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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Former Wine Cellar crew has taken new culinary paths

It's a far piece to Ellsinore, Mo., but if in my wanderings I ever get there, it will be to visit Antje Alexander for a French-style chicken or venison dinner and a salad with Dijon dressing. Whatever the choice, I know it will be excellent because I remember well Antje's culinary beginnings in Toledo.

Lunch at Georgio's restaurant in downtown Toledo this spring was a small but memorable reunion that shows how life can take different routes. There were only four at the table: Chef Maximilian Korl, Antje, her brother, Axel, of Toledo, and me. Chef George Kamilaris stopped to chat because he, too, had a part in the reunion.

Chef Max, who now is associated with the Six Pack restaurant chain and will be at the Reynolds Road location when it opens in June, has started using e-mail, so we have been corresponding more frequently than by telephone. After seeing his beautiful flower garden on the Maumee River on Broadway last summer, I expect to exchange gardening tips by e-mail. If you walk to the east side of the Six Pack parking lot on Broadway (formerly Frank Unkle's) in summer and look over the fence and delivery ramp into Max's backyard, you can see he is as adept at gardening as he is at cooking.

His response to my e-mail suggesting lunch was that the timing was perfect. He had planned lunch the same day with Antje, who was in town to see her mother, Ingeborg Mueller, who had surgery.

It was a joyful time recalling the days of the Wine Cellar, which once was at Lagrange and Summit streets, where Chef Max was executive chef and Antje began as a bus girl and quickly advanced to kitchen assignments. She previously did coat-checking at Frank Unkle's. Chef Max recalls that as a bus girl, she kept looking into the kitchen and asking questions. He promoted her to an apprenticeship, working with George Kamilaris, Georgio's owner/chef, who was also an apprentice.

Antje recalls peeling and chopping 50 pounds of vegetables at a time as an apprentice before she was advanced to sous chef.

She still does a lot of cooking and has a file of Wine Cellar recipes that she uses at home.

Antje's life in Missouri is divided between working at the Briggs and Stratton factory and her 40-acre farm. At the factory, her job is slamming pistons into lawn mower engines. At the farm, where she lives with her three children, Maximilian, James, and Sonja, she is all country.

Her farm life includes 200 free-range chickens which produce the eggs that she sells in town, and plenty of wildlife to supplement the family larder. She reported, rather nonchalantly, that she shot a 7-point buck and a doe with her rifle last fall and skinned, gutted, and butchered them. The butchering was not new to her. Learning how to butcher a half of veal calf was a Chef Max lesson for apprentices at the Wine Cellar. Bass fishing on the farm's pond is another favorite pastime. Of course, she cleans the fish and cooks them with a French accent.

Antje has no desire to leave her Missouri country life and return to Ohio, but thanks to her and her Wine Cellar recipe file, the folks in Ellsinore have had a taste of Toledo. During a short stint operating Bosco's, a cafe in the town with a population of 350, she had a French cuisine daily menu board. "But these folks are used to ham, beans, and cornbread," Antje said.

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