“In cooking, as in all arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection"
Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar
3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53207
Tel: (414) 482-1446
Friday & Saturday
4 p.m.—10 p.m.
4 p.m.—9 p.m.
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by the Glass
Monday through Thursday
4 p.m.—6 p.m.
Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday
4 p.m.—6 p.m.
I don’t think about the Hotel Metro days very much anymore…
December 28, 2013
But a couple nights ago, on my birthday as a matter of fact, I’d walked from the kitchen out into the dining room during service and was asking Angela a question when I heard my name called from a seat at the bar.
Not unusual, but as I turned to look, I saw a face I recognized but had never thought I’d see again- my old Sous-Chef Rob; from the original opening team at the Metro. Opening a high-profile restaurant in a place like the Metro was like working in a pressure cooker, even for someone like me who had been there many times before. Rob is a talented cook and even at that time I saw a lot of potential in him, but he was also a young rock-and-roller who burned the candle at both ends. One afternoon, during a particularly messy lunch service, he disappeared off the line. I cleaned up a couple of orders then went looking for and quickly found him in the alley behind the kitchen. Crouched down by the recyclables, he was having some kind of breakdown. Not knowing him all that well as we’d only worked together a few short months, I wasn’t sure whether to yell at him to get his head out of his ass and get back to work, or to put my arm around him and listen. I did the latter, and sent him home to sort it out. I don’t honestly remember if I saw Rob again at the hotel after that. I had my own problems to deal with, and life is tough in the kitchen.
I got on with business, as we always do. I got a new Sous-Chef, Jen, and later Jan, and we worked hard and did well until they fired me in the fall of 1999.
At some point several years later, I went to dinner with some associates at The Milwaukee Chop House. I was greeted by one of my old friends from the Metro days, Wendell, who told me that Rob was the Executive Chef there, but it was his night off. Maybe a year after that, I ran into another person who I knew from those days who told me that Rob, sadly, was no longer with us. I felt terrible, because I remembered Rob as an intelligent, sensitive young man who just had some demons he was trying to deal with, a good guy in a cruelly demanding career who’d now apparently become a casualty. (I was also secretly relieved I didn’t yell at him that day…)
So you can imagine the sense of happiness and relief I felt as I recognized him at my bar; the first thing I said, of course, was “I thought you were dead!” Our life, and grim humor, is such that he just smiled, reached across the bar, and laughing, shook my hand for the first time in over a decade. We’re older, wiser, and not too much worse for the wear and tear, but there’s just an odd quality you can’t really define about the relationships that are forged in the heat and pressure of the kitchen; it’s a lot like the military, I think. Especially sous-chefs and chefs, who depend so totally on each other that even in a short time, can get very close. Rob is now a very successful restaurateur in his own right; he has two places in South Carolina and seems very content with his life. It was great to see him again, and I’m very happy that he’s doing so well. I’m not much of a birthday believer, but I think that made it one of my better birthdays in a long time. Thanks Rob. Hope to see you again, maybe have a glass or two of wine and catch up… Be well, my friend.
I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays...
December 27, 2013
Most of my holiday cheer, after all these years in front of the stove, is by proxy. I see people in the restaurant getting together, having a nice dinner, and toasting each other’s successes and milestones, and that makes me very happy.
Though I don’t see myself as particularly grinchy or grumpy, I’ll confess to a certain lack of interest in the celebrations of the season. It happens to people who work long-term in our industry, and it’s ok. We are the facilitators, and it comes with the territory, as they say. We’ve short-changed our families and friends for so long that they no longer count on us to do much more than sip a glass of wine and fall gently asleep in the big chair by the fireplace, yet they still invite us over and try to make normal conversation. We love them for that, even when they put signs on us and take pictures.
As this year closes down, I’ve enjoyed a few milestones of my own. Andrew’s moved on and up, Nick has graduated from college, moved in with me, and begun full-time work at the restaurant, and Bobby has started college. Angela and Frank are better than ever. I got my golf handicap down to an acceptable number (next year will be better). The restaurant is evolving; we’ve lost lunch but it’s made life a little less stressful and more efficient, and the wine shop is slowly but surely working its way to becoming a profitable part of our business. We did our first wine dinner in November, and plan on doing another next month. We made the “Top 30” again, and the readers of the Shepherd Express generously voted us “Best French Restaurant,” honors we’ll keep working hard to try to deserve.
The faces in the kitchen are a little different than they were at the beginning of the year; new cooks bring new challenges and opportunities. The “old” cooks have moved on to bigger and better things; but after all, that’s what cooks do.
I think they’re all happy.
