MEET YOUR MERCHANT
Chef Nigel of KoFusion
KoFusion is a stylish restaurant with an eclectic menu of contemporary American cuisine and classic sushi dishes. Located in Downtown Champaign, KoFusion offers some of the finest, natural meats, wild caught seafood, and local produce Champaign has to offer.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Well, I switched to this profession almost 20 years ago. I went to the new Le Cordon Bleu program in Chicago when it was first founded. Uh, worked a little bit in Milwaukee, moved down here about sixteen years ago. I’ve been here since we opened. I initially started with a very strong focus on a lot of heritage meats that are coming to the forefront now so I’d say mostly ingredient driven food and then just more Asian food over the years.
Here at KoFusion your known to have incredible expertise in the culinary field. Janet (the owner) calls you “the dictionary.” Can you share how this plays a part in your menu?
Well, I think that what she is referring to, is that I put a lot of time and effort into what I’m buying, where it’s coming from and why it’s worth buying. We put a lot of effort into sourcing meat from good sources. We do entirely grass-fed beef for our steak at this point in time, our lamb comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where there is better grass, it rains all the time, etc. A lot of the seafood that we have comes directly from the West Coast – it comes in Fedex overnight from small fisherman that are on boats that can’t be out for more than a day because it’s just a father and son team… and they sell through small companies that I’ve essentially dealt with for years - that start out as mushroom foragers that now sell meat – I buy lamb from the people who sell halibut, who sell mushrooms so [these small vendors] have grown over the past 15 or so years – these people have their hands in kind of everything and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of them for years so, I have good sources for good quality products.
Where did you first find these folks that you’ve been working with?
Some of them I dealt with before I ever got here, some of them found me. Some of them I found through other people that I worked with in Milwaukee. I worked for a restaurant there that kind of transformed and the original Chef there ended up running, ultimately, a thirteen acre farm but that farm was connected to a whole bunch of different farms in Wisconsin, different producers, I mean, some of these have been around for years and years – they’re just tiny – I mean, nobody knew about them. But honestly Federal Express (laughs) has kind of allowed them to expand all over the country because you can send almost everything overnight in refrigerated boxes, and you can get almost anything if you look for it.
You seem to be very passionate about the ingredients that you use. Can you tell me more about what that means for what you make here?
I just think that as much creativity you can have with cooking, if you start out with something that’s not very good, you are not going to make it very good. You may cover up the fact that it’s poor but you’re not gonna make it any better than it is. So I guess that’s just the way I prefer to eat. I guess it’s a simple way of looking at it, but yeah.
So, what do you feel sets KoFusion’s dishes apart from others in the local area?
I think we don’t really start out with a programmed idea of what recipes are. I use a lot of different ingredients in a lot of different ways. I use ingredients that you would associate with Chinese cuisine in dishes that aren’t Chinese… I’m not trying to force anything to be a fusion of anything, it’s just a matter of what tastes good together.
What are you really excited about on your menu right now?
I honestly - and it’s been on our menu in different forms for years - I feel like the lamb we get from Willamette Valley is some of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve ordered from that part of the world for over a decade and that I’ve become pretty set on it. We use beef from North Carolina right now that I think is some of the cleanest grass-fed beef I’ve tasted in a while, so the standard things that we rotate through here are always pretty good.