Featured chef: Iron Horse Hotel's Mikael Correa
A couple weeks ago, The Iron Horse Hotel announced that Maikel Correa was hired to replace Jason Gorman as the hotel's executive chef. Correa oversees all restaurants and food service at the Iron Horse and its Smyth restaurant.
Gorman, meanwhile, has become consulting chef for Dixon Develops, which owns The Iron Horse Hotel.
Correa, whose experience is in corporate and social catering and has worked at Merrill Hills, Mequon and Tuckaway country clubs, got busy right away working on a new menu for the Iron Horse's library room and updating the hotel's catering menu.
As soon as he arrived, we caught up with him to ask him more about background, his favorite things culinary and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Are
you from Wisconsin?
Maikel Correa: I was born in Havana and came to the U.S. at 5 months old. I moved to Milwaukee when I was 2 and have lived here my whole life.
OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to your position as
executive chef at the Iron Horse?
MC: I started in the industry when I was 15. I started as a busboy, but soon
realized I had an interest in kitchen work, so I moved into the kitchen
and worked as a dishwasher. From there I worked my way up through
I learned without school for a while, then a sous chef took an interest in me and recommended I go to school. I attended MATC and had a position as a sous chef at a country club before I graduated.
Most recently, I was the executive chef at the Merrill Hills Country Club where I worked on many high profile events like the Greg Jennings Golf Outing, celebrity beer dinners and private dinners with high profile clients and organizations.
OMC: With a background heavy in corporate and social cooking, will it take
some time to get used to the rhythm of running restaurant?
MC: It will definitely take some time to get used to working at The Iron Horse, but the restaurant is already a well-oiled machine. They know what works and I don't need to come in and rock the boat.
OMC: How does a chef successfully balance the varied duties that a position like yours has, in terms of pleasing guests via room service, at a sit-down restaurant, in catering situations, etc.?
MC: Without a good staff it is impossible to balance. From what I've seen so far, we have a great staff. I plan to use everyone's strong suits to help keep a good balance going.
OMC: Can you tell us a bit about your plans for a revamped menu in The
MC: As a hotel, we have a "grab and go" guest, but we also have people who want to extend the Milwaukee experience at breakfast. So our new menu will have some of Tim Dixon's childhood favorites, such as his mother's "shrags," as well as a new selection of omelets.
OMC: What is your signature dish?
MC: I don't believe in a signature dish. I try to continually educate myself, so my "signature dish" could change every week. I see myself getting bored if I cooked the same thing repeatedly.
OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?
MC: As a kid, I wanted to be an artist and one way or another I knew I'd be one. I look at the plate as my canvas. I'm one of the few people who can say I'm doing what I dreamed I'd do as a child and I love that.
The job is strenuous and I don't get to see my family as often as I'd like to, so that's tough.
OMC: What are your favorite places to dine out in Milwaukee and why?
MC: That depends on what I want that night. I'm a big fan of La Merenda, which I just recently tried. One of my favorite "corporate" spots is Devon at Bayshore. For a privately owned restaurant I like Lakefront Bistro. The Bartolottas know what they do well and they do it. Lakefront Bistro does French food right.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook? What do you like about it?
MC: My favorite is "The Joy of Cooking." There are such solid and strong recipes and methods and what's in there works. You never know how "correct" the Internet is. I can take "The Joy of Cooking" as a base and work with it.
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef?
MC: I like different celebrity chefs for different reasons. Gordon Ramsay is hilarious. Anthony Bourdain is a favorite though. He's straightforward and he knows what he's doing.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the
past 10 years?
MC: That's tough. I think specifically within cooking in the U.S. people have learned to expand their horizons. Plus, people appreciate chefs more now than they did even in the 90s. Now when you tell people you want to be a chef it's encouraged. I think a lot of that has to do with the media showing the world, or at least America, that being a chef is a big deal. It's made more people want to do it or at least experience good food.
OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?
MC: Tongs. It's amazing, they're like my hand.
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
MC: For this week or next week? The big trend I see is sustainable and organic foods.
OMC: What's the toughest day or night to work in the restaurant business?
MC: On a consistent basis, Friday nights are tough. It's the night where you may have every table in your restaurant full, but you may also have a rehearsal dinner or private party happening at the same time. A lot can be happening at the same time.
OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?
MC: Fast food – it's a toss up between Culver's and McDonald's. My kids love chicken nuggets.
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