Meet a Dad: Michael Engel | Milwaukee North Shore Moms

Happy Father’s Day! Any special plans for this year? Do you have a tradition in your family for Father’s Day?

I’ll be working brunch at Pastiche with my sons Nick and Andrew and stepson Frank. I’ll call my Dad and check in with him, then after work, Angela and I will probably head off to Brown Deer for 18 holes.

Can you please tell us a bit about your family?

I have two sisters, one of whom passed in 2019; her son Jadyn has been living with us since then. I have three sons (Bobby is the third) from a previous marriage, and Angela has two, Frank, and John, who passed shortly before we met in 2009. Since opening the restaurant, we’ve all worked there together at one point or another. Bobby has moved to LaCrosse where he’s attending school and working as a biologist, Andrew and Nick have lived and worked in different cities, and moved back home (there’s no place like here). It seems a little convoluted but we make it work and we’re happy.

What’s one thing, as a father, you’re surprised by about yourself?

I rarely think of myself as a father, except when called upon to be one. When I really think about it, I guess it’s that there’s nothing in this world that’s more important to me than family. I never thought I’d feel that way until I had kids. It’s also worth noting that during my first marriage, I wasn’t a great father because I was in this business and didn’t get to spend much time with the boys. Their mom got tired of it, but they came to the business and since then I’ve gotten to spend almost all my working time with them. We’ve gotten to know each other for who we are, doing something we all love. I’m so grateful for that. I guess I was a slow learner, but better late than not at all.

Can you please tell us about your career and background in French cuisine?

I first walked into a kitchen in 1977, as a high school kid. I loved the hustle and how everyone had a job to do to get the dinners out to the dining room. I found my way to Milwaukee Country Club that same year, where I was taken on as an apprentice cook. I lived in a little room above the kitchen and attended school at Nicolet when I wasn’t working. I loved it. The cuisine was classical French but the Chefs were mostly Germans who trained in France, so there was discipline. So much to learn. I read cookbooks instead of schoolbooks but managed to graduate anyway. I’ve done almost everything you can do in a kitchen, but I kept coming back to French because I love the culture and the respect they have for their ingredients and technique.

Your restaurant, Pastiche, is a French bistro and wine bar. Congratulations on your recent award of being ranked one of the top French restaurants in the Milwaukee area. Tell us what sets Pastiche apart from other French restaurants?

That’s a great question. I think, even more than the food and service, it’s that Angela’s at the door every night, and I’m in the kitchen. We have a great relationship, and we care a lot about our guests. We try really hard to make them feel comfortable and happy and go out of our way to treat them as friends.

How are your sons involved in Pastiche?

Nick and Andrew are chefs and Frank manages the front of the house and wine program. Angela and I give them a good deal of latitude so they can express their own creativity and interests, and we all benefit from that.

When you do have time off what do you enjoy doing with your family?

We have next to no time off, but when we do we like to spend time with our dog and play a little golf.

What is your favorite item on the menu right now?

It’s always the fresh seafood, but I wake up on Sunday mornings with a taste for Andrew’s homemade brunch biscuits- the best I’ve ever tasted.

We now know what we’ll be ordering the next time we’re in for brunch. 🙂

The restaurant industry was hit especially hard during the Covid-19 pandemic. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your restaurant and what lessons have you learned that you’ll carry forward into the post-Covid world?

I learned that everything you work hard for every day can be turned off like a light switch by the government. Everything else I already knew. You lean on each other for support, keep your head down and grind. You can count on your family and those you love as family. I worked hard to not let anyone down, and so did the rest of the team. We didn’t close, we just adapted and kept thinking of things to do to pay the bills. Our customers and friends kept us going. We’re all stronger now as a result.

It had to be challenging for you, but it sounds like your family is incredible at supporting each other. We’re happy to hear Pastiche is doing well. Thank you, Chef. Vive la quisine française! 

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