Tag Archives: The Boiler Room

Chef Patrick Micheels

January 3, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s not easy to stay humble when everyone keeps talking about how great you are. But Patrick Micheels manages to steer nearly every compliment right back to other people. “I have a team in the kitchen that crushes it every day,” Micheels says when asked about the success of Monarch Prime & Bar. “I am so lucky.”

Actually, Omaha is lucky to have Micheels. Anyone who has dined at Monarch Prime knows as much. “I want to let the rest of the country know that Omaha’s not messing around,” he says.

Nebraskan by birth, Micheels hails from Scottsbluff. He grew up unusually curious about food, partially thanks to a mother who was willing to run to the store to buy the ingredients Micheels requested after watching cooking shows.

“I wanted more,” he says. “I was never really satisfied. I had a real love of cooking.”

Hunting trips with his father and brother also had a profound effect on his burgeoning curiosity about food preparation. “I learned to appreciate the whole animal. Killing a large animal is a big deal. It’s sad but rewarding. A lot of chefs don’t know about that.”

In 2005, he moved to Omaha to attend Metropolitan Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts. He was a chef at Dario’s Brasserie before taking on executive chef duties for Hotel Deco, the home of Monarch Prime.

The meat served at the sumptuous  restaurant (on the lower level of the renovated hotel at 316 S. 15th St., built in 1930 and listed on the National Record of Historic Places) is only there because Micheels spent a great deal of time deciding if it’s worthy. Locally sourced meats come from farms that Micheels himself spent hours visiting to ensure the animals are well taken care of. “These are small farms trying to make it for their families,” he says.

The meat must be fresh, he says, and then aged to perfection on-site at the restaurant. He’s spent a great deal of time figuring out the ideal aging for each type of meat.

Locally, he’s considered a pioneer in dry-aging meats on-site at Monarch Prime—if one can be a pioneer of an age-old practice. As Micheels explains, “It’s one of the oldest processes. To dry-age meat is super old school. People used to hang meat at the base of the mountain; it’s the way meat should be eaten.”

“Society is so impatient,” he says. Dry-aging takes time, but the benefit is enormous. When meat ages, Micheels explains, “it’s losing water. Think about it like sauce reducing on a stove. The water evaporating out of the meat condenses the flavor.”

Chef Patrick Micheels

“It has to be the freshest product possible—never frozen. The humidity has to be right, the wind speed has to be right, and the temperature has to be right. After that, it’s easy. Just wait.”

Wait for what? “Bacteria and enzymes break down the meat and make it more tender,” Micheels says. He’s echoing what he studied extensively and learned through trial and error. “We have an approachable dry-aging program,” he says. “We’re taking meat, putting it in coolers, and making it taste better.”

His star is rising, though he doesn’t seem to have allowed his growing fame to inflate his ego much. Recently praised and quoted in a New York Times article titled “An Omaha Restaurant Redefining the Steakhouse Experience,” he also appeared in a commercial for MCC.

He is involved with community projects, such as the Big Muddy Urban Farm Gala and the popular Pinot, Pigs & Poets annual event. “Giving back is one of the foundations of being a chef—it’s so important,” he says. He occasionally returns to the high school he graduated from in Scottsbluff to do demos for students.

Though he likes returning home occasionally, he’s developed a real fondness for Omaha. “I love the Omaha dining scene,” he says. “It’s so aggressive. We’re always looking for what we can do next.”

Micheels speaks about other Omaha chefs with admiration and a sense of camaraderie. He says he has often called upon chef buddies from The Boiler Room or V. Mertz for an assist preparing a special event (like a birthday or wedding), and they’re always eager to help.

“All the chefs in Omaha make me want to work hard,” he says, crediting his network of fellow chefs for helping him advance his skills and knowledge.

Beyond enthusiastically praising his kitchen team at Monarch Prime, Micheels is quick to express gratitude to his parents for encouraging him to pursue cooking—and for not growing tired of his tireless culinary curiosity as a kid.

