Elizabeth & Tim Dahl of Nostrano
By Shannon Henry Kleiber | Photos By Jim Klousia 0
Tim and Elizabeth Dahl, spouses, co-owners and chefs at the Italian-inspired Nostrano in Madison, finally have a home kitchen of their own.
After moving to Madison, Tim’s hometown, from Chicago four years ago, the two have lived with Tim’s parents. It’s been an eventful few years—the couple opened Nostrano in 2010 and gradually added to their family, now raising three young children. They moved into their first Madison home of their own in the summer of 2014.
Officially, Elizabeth is known as the James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef at Nostrano, but she, like Tim, does a little bit of everything at the restaurant. The chefs who are most successful, they say, are the ones who spend time in their restaurants every single day, who know every inch and inner working. This means long hours and all-encompassing work, from harvesting vegetables to crunching accounting numbers. It’s a philosophy that makes their time at home, together and with their kids, all the more valuable.
Elizabeth works in her new home kitchen with a seeming effortlessness that emanates from someone who is completely at home with her craft. On a narrow, glass platter, she creates a dish she might typically make for a party—or a family appetizer or lunch. She slices wedges of garden-fresh tomatoes in hues of red, yellow and orange, adds homemade goat cheese on the side, sprinkles salt and a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top, and places olive ciabatta alongside. A final touch of a few colorful nasturtiums on top completes the platter. The tomatoes and nasturtiums come from a garden at Kids Express Learning Center, a school on a 10-acre farmette on Madison’s west side owned by Tim’s family. The goat cheese is made from Sassy Cow milk with a thin layer through the middle of ash made from grilled ramps. The bread, freshly baked, is a favorite at Nostrano.
The word Nostrano comes from the Italian “local” and “ours,” which resonates through the Dahls’ style of cooking at work and at home. As Elizabeth views her arrangement, she adds, “We made everything on here.”
What were the must-haves for your home kitchen?
TIM: We really wanted a gas stove. The space here [a great room opening to a kitchen] is awesome.
ELIZABETH: Our kitchen always has good olive oil, sea salt, beer, wine, butter, hot sauce, fresh vegetables and fruit. We bring good spices home from work. The Kitchen-Aid mixer and coffee pot.
How do you get the kids involved in cooking and what do they like to eat?
TIM: The kids love dumping and pouring; they love to bake. We’ve made cheese and pasta together. All chefs’ kids get a little snobby. They can tell tomatoes from the garden and can appreciate what’s good. If it’s Elizabeth’s bread and my jam they notice it. They like harvesting vegetables. But it can also be frustrating to have picky eaters as chefs’ kids. We try to have them help cook so even if they don’t eat it they are involved in it.
ELIZABETH: We always have a Sunday dinner together. Sunday is the day we can cook at home.
Where do you go out to eat or bring in at home when you don’t want to cook?
TIM: Banzo is consistently great. Saigon Noodles, which is food we typically wouldn’t make. Elizabeth craves sushi.
How are the two of you different as chefs?
ELIZABETH: Tim makes things taste better and I make them beautiful.
TIM: Elizabeth plates beautifully.
What inspires your cooking at Nostrano?
ELIZABETH: We honeymooned [in 2006] in Italy, in Modena, and we were overwhelmed by the pure, simple food.
TIM: The modern Italian chef is caught up in tradition and respect but is always trying something new, something avant garde.
What’s new or next for Nostrano?
TIM: We have a room in the basement [at the restaurant] we could use. Maybe catering, wholesaling, or private dining? We’re very interested in charcuterie and ice cream.
How was YumYum Fest in Madison’s new Central Park?
(Tim and Elizabeth had organizing roles in YumYum Fest, the Madison Area Chefs Network’s first big event. It was held the day before this interview took place and 26 local chefs participated.)
ELIZABETH: Madison has had a lot of chefs who talk about each other but don’t know each other. It was a lot of fun and part of building a culinary community. It was great to get everyone involved and put all the names with faces. The people who came out for the event love to eat and appreciate good food. It will continue—the idea is to do a lot together as a group for events, for different charities.
What are your favorite foods?
TIM: We probably have ice cream every day.
ELIZABETH: I don’t have a big sweet tooth, really. But at the end of a meal I like a slice of apple. Come bedtime, every day, I have a bit of ice cream. Our freezer is full of ice cream. The kids know we are working hard and we can’t always do everything. But they will appreciate they always had chocolate ice cream anytime they wanted it. We will spoil them when we can.