Terese Allen, a Wisconsin food expert, said the city’s food culture comes from the unique integration of the area’s agriculture and the diversity that comes from having university students coming in and out, bringing their backgrounds and cultures in food with them.
“We’re importers of culture but we’re also exporters,” Allen said.
Terese Allen went to cooking school in Philadelphia after working at the University of Wisconsin, and eventually came back to work at the Ovens of Brittany restaurant.
Allen said she believes the Ovens of Brittany restaurant began the food culture in Madison. She said when she first began working there, it was the only place in Madison that was “really trying to do something special with food.”
The restaurant was cooking from scratch and although it was French cooking based, Allen said it also incorporated a lot of other international cooking, and was especially famous for its croissants.
“For me it was an excellent place to start because there weren’t a lot of places in Madison that were doing anything special,” Allen said. “The Ovens of Brittany is one of the big reasons Madison moved as far as the whole food scene. Out of those restaurants many people came and eventually opened their own places.”
Allen wrote her first cookbook about the Ovens of Brittany restaurants. Since then, she has written many others as well as columns in Edible Madison and Edible Door.
Currently, Allen said she is working on a book that will be a combination of a memoir as well as a study of local food history.
Allen also spends time in the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin as well as a culinary book club.
“That’s the other thing, I’m in a food book reading club, where else will you find people that are so nutty about food that they’ll join a book club about it? Only in Madison,” Allen said.
Allen is a past chair and board member of Research Education Action and Policy Food Group, an organization she said broadly encompasses much of what the food culture of Madison is about.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market is also at the core of Madison’s food culture, Allen said. It creates a community of producers and consumers that gather together on Saturday mornings, she said.
“The Dane County Farmers’ Market is one of my top places on the planet and I’ve been going religiously since I was in my 20s,” Allen said. “It feeds me in so many ways beyond just what I eat, it’s a creative thing for me, it’s a social thing for me, I feel so tied to my culture there and my community there. I feel lucky to be in the middle of this fantastically rich culture.”