When you talk food with Chef Mike Stigler – our executive chef for Rockwell’s Restaurant – three things will inevitably happen: You’ll immediately begin to appreciate his passion for fresh food and ingredients, he’ll make you feel like family and if you ask him about a recipe, chances are you’ll remember only the first few ingredients because, while he waxes poetic about the nuances of the elements, all you can think about is how delicious it sounds. (We know because it happened to us when we interviewed Mike for this blog. Case in point: Ask him about his homemade cheesecake or how he dusts his upside-down rhubarb cake with just a little bit of sugar and just the slightest hint of lemon… You’ll thank us later).
Mike’s love for food began as a boy visiting his grandpa’s farm in New Berlin. “He was the first mayor of New Berlin, a champion chicken breeder, and farmer,” Mike said. “He was into everything, and sparked my love for food and gardening.”
When Mike came to Shorehaven in January, he brought a passion for food and fresh ingredients. Residents knew right away that their food would be good, but they didn’t fully realize the personal touches Mike would deliver. In the months that followed, he became notorious for sharing food from his impressive home garden to incorporate into resident dishes. The process is thought-out, takes time, but is so worth it.
“I start planning my garden and flipping through seed catalogs in January,” Mike said. “In early spring, I begin growing some vegetables like spinach, lettuce, peas, and Swiss chard inside under a heat lamp. I transfer them to the soil outside when the temperature is just right. Later on, I’ll pull those out to plant other things, like carrots, heirloom tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, summer squash and melons, to name a few.” His carrot cake made with carrots from his garden was a huge hit with residents. “Anytime you can incorporate something sweet, residents appreciate that,” Mike says with a grin.
The heirloom tomatoes used this summer for his BLTs, heirloom tomato chicken special, and side salads have been near and dear to his family for decades. The Marine veteran goes on to describe how he nurtures his tomatoes and vegetables along, and what it means to share them with residents. “When you’re proud of something, you want to share it with family. Cooking with vegetables I grew allows us to convey what we want of our food: It’s real, honest, and tasty.”
In addition to using his veggies from his garden, Chef Mike is dedicated to sourcing food grown locally. He insists on serving locally harvested sweet corn and fresh trout. The same goes for Wisconsin cheeses and fish sourced from Lake Superior. For Mike, it’s all about supporting the local economy and providing food that he would serve for his own family.
“I approach this job as cooking for a family because our residents deserve home-cooked food,” Mike said. “To be able to talk to our guests about how it grew to the finished product shows that we care and are sincere about the final product. To some extent, food and cooking are more of a lifestyle instead of just a job. It’s who you are. And I want to do it all the way.”
Shorehaven residents, their family members and Shorehaven employees can all take advantage of Mike’s love for food within Rockwell’s restaurant. You’ll find more information about the restaurant and menu here on our website.