I know I am, and I hope you are, too.
Best to you and yours for a happy holiday season and an even better 2014.
It’s not always easy to just sit down and write...
November 2, 2013
In fact, if I don’t feel I have anything to say, I don’t think I have the right to take up anyone’s time with drivel. Sometimes it’s nice to bring everyone up to speed, or a series of events will occur either in or out of the restaurant that I think are worth noting or at least taking a minute or two to contemplate.
What seems to have been the shortest summer in recent memory is winding down, so without the distraction of golf, my attention will turn completely to the restaurant. Losing lunch has, predictably, saved us money and made us more efficient, with the added benefit of bringing quite a few of our lunch customers in for dinner. The fall/winter menu is on the table, we’ve resumed our program of tastings upstairs in the wine shop, and held our first wine dinner a couple of weeks ago, featuring the excellent Bordeaux wines of the Aquitaine Wine Company and a four-course meal that complemented their wonderful flavors. Look for the next one shortly after the holidays, because the private dining room is being booked at a pretty good pace and we can only do so much with our small kitchen.
Andrew and I are doing a cooking demo at the Wine and Dine Show in a couple of weeks. He’s sticking around Milwaukee, for at least the next year or so, working two and sometimes three jobs to keep busy and learning. Peter, now in school, has returned to the kitchen for Saturday nights. We have a couple of new cooks, Carolyn and Matthew, who both seem promising at this early point; Carolyn comes to us from Washburn, WI, looking to attend MATC Culinary next year. Matthew is finishing up his program at The Art Institute, fresh off of work experiences at Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea in Chicago. When I asked him why in the world he wanted to work at Pastiche, the direct opposite of those places, he replied that he wanted to get grounded. Well, we’re nothing if not that, I guess…
Angela has been in heaven. Even though she misses having the boys around in the morning, she’s able to work so much more efficiently that she’s been creating more dessert specials and even assuming some of the prep duties like making the onion soup and gnocchi. Someday, the dishwashers may even put her things away where they belong, and who knows, maybe we’ll see soufflés!
Last but not least, a sad farewell to one of my heroes, Lou Reed, who passed away in New York last weekend. Equal parts musical craftsman and lyrical artist, Lou put ideas into words then put them to music like no one else, creating stories and images that transcended genres and mediums- yet, at the end of the day, the man could rock with the best of them. It’s hard to imagine there’ll ever be another one like him…
To Our Lunch Customers---
August 11, 2013
Our final lunch service will be on Friday, August 30th. There are several reasons I’ve come to this decision, the primary being that I’m losing my lunch cooks to other opportunities. Andrew has graduated from the MATC Apprenticeship Program and has decided to pursue a cooking position in Ashville, NC, and Peter has decided to pursue an apprenticeship in automotive technology so will also be moving on to work at a local dealership.
Another reason, less compelling but still valid, is that lunch is at best a break-even part of our operation, and takes a disproportionate amount of attention away from our preparation for dinner service. I’ve gotten my share of flak from lunch customers for this decision, and I understand why they are upset, but at this point I truly just don’t have the heart to give lunch to anyone but Andrew, and I don’t have the physical energy to do it myself and still be able to cook dinner every night as well.
My hat is off to both Andrew and Peter. I’ve had the pleasure of watching both of them grow, overcome obstacles, achieve goals, and gain character and technical skills that will serve them well in the future. They’ll both be sorely missed here, but it’s time for them to get on to their next adventures.
I hope to begin doing special dinners in the upstairs dining room that will feature wine and food combinations that will be seasonal and also a bit more sophisticated than our bistro fare downstairs. I’ve had many requests to serve such dinners, and have never felt comfortable committing to doing them because it was not possible to find the time and workspace to prepare the food. Now, with mornings freed up, I look forward to shaking off the dust and kicking it into the next gear.
So for the next couple of weeks, come out, enjoy lunch, and wish the boys well. After that, Angela, Rachael and I will still be here with the rest of the gang, holding down the fort and working hard to earn your dinner business!
People have been asking me what I learned in France---
May 9, 2013
The answer is that I learned a lot, but most of the lessons were not the ones I’d expected. The one that hit closest to home was that I was taught well by great chefs, and that I’m truly fortunate to work with some very talented and dedicated cooks, servers and bartenders. I feel, in all humility and with a lot of respect for the restaurants Angela and I ate at while traveling, that the food we produce at Pastiche, and indeed the food that many of our chef-owned and small local restaurants serve every day in Milwaukee, could hold it’s own over there if compared to similar venues.
