more than three decades, Mike Engel has cooked in some of metro
Milwaukee’s swankiest kitchens. He’s done everything from opening
Hotel Metro, to catering with Bartolotta’s, to cooking for guests on
Harry Quadracci’s private train. But through it all, he’s
maintained and refined his classical French sensibilities in the
kitchen, and five years ago, he opened a little neighborhood
restaurant in Bay View named Pastiche.
French bistro draws diners from as far away as Chicago and Green Bay,
and less than two years ago, he opened up a wine shop above the
charming restaurant. Engel sat down with M Magazine to talk about his
passion for fine wine and great food.
M: How did you
get started as a chef?
early story is that I walked into the kitchen at The Anchorage
Restaurant in 1977, and they hired me on the spot as a dishwasher.
That was my first night, and I was hooked on the buzz of activity in
the kitchen and the banter between the cooks. I’ve loved coming to
work ever since."
M: Tell us about
your philosophy as a chef.
important thing is to do the simple things well. For someone like me,
it’s a vehicle to let people know what my feelings are and that the
simplest things are the best. My training was classical Escoffier, and
over the years my cooking has been a process of refinement. I became
more ingredient and technique driven.
Kuohny (late famed Milwaukee chef and restaurateur) used to come in
when I was at the Wooden Eagle Bar and Grill, and she said she liked
the way I roasted a chicken. She would bring me chickens and have me
roast them and sometimes I had to pluck them."
M: Tell us about
your passion for wine.
think chefs should know a lot more about wine than many folks. A lot
of younger chefs know a lot about beer, but not wine, and when you
order a nice meal, you want a good wine to go with it. Opening the
wine shop was another case of customers asking me, ‘Where can I get
this wine?’ I buy a lot of boutique wines — wines that only have,
say, three cases available to the whole state. Big stores won’t take
it, but I will.
I like to put
surprises on my wine list — wines that, if you know wine, are an
incredible bargain. There are always a couple of hidden bottles on our
list that cost way below what they are worth. And our regular mark-up
is only 2.5 percent.
When we opened
(the wine shop), I actually took all my living room furniture from
home and set it upstairs. We have four to six wines you can sample
(while you’re waiting for your table), and on weekends, we put out a
cheeseboard. We’ve got a much deeper selection up there of low-end
wines that people can pick up after work to drink at home."
M: What are your
favorite tools in the kitchen?
"Everybody says a sharp knife, so I won’t go there. I use a
mandolin a lot, and I like a good sauté pan with a nice even bottom.
I love cast iron."
M: What are your
for all the right reasons. Wine, butter and cream. We go through
obscene amounts of butter and cream here. If I have wine and butter
and cream, whatever you bring me, I can cook for you."
M: Where do you
see yourself and Pastiche going?
ME: "At its
heart, a bistro is a humble, neighborhood restaurant and every
decision we make comes back to this, but you have to have the passion
to do it right. If there’s a secret to our success, it’s not
forgetting who we are. My lease is up in September 2016, and my intent
is to stay here, but you never know. My heart is here. I feel very
strongly this is a very special place. I would like to stay here for
10 more years and then retire. At the end of the day, my enjoyment of
what I do is that it makes people happy. You’re really blessed when
what you do can make someone happy."