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lake geneva resort Executive Chef

Nelly Buleje

Nelly Buleje brings worldly experiences back home to Lake Geneva. After starting his culinary career cooking room service orders and slicing the weekend prime rib buffet at Grand Geneva 17 years ago, Chef Nelly has fast-tracked to executive chef after traveling the world in search of really learning about regional foods. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, Nelly has traveled from the Philippines to Peru, up and down Central America and between the coasts. He’s returned home with a refined palate, ready to inspire diners with a memorable experience and friendly demeanor they’ll never forget.

"I came home with great pride and excitement to bring new energy back to Lake Geneva," Chef says. "We’re going to cultivate the culinary scene, drawing people to Lake Geneva because it’s the best food scene between Chicago and Milwaukee, not just a summer getaway." 

Former Grand Geneva Executive Chef Robert Fedorko gave Nelly his first job as a cook at Grand Geneva. That opportunity helped shape his entire career, advising him, challenging him and inviting him to collaborate on professional projects.

Nelly's natural attraction to adventure takes him around the world: "I learned so much from culinary experts in their field, watching the purveyors grow and harvest their bounty and how those seasonal ingredients build cultural identity," Nelly said. "I take all that back and channel it into my kitchen."

With nine restaurants and eleven kitchens under his leadership, Chef Nelly creates a culinary vision and gives his team ownership to carry out the purpose of what they're doing here. Each chef puts a spin on their dishes, keeping them vested in work they’re passionate about.

"I also encourage my chefs to continue their education, whether it’s becoming a certified pickling expert or traveling to Italy to better understand why pasta is a course and not an entree," Nelly said. "Learning firsthand is really important and I want our team to feel as confident as I do in the process of creating a memorable experience for our guests."

To Nelly, everything about cooking is an experience. It takes all of your senses to do. "The world disappears when I cook," he reflects. "It’s the only time I’m quiet because I’m zoned in. I’m listening, smelling, watching, feeling. My senses bring me back memories to where I discovered the flavors I’m working with. It’s the best thing in the world." 

Change Me

Are there certain ingredients you gravitate toward when preparing menus?

balancing act

Finding balance is the most important thing I look for. The art of cooking is varying textures with balanced flavors. Every dish I create has a focal point. For example, while building the new branzino dish on Ristorante Brissago’s menu, I thought about the natural flavor components and texture of the branzino. What was going to enhance and highlight the fish itself? With a fish that’s sweet and mild in flavor, adding fried artichokes introduced texture with a tang and creamy marbled potatoes tossed with a fresh lemon thyme vinaigrette and pecorino Romano cheese complemented it nicely. To put the dish over the top with freshness, I add castelvetrano olives to bring in tender, crispy and almost fruit-like flavor.

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