He’s also quick to point to his motivation nowadays: his wife and son. “The reason I work so hard is because of them,” he says.

And in case you’re wondering, his 2-year-old son hasn’t yet started demanding exotic cuisine. Dad will be ready when he does.


Visit monarchprimeandbar.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Local Farm-to-Table

August 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nick Strawhecker reaches down and opens the oven. There are two whole, cooked chickens resting on the platter within the large industrial appliance. One chicken looks well proportioned, intact, and almost seems to sit rigid as though something was placed inside it to offer structural integrity. It looks delicious, succulent. The other chicken is striking also, but in a very different way. It is of a similar size, but the breast is massive, unnaturally so. The legs are tiny by comparison. Its skin looks like a popped water balloon. This chicken sits in a thick deposit of cloudy, watery juices. It is splayed on the platter, floppy—its spine is broken. This chicken’s liver, compared to the other, looks as though it spent its short life drinking hard liquor in lieu of water. The heavenly, intact chicken was among the living just days ago. It was raised on a cage-free farm near Pawnee City, Nebraska. Where was the other chicken from? Unknown.

Though the difference in quality is obvious on many levels (for example one is pumped with antibiotics and water to add weight and size, while the other is simply a natural chicken) even industry professionals from the free-range, farm-to-table side will admit both types of chicken have their place in the overall food economy. Dean Dvorak, who operates a family poultry business in southeast Nebraska called Plum Creek Farms, says he has never complained about the existence of large companies when it comes to chicken production. 

“The big companies are certainly necessary,” Dvorak says. “People in our country eat a lot of chicken and small producers can’t produce nearly enough to keep up with the demand.”

The price point of some menus just do not fit what small producers can supply, Dvorak says. This adds to the “niche” culture surrounding local, farm-to-table food production. It takes a specific client base willing to invest in high-quality foods.  

“Our efficiency is much poorer than a larger company’s,” Dvorak says of his higher prices. “We lose more chickens to predators, and our pound of feed per pound of gain [the measure of how much chicken a farmer produces per pound of feed] is much poorer because our birds get a lot of exercise by not being kept in a small space.” 

Serving a lower price point is a major faculty of the industrialized farming sector. The USDA reports organic food made up just 4 percent of U.S. food sales in 2012. This means there is a point for consumers where cost simply overrides the level of quality in a more expensive product. Many are not willing to ante up for the good stuff. Additionally, organic food is not yet available on the same scale as the alternative.

Local restaurateur Nick Strawhecker is an advocate of the farm-to-table supply chain. He owns and operates Dante (in West Omaha) and Dante Pizzeria Napoletana (in Blackstone District).

“The way most of the world works is cooking what is around you,” Strawhecker says. “After big agriculture in the United States in the ’50s, all of the sudden strawberries came available in December, or tomatoes came available in January…I think that kind of food is not at all the same, and it does not taste good.”

Strawhecker prefers to cook with food from within 100 miles of his locations and builds his menus on what he calls “hyper-seasonality.” This means an item like asparagus isn’t offered from his kitchen until it is in season, and he compromises this only on things that are absolutely essential as year-round ingredients.

Locally sourced food is healthy for consumers and for the local economy, says Ben Gotschall of Lone Tree Foods (a local food distribution company). He says when you support local food you are essentially supporting local businesses. 

“It puts money back into the local economy,” Gotschall says. “A locally owned business whose suppliers are also local keeps the money from leaving the area.”

Gotschall raises cattle and sells milk to people like Katie Justman, a cheese producer (at Branched Oak Dairy) who works solely with Gotschall’s grass-fed cows for her product. Gotschall also sells milk, cream, butter, and cheese wholesale through Lone Tree and on the site of Branched Oak Farm (located just north of Lincoln) through his company, Davey Road Ranch.

Justman cares very much about the environmental benefits of working with local, farm-raised product, but she says the environmental benefits are not her leading point when talking about why she focuses on farm-to-table food—instead, much like Gotschall, she talks more about the economic benefits.

