Nathan Mileski achieved instant fame in national college dining circles this summer when he won the top honors at the 2009 National Culinary Competition of the National Association of College & University Food Services (NACUFS).
Mileski is a home grown talent at his school, Northern Michigan University, where he serves as senior chef for the dining department. He grew up in Marquette, the city in which NMU is located, and in fact, attended the university for three years before transferring to the CIA, where he earned his culinary degree.
Mileski's triumph at NACUFS is a testament to both his own talent and the local culinary traditions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which he incorporated into his winning recipe (Trout Schnitzel, Mohrengemuse Carrots, Sautéed Beet & Celeriac Morel Mushroom Spaetzle Riesling Beurre Blanc).
At NMU, Mileski is responsible for the Wildcat Den dining hall, the commissary and the bakery as well as for overseeing catering and staff training. He came back to the school in December 2007 after spending six years with Drummond Island Resort/Conference Center.
A multiple ACF regional chef of the year award winner as well as an ACF Certified Executive Chef, Mileski is an active member of the federation's Upper Michigan chapter, which he has served as president (2000-2004) and as chairman (2005-2009).
How did your interest in cooking start?
I grew up with my grandfather, my dad and my uncle all being good cooks.
Were they restaurateurs?
No, my grandfather and dad worked for the state police and my uncle was a chemical sales rep, but they were always cooking something. We were a big hunting and fishing family, and cooked what we caught. We also had gardens and did a lot of canning. We even had a 40-acre sugar bush from which we made our own maple syrup.
How did you come to join the NMU culinary staff?
They had gotten a new director [Andre Mallie, now at the University of San Diego] and he was trying to upgrade the program. One of the sous chefs I used to work with was at the university as a production manager and he urged me to come join the staff. So when they advertised for a senior chef, I applied and got the job.
What are some of the things you've added to the program at NMU?
“My grandfather’s simple charcoal slow-grilled chicken. He used to keep a salt shaker in his back pocket as he grilled, and he had no hesitation in using it.”
hunting, charcuterie, golf
Tacos Michoacan, a taco truck in Napa Valley. “ They have the most amazing beef tongue, tripe, and beef cheek tacos.”
We've really expanded our gourmet meals on the private dining end. There's also a brand new catering book, and we're incorporating students more into the menu planning and testing process to give us a better sense of the trends.
What are you finding?
We're seeing a big increase in vegan/vegetarian even though many aren't vegan or vegetarian, just choosing to eat that way at times. There are also big pushes for healthy and gluten-free foods, and ethnic is huge. Students are really honed in on anything Asian or Latin, so we're slowly introducing what is the big trend in the industry right now: street foods.
How did you come up with your winning NACUFS recipe?
Since it was originally a regional competition, I wanted to use as many Michigan products as I could: things like morel mushrooms and the root vegetables we have year round here. There's also a huge German population near here in the Traverse City area. My grandmother was German, so I started thinking about some of the dishes I had seen her make and just started building the recipe from those elements.