Featured Chef: Justin Aprahamian
Chef de cuisine, Sanford Restaurant, MilwaukeeChef de cuisine, Sanford Restaurant, Milwaukeeuser rating
Justin Aprahamian entered the culinary world at the age of 12, assisting with his uncle’s catering company. While still in high school, he started working at Steven Wade’s Café in New Berlin, Wis., where he began as a dishwasher and worked his way up to garde manger.
After high school Aprahamian enrolled in the culinary program at Waukesha County Technical College, graduating with an associate’s degree in 2002. Wanting to hone his fine-dining skills, Aprahamian joined the kitchen staff at Sanford Restaurant, a Milwaukee institution opened by Sanford D’Amato in 1989 at the site where the D’Amato family ran a grocery store for 80 years.
Hired as a prep cook, Aprahamian’s drive and passion helped him to quickly move up the line and in 2005 he was promoted to sous chef. He worked closely with Chef D’Amato on recipe and menu development as well as on daily restaurant operations. In 2008, he was named chef de cuisine.
Though the Midwest is often referred to as “flyover country,” a region not known for its fine dining, Aprahamian says things are changing. The dining scene in Milwaukee is evolving as consumers are savvier, better educated on culinary trends and willing to try new and unusual dishes. This has given Aprahamian more opportunities to experiment with the menu, on which he and Chef D’Amato—whom he affectionately calls “Sandy”—still collaborate. Sanford’s cuisine is eclectic, a blending of many cultures described as contemporary ethnic on the restaurant’s website. Many of Aprahamian’s creations are inspired by his Armenian heritage. He frequently creates updated variations on traditional Armenian recipes. In 2011, Aprahamian was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest.