Meet Our Chefs
Stanley “Joe” Austreng
Chef Joe not only has extensive experience in the hospitality and service industry, but he is also a proud Destination Kohler alum who has returned to the place where it all started for him. In 2005, Chef Joe joined Riverbend as sous chef, and following a brief stint in The Immigrant Restaurant, was promoted to head chef of The Horse & Plow in 2008. After taking on several sous and head chef positions in Colorado and Ohio, including the venerable New Albany Country Club, he returned to Wisconsin to oversee the culinary efforts at Destination Kohler’s exclusive private club Riverbend. Chef Joe studied culinary and restaurant management in Milwaukee and is a Wisconsin native.
Executive Chef / Manager Food & Beverage Operations
Destination Kohler - The American Club
Born and raised in Kohler, Wisconsin, Matt developed his passion for cooking at a very young age. In fact, when asked as a kindergartener what he wanted to be when he grew up, Matt drew himself cooking in the kitchen with a tall white hat.
Matt began his culinary career at age 15 as a steward, and he worked his way through the ranks to become a lead cook by his high school graduation. He then attended the California Culinary Academy and completed an externship in Honolulu. After graduation, Matt returned home to Kohler and became a cook at The Immigrant Restaurant & Winery Bar and, after eight years, became head chef. He utilized seasonal, fresh ingredients from all over the country and featured contemporary global cuisine. In 2013, Matt took on the additional role of restaurant manager, and in 2015 he was promoted to food and beverage manager for the entire resort.
Anette Righi DeFendi
Kohler Original Recipes Chocolates
As Head Chocolatier at KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates, Anette Righi DeFendi develops new chocolates and oversees the day-to-day production of KOHLER’s famous Terrapins, Toffee Bark, Rare Facets and all of the fine chocolate collections. Before making a name for herself at KOHLER, Anette attended The French Pastry School in Chicago and graduated in 2010. She always dreamed of being a pastry chef, making wedding cakes and baking bread, but was lured by the art of chocolate instead. In June 2011, she accepted the position of Chocolatier Assistant at KOHLER Original Recipe Chocolates and in February 2013 was promoted to Head Chocolatier. In 2016, Anette was named one of the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America of 2015 by Dessert Professional and one of Wisconsin's Top Female Chefs by Travel Wisconsin.
Restaurant Manager / Chef
Whistling Straits® Restaurant
Dan began cooking at a small German-style restaurant in his hometown of Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Throughout high school, he enjoyed working at the restaurant and had his mind set on going to culinary school after graduation.
Dan attended Kendall College in Evanston, Illinois. After completing his general education requirements, he started to focus on the culinary art classes at Kendall. Dan interned at The Wisconsin Room at The American Club® in Kohler, Wisconsin, for six months. After completing another year of school, he received his associate’s degree in culinary arts.
He started working full-time for a large-scale catering and food-service company in Chicago called Food For Thought. He catered for groups of people from 2 to 5000 throughout Chicago and the North Shore.
In July 2004, Dan was hired at The American Club as the banquet chef. He was a strong contributor to special events throughout Destination Kohler, including the Kohler Festival of Beer and the Kohler Food & Wine Experience, and he facilitated many team-building cooking events, cooking demonstrations and classes. Dan has cooked for the James Beard House, Kohler KBIS tradeshows, 2004 and 2010 PGA Championships, 2007 U.S. Men’s Senior Open and the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. In 2012, Chef Dries took his eight years of experience at The American Club and applied it to Whistling Straits Restaurant, overlooking Lake Michigan and the world-renowned Whistling Straits golf courses. In 2014, Dan took on additional responsibilities as the restaurant manager and chef at Whistling Straits, and he is preparing for the 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup.
A self-taught chef, Chef Fitzgerald chose to build his culinary knowledge right in the kitchen instead of taking the traditional path through culinary school. He began as a line cook at Blackwolf Run nearly 15 years ago and worked at restaurants in Napa Valley, Elkhart Lake and Milwaukee before his recent return to Destination Kohler. Chef Fitzgerald emphasizes local resources and enjoys incorporating fresh, seasonal produce into his creations. Chef Fitzgerald joins the Wisconsin Room after serving as Chef of Horse & Plow in 2015 and 2016.
Executive Chef / Director, Food & Beverage Operations
With more than 30 years in the hospitality industry, Tom blends culinary expertise, commitment to service and creative vision to his role in the Food and Beverage Department. After graduating from the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, Tom began his leadership path as executive chef and food and beverage director at Killearn Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida, in the ’90s.
