Mills Park, Green Lake: About 40 cooks compete, and the public samples. glcountry.com, 920-294-3231
Food for Thought Festival, Sept. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Madison: Dozens of vendors, food demos and a Food Camp with mini classes on beekeeping to yogurt making. Chefs compete to create the best grilled cheese item with farmers’ market ingredients. reapfoodgroup.org, 608-310-7836
Apple Fest, Gays Mills, Sept. 27-29: Wisconsin’s best-known area for apple orchards contains more than 1,000 acres of orchards, and this festival celebrates the fruit’s long-standing heritage. gaysmills.org, 608-735-4341
Warrens Cranberry Festival, Warrens, Sept. 27-29: No cranberry festival in the world attracts more visitors than this one. In addition to many types of cranberry beverages and foods, shoppers fill collapsible carts at the mile-long flea market. cranfest.com, 608-378-4200
Nueske’s 80th Anniversary Celebration, 1390 E. Grand Ave., Wittenberg, Oct. 4-5: The maker of highly regarded smoked meats throws a party that includes chocolate-covered bacon and a bacon slab carving contest. 715-253-4000
Fermentation Festival, Reedsburg, Oct. 4-13: Expect dozens of talks and classes about food preservation, pickling, brewing and rural art to food cultures. Most activity occurs on weekends. Fees per session are $10-$25. fermentationfest.com, 608-524-2850
Kohler Food and Wine Experience, Kohler, Oct. 17-20: Celebrated local and nationally known chefs (Tony Mantuano, Fabio Viviani, Jacques Pepin) conduct cooking classes. Wine, beer and spirits experts help educate the palate. Some events are free; others cost $25-$158 per session. destinationkohler.com, 855-444-2838