Featured server: Transfer Pizza's Mischa Nygaard
For the 10th straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2016."
Mischa Nygaard has served at Transfer Pizzeria Cafe for seven years – almost as long as the eatery has been open.
Nygaard grew up in a restaurant; his mother owned Cafe 1505, formerly La Boulangerie, in Mequon. The restaurant is still open, but his mother is no longer involved.
"I did everything: cooked, served, hosted," says Nygaard. "I learned a lot about restaurants and food."
OnMilwaukee recently caught up with Nygaard on the job and chatted about family, world travel and food, food, food.
OnMilwaukee: What do you like about serving?
Mischa Nygaard: I'm pretty ADD so it works well with that: doing lots of things at once, very high energy. And I get to be personable. I really like helping people to have a good time. I also care a lot about food. It feels nice to help people out and get them what they want.
Transfer cares a lot about customers and what they need or want. Like if they have a gluten allergy, we have guaranteed gluten-free pizza here. We want to put customers at ease and assure them they are not being too demanding – they should be able to go out and get exactly what they want. (Transfer hosts "Defeat the Wheat" every Monday and Wednesday evenings with discounts on gluten-free pizza, appetizers and beer.)
What is your favorite Transfer pizza?
Oh, I have a lot of favorites. The Diavola is great: salami, onions, red peppers and jalapeños. The roasted potato chicken is also great. It comes with a garlic cream sauce, fried potatoes and chicken breast. Sometimes I add an egg which is really good, especially if the egg's a little runny.
How do you cope with annoying customers?
I'm pretty patient. I make a lot of jokes. Growing up in my mom's restaurant, working in the kitchen, I learned that no matter what, cooking is much more stressful than serving and I always remember that. The chef has to make 20 orders perfectly and keep them hot and I just have to bring food to people and try not to sweat too badly.
Where did you grow up and what neighborhood do you live in today?
I grew up just north of Milwaukee. I graduated from Nicolet High School. I lived in Riverwest for a long time, now I live in Walker's Point. I've traveled a lot, but I really like living in Milwaukee.
Where have you traveled?
Thailand, South America – Peru, Chile and Bolivia. I recently went to Italy with my mom to visit relatives. That was fun. I also went to Denmark; the viking museum was really cool. