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.”
“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.