As executive chef for the Florida Department of Agriculture, Tom developed recipes and marketing initiatives highlighting Florida’s agriculture and seafood industries. During this time, Tom expanded his culinary expertise by traveling the globe giving cooking demonstrations and interactive presentations.
In 2004 Tom launched Soigné Culinary Artistry, a Chicago, Illinois-based company that partnered with corporations and business groups for team building, product development and customer service training through interactive culinary seminars. As executive chef, he offered to consult on menu design, recipe development, culinary training/mentoring and product design/photography for marketing material.
Upon joining the Destination Kohler team in 2014, Tom oversaw food and beverage operations for external outlets including Whistling Straits®, Blackwolf Run®, Cucina and Craverie Chocolatier Café. Today Tom leads all culinary experience, talent and operations across the resort.
The Immigrant Restaurant
Douglas Stringer, Head Chef at Kohler’s Forbes Four-Star Immigrant Restaurant, has 12 years of experience in all facets of the restaurant business. A 2012 graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago, Stringer holds a bachelors of applied science degree in culinary management, and completed an internship at The Grandview at Geneva Inn, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Before being named head chef, Stringer was sous chef at Riverbend, Kohler Co.’s historical private club in Kohler, Wisconsin. His previous restaurant experience includes The Grandview at Geneva Inn and Bartollotta’s Lake Park Bistro, Milwaukee. Stringer, who resides in Port Washington, Wisconsin, enjoys showcasing classic and original culinary concepts in a playful way.
Restaurant Manager / Chef
Blackwolf Run® Restaurant
For more than a decade, Chef Paul Smitala has offered his culinary expertise to The American Club® Resort, one of only 36 hotels in the world to be both Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond. A Midwest native, Chef Smitala received his degree in hotel and restaurant management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. After graduating with honors from The Culinary Institute of America, he joined The American Club Resort in 1996 as a banquet chef. In his tenure, Chef Smitala designed new banquet menus and dishes for groups of up to 800, serving creative dishes with only the freshest ingredients. In 1998, Chef Smitala joined the kitchen at Blackwolf Run Golf Course as head chef.
Chef Smitala has been involved in creating culinary masterpieces for numerous large-scale events including the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2004 PGA Championship, 2007 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 PGA Championship, 2010 Champions Toast at Augusta and the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. He has also had the honor of cooking at the James Beard House twice in New York City, and he serves as a national spokesperson for the Kitchens of Kohler.
In 2008, Chef Smitala received the Chef of the Year Salute to Excellence Award from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, and in 2009 he earned the Milwaukee Area Technical College Civic Apprenticeship Award for his work in mentoring culinary students. Under Chef Smitala’s leadership, Blackwolf Run has been honored with the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2002.
In addition to overseeing the food, beverage and special events at Blackwolf Run, Chef Smitala also spends time in The Kitchens of Kohler, located in The Shops at Woodlake Kohler, teaching guests about a variety of recipes, trends and styles of cooking.
Restaurant Manager / Chef
Sandra Wassink, restaurant manager and head chef has been instrumental in the success of River Wildlife since its inception in 1979. Sandy, as she is known, started as a kitchen assistant in her teenage years and sharpened her culinary skills by sheer talent and listening to her many followers. Sandy insists on sourcing locally grown ingredients for her weekly changing menu such as pheasant, quail and foraged wild morels to a perennial favorite, freshly caught walleye. Using both innovative and time tested techniques, her team creates inspired comfort food that highlights the best the Midwest has to offer. Open to members and resort guests only, River Wildlife is known for its outstanding countrified gourmet cuisine and is widely accepted as one of the top dining venues in the state of Wisconsin and beyond.
Culinary Events Manager, The Kitchens of Kohler at The Shops at Woodlake
Amanda Weber was born and raised in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin and developed her passion for hospitality at a young age while cooking for her large family. Knowing that this was what she wanted to do, Amanda started her career in the kitchen at age 15 as a steward at Blackwolf Run restaurant of Destination Kohler working under Chef Paul Smitala. Working through the ranks, Amanda became a cook at Blackwolf Run at 17. Amanda then applied and was accepted to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
After graduation, Amanda stayed in New York and worked at multiple different restaurants during her time there. Later when working her way through the kitchens of the Hudson Valley eventually becoming the General Manager at Panera Bread, where she spent three years.
In 2015, Amanda traveled back home to rejoin Destination Kohler and became Café Coordinator at The Craverie Chocolatier Cafe. In the summer of 2016, Amanda was appointed to a new position, Culinary Events Manager for the Kitchens of Kohler at The Shops at Woodlake where she curates bespoke chef and cocktail events year-round.