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A Restaurateur and His Mad Feast

Ernesto Andrade, flickr
Sheboygan Brats after grilling.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is when a lot of us are giving thought to the food that’s on the table, whether it’s on our own dining table, someone else’s or at a restaurant.

But besides our own food traditions, we don’t always think about the cultural factors that led to that food showing up on the plate in front of us.

Matthew Gavin Frank takes a look at the signature dishes from each of the 50 states – and explains what those foods say about that place – in a new book called Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food.

Credit W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

"So often we take a look at a menu and we order something without necessarily interrogating the wealth of shadowy, secretive, often times atrocious, sometimes beautiful regional histories that are responsible for that dish being on that menu in that particular place," explains Frank. "I just wanted to ask those questions and basically to find out why we eat, what we eat, where we eat it."

Frank grew up in Chicago but now lives in Marquette, Michigan, both great places for signature dishes. And while his book offer one signature dish for each state, Frank knows that regional cuisine cannot be simplified to one dish. However he does hope that one dish from each state can inspire a bigger exploration of food in the United States.

"What I hope is that it inspires readers to think about and interrogate the food on their plate," says Frank.