I learned that we’re more old school that most of the bistros we visited. It seems more common to see hamburgers than steak frites on the menus. Fish quality was only really good as we got closer to the Mediterranean. Which makes sense in the “local produce” context, but in the bigger picture, France isn’t that large of a country; they have a lot of coastline and a very good transportation infrastructure. I get fresher, better tasting fish every day but Sunday from New England and Hawaii and they are many times the distance than Brittany or Marseilles are from Paris. Our beef is much tastier and better marbled. Their produce blew me away. The fresh markets are stunning.
The best thing I learned, and the one thing I’m trying to be committed to keep doing, is the wholly sensible and civilized practice of beginning each and every day with strong coffee and a glass of Champagne. A croissant and a little fresh fruit was the perfect bridge between the two, but lacking a live-in pastry chef to make me fresh croissants every morning, I’ll make do with toast.
Try it sometime. Just take a minute in the morning to sit on the deck or patio and mentally go through your day, watching the little bubbles drift heavenward…
New dinner menu starts this weekend; lots to do to get ready…
Hope to see you soon,
On the nice days, the protests would start a little early…
April 29, 2013
To someone like me, who comes from Milwaukee, France is a fascinating culture of contradictions and ironies; of things you aren’t likely to encounter anywhere else and other things you find everywhere. High-speed bullet trains blow past Roman ruins at speeds of up to 200mph; the country that invented laissez-faire now seems to have the government involved in almost every facet of daily life; they have a 32-hour work week and I heard anywhere from 3-5 weeks vacation per year yet compete for prestigious awards each year called the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” that celebrate the country’s best workmen…
Most of the places we traveled to, we heard of the economic woes befalling the people of France set against the long list of entitlements the citizens expect and receive. Most things were very expensive, and people were struggling to get by. While in Paris, we stayed at a beautiful old hotel that had, for a few years, according to the people there, been the military headquarters of the Nazis during the occupation. In every direction we walked, there was history. Major history (museums and monuments). Minor history (Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery). Bullet holes in the facades history… and there were, of course, the protests.
Each day, around 6:00, a truck with speakers mounted on top would park in the square just kitty-corner to our room, and soon a large group of people with pink signs would assemble. The protest would start with techno music, then the police would arrive, and then they got the party started, voicing their opposition to a gay marriage bill that was currently being considered in the national assembly. More music, then shouting, and eventually, after a while, it would all kind of dissipate into the neighborhood cafes and bistros because, well, everybody has to eat and drink, you know.
Speaking for myself, I felt I was treated well by most of the people I ran across and poorly by only a few. The same as here or anywhere else.
We had a mix of good and average meals in Paris, as we would in any other city. There were waiters who treated us like well-heeled American rubes, and others who bent over backwards to make sure we had a good time. By the second day, I realized that I had harbored a somewhat romantic and naïve illusion spawned by the innumerable cookbooks and chefs’ stories I’d gathered and cherished over the many years I’ve been cooking French food that Paris was some kind of food paradise of hard-working chefs and proud waiters taking care of appreciative customers in tiny bistros, sidewalk cafes and grand restaurants. The Paris restaurant experiences I had were more down to earth. One was spectacular, most were average, and one was just downright bad. Again, the same as here or anywhere else.
We enjoyed the meal of a lifetime at Restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon. It was better than I ever imagined it would be. Perfection. We were with another couple from the tour group who proved to be the most delightful dinner companions you could ask for, but what made it really special was that I got to share it with Angela, and that she got how good it was (perfection is expensive, though, so I’ll be eating PB&J’s for a while…) The markets in Lyon are amazing, the people are really nice, and the food is spectacular; lots of stories for another time.
As we traveled further south, things quieted down, history took over, and we finally started to relax a little. Burgundy country, the upper and lower Rhone, and finally the Provence area; truffle farms, lots of castles and cathedrals, great wines, good stories, and yes, dog poop in the streets… the same as anywhere else. –m.
The best advice I've ever received
April 10, 2013
I was at MATC on Monday, working with the culinary students in the Cuisine Restaurant. As a guest chef in the alumni chefs series, I was demonstrating a couple of our Pastiche dishes and answering questions. The chef instructor asked me to give the students some advice to help them get their careers started on the right track. Here are a few of my thoughts…
To young cooks-
You may think you know a lot but this is a lifelong career of learning. Once you master one thing you must move on to another or you’ll stagnate. Learn everything you can about food, then management, then wine, then business, marketing, refrigeration, and everything else you can because you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding if you equip yourself with the knowledge that is available to you. Be patient. Build a solid foundation. See the long-term goal; understand that everyone has talent- and everyone’s talents are different.
