By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Oct 16, 2008 at 8:21 AM Photography: Whitney Teska

October is Dining Month on All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, special features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food. Bon appetit!

Michael Wolf cut his teeth in the restaurant business washing dishes when he was 15. Now some 30 years later, Wolf balances work as a chef for not one, not two, but three Milwaukee eateries, each with its own food and service style.

Wolf's career was sculpted by the ever-changing Milwaukee restaurant scene of which he has been an instrumental part since early days as a chef at the former Tony Harvey's Mike and Anna's.

For those readers who don't remember Mike and Anna's, think daily chalkboard menus, seasonal ingredients, garden-grown herbs, and romance on 8th and Rogers -- probably not a neighborhood where you would typically look for that, and certainly not in the 1980s, but it was there and it was popular.
Wolf was in good company at Mike and Anna's with other aspiring chefs at a time when Sanford D'Amato was still working as long-time executive chef at John Byron's and Osteria del Mondo was not yet even a twinkle in restaurateur Marc Bianchini's eye.

It was a time, according to Wolf, "of fun, eccentricity; we were all still learning to be creative and learning our own pure (culinary) artwork. We played well off of each other and learned from each other."

Wolf started working as a line cook one day when, at age 16, someone didn't show up for work at the restaurant where he was scrubbing pots, so they subbed in the dishwasher, and suddenly Wolf found his career. Formal schooling follwed at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, but the majority of Wolf's culinary knowledge comes from his lineage.

"My father's family was all farmers," he says, "so I grew up with good produce and good food all around me."

OMC: What's your position / place of work?

Michael Wolf: Corporate Chef for NStars Restaurant Group. The Knick, Harry's Bar and Grill and North Shore Bistro.

OMC: Do you have a signature dish? 

MW: I don't really have a signature dish, I really enjoy seafood, but I also appreciate a beautiful piece of tenderloin, or a nice thick veal chop. Because all three of the restaurants are so different, I'm constantly switching gears and changing up my ingredients and cooking style. I'll often go from foie gras at North Shore Bistro to Harry's where they are doing a great bourbon glazed burger. I love variety.

OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?

MW: I enjoy interacting with customers so much; this business really is all about people and bringing people together. I really try to listen to our customers, and I do try to help to improve the restaurant industry overall as well. It's so important to have a "server's heart" -- to really want to make things the best possible for those we serve. It's a lost art.

I hate the thought of ever losing a customer. Not losing a customer is worth whatever it may cost to keep them. I strive to go above and beyond to make people happy.

OMC: What are your favorite places to eat out?

MW: (In) Milwaukee, Dream Dance -- I love the feel of it, and Coquette Café and obviously Sanford. (In the) United States, Bouchon in Las Vegas, Michael Mina in Las Vegas. I love the Indian influence in his food.

The world: I really like Paris and I love the feeling of going to the open markets and buying whatever you want to cook for the day, but I did also have a great restaurant meal there at Mer à Vielle -- just a great French multi-course meal, ending with a snifter of 100-year-old Grand Marnier and a cigar, walking back to the hotel in the crisp night air.

OMC: Do you have a favorite TV chef?

MW: Anthony Bourdain. He's a bit pompous but it's okay, because you know you're learning something.

OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?

MW: The availability is better; distribution has gotten incredible. It's so much easier now to get organics and good quality foods that were hard to access years ago.

Also, food safety and handling has dramatically improved.

Everything is even color-coded in the kitchen so you're always using the right cutting boards and other items. There are no excuses now.

OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?

MW: A French knife. I can do anything with that: open cans, pound out veal, open a beer bottle, bone racks of lamb. It's the most versatile utensil there is.

OMC: What's the next big trend in food?

MW: People are going to start to go back to their comfort foods. I think some people will start to gravitate back to braised items and things grandma used to make. Restaurants are becoming more focused; the days of the menu that had everything are gone by the wayside. People want fresh, comfortable foods, and to keep all foods fresh, you need to have some limitations on your menu.

OMC: What's the toughest day / night to work in the restaurant biz?

MW: When it's slow, that's definitely the worst. When it's slow or you're just getting one or two tables at a time you lose focus, and you lose your energy.

OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?

MW: I just had a fried Twinkie yesterday, in beer batter. It was awesome.

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to