James Beard semifinalist to replace Kyle Cherek as host of ‘Wisconsin Foodie’

Luke Zahm is owner and head chef of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua

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Luke Zahm, a James Beard Award semifinalist and the owner of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua, will replace Kyle Cherek as the host of ‘Wisconsin Foodie’ on Wisconsin Public Television for the 2020 season.

Zahm served as a guest host for the show a few times last year and was so impressive the decision was made to make him the permanent host, said Arthur Ircink, founder and director of Wisconsin Foodie.

“Luke was just fantastic,” Ircink said. “His passion for food, him being a chef…this guy is just incredible. His passion just jumps off the screen.”

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Cherek has been the host of the Emmy Award-winning show since it began in 2008. Ircink said Cherek “has done a fantastic job,” but felt after 12 years the show needed something new.

“We need the opportunity to try something different and a new jolt of energy into what we’re doing and we found that in Luke,” Ircink said.

“Kyle was the first face of Wisconsin Foodie, and played an integral role in helping thousands of Wisconsinites fall in love with local food and culinary culture,” Ircink said in a news release. “We will continue to break bread as friends, and he will always be a part of the Foodie family even as we continue to learn, grow and expand our culinary horizons.”

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Cherek’s annual contract with Wisconsin Foodie expires this month. The separation is taking place at the end of the contract date, Ircink said.

“As host of Wisconsin Foodie for the past 11 years, it has been a deep and abiding honor to represent my state’s food ways through the stories of its farmers, artisans, makers, and chefs,” Cherek said in a news release. “I look forward to the next chapter in my role as a food storyteller and focusing on my extraordinary new role as father to my newborn daughter.”

Zahm and his wife have operated Driftless Cafe since 2013. He is a two-time winner of the Edible Madison Local Hero Award, and was named a 2017 James Beard Best Chef Midwest semifinalist. Zahm has been previously featured on Wisconsin Foodie and is known for his ever-changing menu of local foods at Driftless Cafe, which showcases the region with 85% of its food budget using ingredients sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant.

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“As a kid growing up in a small, rural town in Wisconsin, I found my identity in food,” Zahm said in a news release. “I’ve enjoyed my guest role with Foodie immensely. I can’t wait to continue to explore and create broader awareness of the culinary scene with viewers as permanent host of Wisconsin Foodie.”

The 2020 season of Wisconsin Foodie, with Zahm as the new host, will begin airing during the first week of January, Ircink said.

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