Find the best chef who will let you work with him or her, and don’t think about the money you may be able to be making down the street. The knowledge and connections you gain will put you in a position to make a lot more in the long run.
Be honest. Don't steal. If you make a mistake, own up to it, correct it and learn from it.
Be punctual and reliable. Yes, it really does make a difference.
Be respectful. You are there to learn, remember that. The other cooks and chefs have knowledge to give you, and they’re less likely to do so if you behave like you’re on some food network program. Leave the drama for outside of work.
To young managers, sous chefs and chefs-
Remember that the people you supervise are the ones you count on to make you successful, and treat them accordingly. A little nice can go a long way. A little mean goes even longer. Both come with a price, so it pays to know the difference between the two, and apply both with caution.
Be a good example. People look to you for many things, and it’s important to be positive. Be humble. You’ll screw up every once in a while; it’s how you recover that makes all the difference in how you’re perceived by others.
Always check to make sure your trousers are zipped before you walk out in the dining room to talk to customers.
Always try to see and focus on the big picture. You are a young leader, learning new things. Be patient, it’ll come.
And of course the very best piece of advice I’ve ever received… came from the wisest man I’ve ever worked for. He was in his seventies when I met him, an engineer by trade, and I think he understood me better than anyone else who’s ever employed me.
He had the rare ability to size you up in about five seconds, and if he made up his mind that he liked you, you were treated like family from then on. If he didn’t like you, well, he was still polite and respectful because that was just the way he treated people.
We’d recently opened a golf club in Madison, and there was a grand staircase with a beautiful chandelier right in the middle of the clubhouse. A few light bulbs had burned out in the chandelier, so I was trying to figure out how to replace them. Because it was over a staircase, the height was something like twenty-five feet above the bottom, with nothing at all to lean a ladder against. I was standing there, contemplating options, when I heard him walk up behind me. He looked up, then told me to call the electrical contractor to come in and change the light bulbs. “Make the person who created the problem solve it…” was all he said.
Simple advice, indeed. If you extrapolate that a bit, you find that people try to make their problems into your problems because they are often either too lazy or incompetent to solve them themselves. They want to avoid the responsibility so they try to put it, directly or indirectly, on you, as a manager. Put it back on them, was all he was saying. Give them the opportunity to redeem themselves, and give yourself the opportunity to do your own job and solve your own problems.
That one piece of advice has served me better than any others, because it taught me that I didn’t need to be able to fix everything myself. I was able to do so much more and succeed to a level I never believed I could. I could also allow others to recover from their mistakes, learn and feel good about it. Now I pass it on to you.
When I first brought Henry home he was still walking on three legs...
January 29, 2013
Not all the time, but enough to need reminders to use his bad leg, which had recently been operated on to place the femur into the hip socket, and daily PT exercises to strengthen it. Found by a farmer in mid-Illinois, he’d been turned in to the Wisconsin Border Collie Rescue, where it was decided that he’d be given the operation, fostered and eventually placed in an appropriate home. How it came to be decided that mine was an appropriate home is a long story, but you could say that since I’d had two Border Collies prior to this, a history with the rescue, and had hit it off with Henry the first time we met, they eventually decided to let me adopt him.
In the months since he’s been here, Henry has been a joy. To see him run back and forth through the yard, jump to catch Frisbees or toys, and generally just be a constant whirling dervish of activity is good for the heart of anyone who loves these incredible dogs. They’re not for everyone, and that’s both why so many end up in rescue and why rescues make it so difficult to adopt them. Quirky and energetic, they have a high degree of intelligence and learn things both good and naughty very quickly. Short of herding sheep, which I think someone knowledgeable and experienced enough could train him to do, I think Henry is everything that, in my experience, defines the breed. Very smart, and with a warm and loving personality, he’s great company and has adapted well to living with me, and the odd schedule I keep.
Dogs are a great equalizer for us. The ultimate icebreaker; no matter who you are, or what walk of life you come from, you can be with someone else who has a dog and always have something to chat about and relate to. Dogs are loyal and forgiving, trusting and cheerful, hard working and eager to please. All traits I strive for, and things I admire in others. They intuitively seem to know everything about us, and communicate everything they need to without speaking a word. Amazing to have all that in a 35-pound package...
Losing that companionship hurts a lot, in a way that never really seems to go away. As hard as it is, it still doesn’t seem to stop us from seeking out another good dog, and starting over.
I feel very fortunate to have found Henry. Or maybe he found me. It doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. Once again, I have a reason to hurry home at night, and to get up early in the morning. I can drink coffee and watch him tear up the yard chasing rabbits and squirrels.
Once again, I have muddy paw prints all over my house.
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