Driven by his lifelong belief that food traditions create wonderful opportunities to bring together family and friends for increasingly rare “together time,” veteran culinary artist, celebrity chef and restaurant operations manager Tyler Mader is putting exciting and tantalizing new twists on classic dishes, revolutionizing the way Americans enjoy mealtime with a creative and innovative approach whose catchy title says it all: Trad to Rad.
Mader, scion of the legendary family that has since 1902 owned and operated Milwaukee’s iconic restaurant Mader’s (voted “the most famous restaurant in North America”), created a buzz for this dynamic new tradition on social media (including tens of thousands of Facebook followers) that has led to numerous television appearances over the last few years. In early 2013, the charismatic chef - a graduate of the world renowned Culinary Institute of America in California’s Napa Valley - was interviewed and invited to prepare his trademark “Radical Root Beer Ribs” on the popular TV franchise “The Morning Blend” in Milwaukee, which airs on the NBC affiliate WTMJ. Mader has since done numerous cooking segments on that show, and his appearances have been so popular that he has been invited to be a guest host several times.
Mader’s success on Milwaukee’s flagship version of “The Morning Blend” led to an invitation to prepare another of his recipes on the Ft. Myers, Florida edition of “The Morning Blend. Shortly thereafter the “Fox 6 Wake Up” morning show came calling and asked Mader to create his delightfully decadent version of a classic sports bar burger called “The Defibrillator Sandwich” on their popular morning show. Mader's personality and energy coupled with his unique Trad to Rad POV took off almost immediately. Within weeks he was flying to New York performing nationally on daytime series like the Better Show taking the audience on a captivating culinary journey to Oktoberfest with dishes like beer braised bratwurst with honey-mustard reduction and cranberry smoked red cabbage with caramelized honey crisp apples.
In May 2013, Mader was featured in the “Chefspeak” column of Milwaukee’s M Magazine. Shortly thereafter Chef Tyler became a popular guest and sought after radio interview on national talk shows shows like Judyth Piazza's American Perspective Radio program and iHeart Radio's Murph and Meg in the Morning. That same year, his boundless ambition to take his Trad to Rad concept to a national level led him to audition in Chicago (2013) and Atlanta (2014) for the popular competition series “Food Network Star”. With over 10,000 contestants auditioning Tyler was chosen as a finalist both years, but fell just shy of being cast for Season's 10 and 11. His goal is to ultimately bring the “Trad to Rad” concept to his own network show. Mader’s colorful, content rich website “Trad To Rad with Tyler Mader” includes a handful of other recipes that showcase his expansive creativity when it comes to newfangled looks at our cherished food traditions: Tyler’s Breakfast Cupcake, Peanut Butter Oreo Mousse Pie, Simply Sensational Stuffed Salmon and Rad Summer Pasta.
“My Trad to Rad concept is all about discovering new ways to present traditional food while celebrating special memories,” says Mader. “When I say traditional, I can mean something as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup, which evokes a special time in my life sitting with my mom and brother at the dinner table. I then take that item and radicalize or transition it in a way that meets today’s hustle and bustle driven society, where we have less time to eat and rarely spend all day preparing meals in the kitchen. My challenge is to take traditional food and make it ‘rad’, not only in appearance and taste but also in the short amount of time it takes to create. The criteria are that it looks great, tastes great and brings family and friends back together around the dinner table. Really good food creates memories in a way very few other things can.”
Inspired by his “foodie” days at the University of Wisconsin, Mader made his first foray into television in 2011, producing, directing and hosting a show called “Campus Cuisine with Tyler Mader.” The show, for which he created a well-received pilot and “sizzle reel,” showcased the great and inexpensive food at iconic restaurants on college campuses – including Mickey’s Dairy Bar and State Street Brats in Madison.
This entrepreneurial spirit grew out of Mader’s powerful business acumen that has its roots in a 1998-2000 stint as the day to day restaurant manager of the famed Tra Vigne restaurant in Napa Valley, formerly run by Emmy Award winning Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello. Running the front and the back of the house, Mader became an integral part of the success that would solidify Tra Vigne as one of the valley’s highest volume and most popular culinary destinations. During this time, Mader would also organize off premise celebrity events, including the famed Wine Spectator Party.
He took the position after also being offered a management position at one of America's top restaurants, The French Laundry, run by James Beard Award winning Chef Thomas Keller. During Mader’s years in Napa, he trained under some of the world’s most awarded chefs, restaurant owners, industry consultants, vintners, sommeliers and hospitality professionals. Throughout this early phase of his career, he sought guidance from and developed a fruitful business relationship with one of Napa Valley’s most recognized restaurant consultants, Culinary Institute of America professors and author of the award winning "Wine Bible", Karen MacNeil.
In 2000, fresh from several years in Napa, Mader went back into the family business, heading home to his native Wisconsin to join his uncle in running Mader’s. This return brought everything full circle for the young chef, whose earliest memories include escorting his first table of guests into the establishment when he was only six years old. As Mader recalls it, he grabbed the massive leather bound menus embossed with his family’s name and began his march past the dueling suits of medieval armor that flanked the entry way to the famous dining room. This $3 million collection of Medieval Germanic weaponry is only one element of Mader’s rich history, which includes John F. Kennedy visiting during his campaign for President in 1960; President Ford’s luncheon with 50 Milwaukee business leaders and Ronald Reagan enjoying the ethnic German cuisine dining with friends. Since its early days offering three cent beers and 20 cent dinners, it has been a gathering place for citizens from all over the world.
In essence, Mader’s first go-round finding clever, “rad” ways to revitalize classic “trads” was in his dedicated work in the early 2000s transforming Mader’s from an outdated and tired but venerated brand to one that could maintain its relevance in the 21st century; one of the keys was diversifying its demographic appeal while staying true to its roots. The versatile chef and managerial expert tapped into his Napa Valley experiences to initiate a true “extreme makeover” of the restaurant. Changes included the sequence of table side service, food cost analysis studies, menu re-design; award winning wine lists; table makeovers; a new catering division; various aesthetic renovations; tasting and pairing dinners; and live entertainment.
While Mader later took a prestigious position with Milwaukee’s premiere restaurant group, Bartolotta, as General Manager of their flagship restaurant, Ristorante Bartolotta, he has since remained a key culinary and business consultant in the industry. In 2015 Mader created his own culinary brand called Life Cuisine which focuses on comfort food that brings together friends and family. Life Cuisine exploded onto the scene introducing its first product, Sea Salt Caramel Puffcorn, at the August 2015 Red Carpet Movie Premiere of the Sony Pictures hit "War Room". Chef Tyler and his team provided over 1000 customized bags to the VIP attendees of the Kendrick Brothers film that became the #1 Movie in America. Life Cuisine has grown overnight to such a degree that Tyler and his team are looking to contract with a food manufacturer and distributor for national distribution. There are also rumors that "Life Cuisine" would like to appear on the hit television show "Shark Tank" in the not to distant future.
“I can honestly say that my passion for food and bringing people joy has never wavered since that day so many years ago when my grandfather allowed me to seat my first table at our family restaurant,” says Mader. “Throughout my life, I have so many wonderful memories of folks laughing and smiling, creating family and social traditions with a great meal at the center of everything. There’s something mysterious about amazing food and the emotions it brings out in all of us. The success of The Food Network over the past 15 years has shown us that people are in love with food and want to be taught how to cook and create their own special food memories. My idea for ‘Trad to Rad’ started there, taking those traditions and memories and recreating them in a way that celebrates unparalleled flavor, family and friendship.”
Chef Tyler Mader continues to entertain viewers across America with his ever popular Trad to Rad cooking show!