Chef Brandon Zawada of the Hy-Vee located at 201 10th Ave W in Milan, Illinois, has been doing some pretty interesting things lately. Intrigued by what I had experienced and what I kept hearing from other people, I asked him if I could sit down and ask him some questions about what he’s up to and what his job entails.
I learned that every single Hy-Vee has an executive chef who oversees many different things in various sectors of the store. Chef Zawada oversees the Market Cafe as well as the several other kitchens in Hy-Vee. He has many different responsibilities and absolutely loves it.
Born in raised in Rock Island, Illinois, he’s happy to back within a 20 mile radius of his family and where he grew up. After high school, Chef Zawada began college locally but didn’t like and began working in kitchens in area restaurants. He moved to Chicago and attended the Cordon Bleu SHEIK Cooking and Hospitality Institute. After working for some time in the city, he moved back home and worked fine dining restaurants as well as for Deere & Company World Headquarters, where he developed his skill for catering.
Chef Zawada has gained a lot of experience in many different kitchens, providing him with a massive skill set to be able to take on all of the responsibilities of being the Executive Chef for a store like Hy-Vee. It’s different than running a restaurant. It’s so much more: it’s overseeing several different kitchens as well as planning out things for your own; it’s following Federal guide lines and adhering to Hy-Vee’s corporate recipes; and it’s managing people as well as products for sale.
Among all of this, Chef Zawada is happy that he still has the ability to create. He has been having monthly wine and beer dinners, where he pulls seasonal or new offerings from the Wine and Spirits section and caters a meal around them. He also has daily specials, priced well, that sound delicious.
He is working on expanding the bar in the Market Place Cafe to have 13 tap handles; Chef Zawada is a home brewer and craft beer fanatic. About once a month he will choose a brewery he likes, put a few of their beers on tap and use them to cook with, and host an event. Those are usually around $15-20. On September 10th he will host the new Geneseo brewery, Lionstone Brewing Co. at this month’s beer dinner, next month will feature 51st Ward from Chicago. There will also be an Ocktoberfest Party on September 23rd.
He also runs an Underground Supper Club, a little pricier at $25-$30, and requires a personal invite. I asked how you get on that list and he said to email him. Each event is limited in attendance so the sooner you act, the better. I am looking to attend one soon; I’ve heard they are fantastic.
It is because Chef Zawada has all the other duties of being the Executive Chef for Hy-Vee, that he is able to have the freedom to try new things and get creative without having to worry about the success of the business. He is in an interesting position as a chef in that he has the backing of a major corporation, and his support network is much more extensive than that of a chef in a local restaurant or even a corporate one. He can take risks, and from what I’ve personally experienced, they always pay off.
We have seen with the addition of the Market Place Cafes in many of our area Hy-Vees, that they are growing into something so much more than a grocery store. Hy-Vee is a fantastic company that I believe genuinely cares about its employees and its customers. Each store is a little bit different in what they offer in the ways of going above and beyond being just a place to shop. I highly recommend going to eat at the Milan Hy-Vee and trying out some of Chef Zawada’s creations, also keep up with his monthly events on Facebook, and support a local Quad Citian doing delicious things.