Ann “Annie” Wegner LeFort’s life is food. She’s a native of Southeastern Wisconsin, but lived in other parts of the Midwest for close to 15 years before resettling in her original corner of the Dairy State. She’s been happily planted in Milwaukee since 2000. During that time she’s contributed to coaxing the food and dining scene into the incredible hub for local food, craft beverages, artisanal products, and adventurous eaters that it is today. She believes Milwaukee is a destination for great food and drinks while holding some amazing potential to bloom and grow.
Annie’s been closely connected to her food supply since she was a youngster in Racine, WI. Her dad brought eggs and milk home from a local farm and they grew a modest crop of vegetables in the backyard (“I remember my first “farmers’ market”: pulling carrots and other veggies out of the garden and trying to sell them at our rummage sale.”) Her influences fluctuated throughout her formative years as she lived in areas with much less sustainable agriculture and fewer small family farms. But her dedication to healthy, local produce has resurged since returning to her beautiful home state.
Her muse is her Gramma Lucille who grew up on a small farm about 20 miles south of where Annie now calls home. Lucille made her career as a corporate cafeteria manager/cook (an impressive position for a woman in the 1950s and 60s) and carried her love for food into her home. “Cille” was the backbone of family gatherings and always made enough to feed an army. Annie learned what she could from her as well as from her mother who cooked in the age of casseroles. In high school she wanted to be an artist; she had dreams of going to interior design school or being an animator. But as the last child at home she found an open kitchen so began cooking and using her parents as guinea pigs for nightly dinners.
Entering college she’d decided to study Dietetics and Nutrition, Fitness, and Health, a double major that slowly evolved into Food and Nutrition in Business, which gave her more room to explore writing, art, and photography classes. She began as a freelance food and wellness journalist during her junior year in college via the Purdue Exponent (the campus newspaper) and the Outpost Exchange (200+ miles back north). The last year or two of college, while working in her first restaurant job she became intrigued by how food brought people together and thought the social aspect of it all–encouraging people to enjoy food together–would be far more interesting than writing diet plans and telling people what not to eat. After completing her undergraduate degree she decided to explore the gastronomical and anthropological side of food. She returned to Wisconsin (downtown Milwaukee to be exact) for two years of culinary training, during which she worked in various restaurants and food establishments in the Milwaukee area (Beans & Barley, Sanford, Jean-Pierre Bakery) and solidified her love of food, wine, and pastry arts. She continued to freelance for the Exchange for 12 years writing food and wellness features, restaurant reviews, and her own column “The Budget Gourmet” until the journal ceased to print in 2011.
During the transition from her college training in the institutional food world to the restaurant realm, round about 2000, Annie also became interested in local agriculture when she was introduced to a friend’s sibling and her husband who had an organic farm nearby. She volunteered on their farm for a couple summers and realized a connection to the soil and her food source. She also felt like she was getting back to her family’s roots. She took a brief hiatus from the restaurants of Milwaukee in 2003 and spent eight months in an agricultural literacy internship at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, WI as the chef intern. During that time she earned her Master Food Preserver certificate from the UW-Extension and co-founded Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast.
Since then she has continued to cultivate her interest in local food systems. Annie worked in the restaurant industry for a total of 15 years in various capacities, most recently as a pastry chef for several years. She spent most of the last decade as a worker share (in some way, shape or form) at Pinehold Gardens and Farm in Oak Creek and a food preservation instructor. She also teaches a variety of cooking classes and demonstrations for adults.
Annie enjoys digging around in her garden, writing, crafting, and camping. She is passionate about volunteering at the Riverwest Food Pantry where she does quarterly cooking demonstrations, the Eco-Justice Center working around the eco-farm, and Next Door Foundation where she reads to inner city children. She also enjoys to her own reading time and loves to travel.
She savors time spent with her family. Her current personal food projects are getting her daughter involved in meal preparation and tasting every food she can, and having fun putting together healthy, creative, and easy school lunches for her little one. She has found that a lifestyle that deeply involves food naturally involves culture, art, and love.