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Interview Flight: Auten's Eatery Owner/Executive Chef Jim Auten

by Jeff Flynt

This is an extended version of the interview flight series with Auten's Eatery Owner and Executive Chef Jim Auten.

It's part of the big run-up to Greater Green Bay Restaurant Week. 

1)   Describe Auten’s Eatery style and what a customer can expect when going there?

It's a really relaxed environment, there’s soft music playing in the background. No televisions up on the wall. We have a contemporary upscale feel, without having to dress up. It’s sort of like come as you are, as if you were coming to my house.

The flavors and stuff that we use is probably something you’ve tasted at some time in your life. For example, a loaded baked potato, we use that flavor profile a couple of different ways on our menu. But we just do it with a little bit of a twist.

We do have salads, and we’re trying to add lighter fare to what we’re trying to do. The food that we serve doesn’t have the preservatives and other stuff in it. We make all of our stuff fresh on site.

2)   Your background is unique, tell me how did you decided to start a restaurant?

My family had done some catering stuff through one of the local churches, for groups as small as 25; we’ve plated for up to 350 and buffet style up to 800.

We just never tried to pursue making a living at it. But during the course of that, my son and daughter decided to attend Le Cordon Bleu and they’re both classically-trained pastry chefs. Our breads and desserts are made from scratch.

My father-in-law was the one that gave me the nudge through the door. He looked at me one day and said ‘why aren’t you just doing a restaurant?’ I came back with the negatives; he came back at me with ‘What about those who make it?’ My relationship with my father-in-law, when he comes back at you a second or third time, he’s pretty serious about what he’s talking about. I respect him enough, that when he does that I need to listen to what he’s saying.

My entire family is involved in some way, shape or form. My oldest son and youngest daughter are part of the wait staff. My two middle children help me cook and bake. We just have a lot of fun.

3)   What’s your favorite thing to cook or make?

(Before Jim answered, he laughed and said, "I like them all!" I can't blame him, considering I have a hard time figuring out my one favorite thing to make.)

"As far as the stuff on the menu, I would say the Roast Beef sandwich. It’s something that I’ve been eating since I was a kid. For evening meals, it’s probably the Tenderloin with new Potato Salad and Shrimp Étouffée.” 

4)   Where do you like to eat or whose food do you enjoy?

I love food and I enjoy what I’m doing. I like to go to Titletown because they have different desserts and reasonably eclectic items. Beyond that, my family doesn’t go out and eat much. We cook as well as anyone else, and we prefer to cook at home.

5) In your mind, what's one ingredient that's under-utilized that people can find at their local store, farmer's market, etc? 

I love to use fresh basil and garlic and cilantro. When the farmers market comes into full swing, I will go and by something and make myself learn how to cook with it.

I think fresh is the way to go. Fresh ingredients over dry spices in the jar make a total difference in what you’re trying to cook.

6) Are you excited to take part in Green Bay Restaurant Week? 

Oh yeah. I think it’s a great way to get people out and moving, to try and draw them into the restaurants. People are busier during the summertime, but I just think that any opportunity that you can have that will get your name out there and get people through the doors to experience the environment and the food that you’re preparing. 

7) How do you decide on what to put on the tasting menus? 

We just grabbed the stuff that we have on our regular menu. We deliberately kept our menu small, because we wanted to do the items that we do very, very well. In the evening, we only add 5-6 items to the menu. We thought it would be something that people in the area would probably enjoy.

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Jim Auten also said they have a number of events they're preparing for. One of which is the Taste Bud at the Green Bay Botanical Garden. It takes place Thursday May 16th from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.

"It’s an annual fundraiser for the botanical gardens. It’s pretty similar to Taste on Broadway. People pay an entry fee, walk around and try all the different foods from the participating restaurants.” 

You can keep up on everything that Jim and his family at Auten's Eatery is doing by following them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Foursquare.