A Different 'Degree' of Success
APPLETON CHEF SETTLES IN AT CENA
We sometimes stumble upon our callings by chance, having set out to make a life of one thing, while another true passion stirs quietly, right beneath the nose. And so was the case with James Dudley, head chef at Cena in Appleton.
While searching for a position with his printing and publishing degree, Dudley tended bar at the Village Hearthstone in Hilbert back in 2012. With a great palate and an enthusiasm for food, he was quickly recruited from the bar to the kitchen.
“And I haven’t left the kitchen since,” says Dudley. “I knew cooking basics, which I learned from my mother, but I was eager to learn it all.”
After a few career moves from the Village Hearthstone, to Cena, to Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Dudley has found himself back at the cozy bistro with the charming tin ceiling – this time as head chef.
“I have never been more comfortable in a position than I am now at Cena,” says Dudley. “I enjoy being responsible for the food, the menu and the kitchen. It’s actually less of a burden for me that way. I am inspired constantly. I make mistakes and I grow.”
The hobby of seeking new food and drink experiences is a favorite of Dudley’s. Local or not, these epicurean adventures bring inspiration into his own kitchen.
“Town Council in Neenah has the best game in the Fox Cities,” says Dudley. “It’s a comfortable, classic French countryside style of cooking. They have beautiful technique and great products. I am endlessly inspired anytime I eat there. I am also a fan of tasting menus. As someone who may have a case of menu anxiety, I love the opportunity of ordering several small plates.”
His favorite food happening outside of Wisconsin? He didn’t have to travel far. “Oriole in Chicago was mind-blowing,” says Dudley. “I feel like that experience could never be topped. But, I welcome that challenge.”
In his off time, he gives his artistic work a rest.
“I don’t do much cooking at home; a break is needed. I rest, nap and generally order pizza.”
While long-loved staples remain on Cena’s menu, such as their Mediterranean Nachos, Dudley has made some big changes. “One of my current favorites is our new roasted pork loin, which is served on a bed of cider-cooked farro, with butternut squash, almond cranberry salsa and braised, charred fennel bulb.”
A taste of Dudley’s cooking will likely make you glad for his shift in pursuits. “There’s something special about feeding someone,” says Dudley. “You’re nurturing them. They need food to survive, but if they can truly enjoy the experience also. I think that’s pretty amazing.”