October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."
There is no shortage of culinary talent in Milwaukee, but in terms of skills, drive and personality, Michael Feker is the complete package.
Born in Persia in 1963, Feker always planned to be a doctor. It was while living in Los Angeles that Feker discovered and first nurtured his passion for cooking. He entered the California Culinary Academy and studied under Roberto Gerometta.
Later, he worked with Antonio Tommasi at the latter's Harry's Bar & Grill and Chianti Cucina, and stood in for Gerometta as corporate chef at Nestle USA.
In 1997, Feker came to Wisconsin and opened the first Il Mito in Walker's Point. He later moved his operations to his current location at 6913 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa. A few years ago, he opened Chef Feker's School of Culinary Magic next door, where he conducts cooking classes, group dinners and operates a popular chef's counter.
We asked Feker about his passion for the culinary arts and about trends in dining in this chef profile.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you get here to Milwaukee?
Michael Feker: Business brought me to Milwaukee in 1997 but love for my dear Maricella kept me here.
OMC: What kind of experience and training brought you to your current position?
MF: While attending the University of Southern California I focused briefly on dentistry, pre-med and cinema, but I found myself lacking passion and searching to fill the hole in my soul. My love for cooking pushed me to enroll in the California Culinary Academy under the watchful tutelage of Roberto Gerometta. My culinary journey began here and I immediately knew that I was on the right path.
OMC: You started Il Mito in Walker's Point and then briefly ran a Los Mitos Downtown before opening the current location in Tosa. What do you think was the key for making this location work so well for you?
MF: When I first moved here, I explored various opportunities. As I learned and grew, I really began to understand who I am, what I can deliver, what really matters to me and what my "Fekeroodies" expect from me day-in and day-out. I find myself today in the right place at the right time, with an amazing family, friends and staff that love and support me and I am working at my true potential.
OMC: Do you still think of opening other places or are you content to focus your energies on the restaurant and cooking school here right now?
MF: At this point, my restaurant – a trattoria and enoteca, which means eatery and wine library -- is like a home away from home for my guests, where they receive my finished canvas at their table. If they want to see the creation process from start to finish, or actually take part in creating their meal, they can either take a private class with me, relax with friends and family for a private dinner at my chef’s cCounter, or join other guests for events like my food flights with wine or beer tastings.
Il Mito offers full-service catering that is a truly exceptional and unique dining experience, or I am available to come to your home and personally prepare a private dinner for you and your guests. I do not request a "frou frou" kitchen, I adapt my menu and skills to work with what is available to me.
With all of these avenues feeding my soul, I do not see any need to pursue any new ventures at this time, but I am always open to change and new opportunities in the future… as long as my family time is not interrupted. (Then), of course, Maricella approves!
OMC: Do you have a signature dish?
MF: I truly try to leave my signature on all of my dishes. There are so many of my creations that my "Fekeroodies" use their bread to clean their plates at the end, some even lick their plates when no one is looking! With that said, it is crucial to mention my menu changes seasonally; so, for now I love my angel hair pasta tossed with organic arugula, basil, fire-roasted tomato, roasted garlic, asparagus and extra virgin olive oil. The ingredients do all of the talking.
OMC: What do you like most, and least, about your job?
MF: I love the fact that every day I can walk into a place that feels like my sanctuary and create a new painting with nature-created paints and receive instant gratification by watching the faces of my customers when they take that first bite. I am able to feed and charge my spiritual battery daily. My greatest dislike is when I loose a team member.
OMC: What are your favorite places to eat out in Milwaukee?
MF: I love simple yet well-oiled operations. Which means, everything works well in harmony at a great value. I eat out with my wife and my friends and there are many great chefs that have good nights. I’d rather leave it at that.
OMC: Do you have a favorite cookbook? "The Art of Tuscan Cooking" by my mentor Antonio Tommasi (owner of L.A.’s famous Ca’ Brea Restaurant).
OMC: Do you have a favorite TV or celebrity chef?
MF: I respect Mario Batali, and appreciate Alton Brown. Put them together and that is what I work toward every day.
OMC: What's been the biggest development in the culinary arts over the past 10 years?
MF: The transparency of all the hidden unknowns due to the Internet and other means of communication. People are learning what they are really consuming and have greater access to knowledge about how to make healthy lifestyle changes. With you guys being the pioneer(s) … here in Milwaukee.
OMC: What kitchen utensil can't you live without?
MF: My heat-resistant spatula. My tongs, my chef’s knife.
OMC: What's the next big trend in food?
MF: I feel that the trend started already food trucks. I started mine in year 2000. If you recall I had the largest truck in Milwaukee.
OMC: What's the toughest night to work in the business?
MF: Wrong person to ask… I feed off that pressure and teach my team to rise to the occasion under pressure. No night is tough for me, but our busiest nights are Friday and Saturday. These nights help us to oil the machine and pull together as a team. When you paint every canvas to order, you have to have a system and stick to it. It is my job to keep it fresh for my team and my guests.
OMC: What is your favorite guilty dining pleasure?
MF: I love olive oil and cheeses. I adore getting some great extra virgin olive oil, grading some good Parmigiano in it, a crack of pepper, drizzle of balsamic and keep dipping my crusty ciabatta in it, while with a sipping a high-tannin wine, such as a good super Tuscan which is a 80 percent Sangiovese -- the main grape in Chianti -- and 20 percent Cabernet. Should I feel guilty?
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.