“A lot of us go with the economics route when describing our philosophy because it is a lot more relatable to talk to people about it in that way,” Justman says. “It is technically less controversial, even though the sustainability aspects are very important to us and we [Branched Oak Farms] are 100 percent grass-fed and organic certified.”

Not everyone using farm-to-table ingredients does it as part of a movement. Jeanne Ohira is the co-owner of Ted and Wally’s Ice Cream. Ohira says when she and her brother, Joe, bought the company in 2000, using local ingredients was just the natural (no pun intended) thing to do.

“That’s just how we were raised,” Ohira says. “My dad was from a farming family. My mom was part of a co-op and we grew up driving way out to pick up different food. As a business, we didn’t really think about it [in terms of participating in a movement] because at the time it wasn’t much of a trend yet.”

The trend has found a welcome reception among Omaha’s high-end culinary scene, with farm-to-table fare on the menus of Kitchen Table, Au Courant, Baela Rose, Le Bouillon, Block 16, Stirnella, Mark’s Bistro, The Boiler Room, The Grey Plume, Society 1854, J. Coco, and Over Easy (among others).

Strawhecker’s Dante and Dante Pizzeria Napoletana demonstrate the local supply chain in practical application. Gotschall raises cows and sells their milk; Justman purchases the milk for her creamery and produces cheeses—including mozzarella—which Strawhecker uses in his gourmet pizzas. Strawhecker is one of Justman’s biggest customers of cheese. He’s also a major buyer of chickens from Plum Creek Farms and a buyer of other local farmers’ products.

But Dante is only one example of this bullish moo-moo-movement. Omaha’s urban place in the heart of Midwestern farm country has helped raise the city’s profile as one of America’s top destinations for farm-to-table cuisine.


This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

The French Bulldog

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Bryce Coulton, part-owner of Dundee’s The French Bulldog, life is not a bowl of cherries. It’s two wedges of roasted acorn squash, roasted balsamic onions and tomatoes, house-made ricotta, and a drizzle of mint oil, otherwise known as the eatery’s Acorn Squash Salad. But a little background on the chef first…20130312_bs_9071_Web

After traveling the world while serving in the U.S. military for 20 years, Coulton went to culinary school in Ireland, then spent time in London cooking before coming back to this side of the pond. He, along with partners Anne Cavanaugh and Phil Anania, opened The French Bulldog last September in what used to be a Subway.  Now in its place, cured meats hang and a rustic décor represent one of Omaha’s few charcuteries. “We wanted to establish ourselves as a place where people can find what they want,” he says, “Dundee has all walks of life and we aim to please everyone.”20130312_bs_8983_Web

The inspiration for The French Bulldog came from Bryce Coulton’s time in Europe and the idea of creating a simplistic space with a casual atmosphere. Customers are able to interact with the bartender and waitstaff as the bar also doubles as the prep area for the food. The French Bulldog specializes in cut meats, cheeses, and even a homemade pork pie (also London-inspired). In fact, everything is done in-house, down to Coulton’s personal mustard recipe. The New Jersey native explains, “I’m not big on side salads. The salad should be the star of the plate.”20130312_bs_9116_Web

He then reminisces on his favorite memory working at a café in London. “The café was in a greenhouse, a long, 30-foot shed. There was a path down to the garden where, if we ran out, we could pick fresh herbs or chard.”20130312_bs_8989_Web

Coulton met Cavanaugh and Anania, owners of another successful Dundee restaurant, Amsterdam Falafel, two and half years ago while working at The Boiler Room. Space in the Dundee area rarely opens, so when one did, the three jumped at the chance to create a place where people can get together for lunch, dinner, and everything in between. It’s a place of comfort and simple, unique dishes, where the specials are written on a chalkboard. When asked what the best thing he’s ever eaten is, Coulton thinks for a minute, then talks of a Jerusalem artichoke purée: “It was flavorful, unique, and simple.” It seems as though his favorite dish mimics his new and already successful Dundee restaurant.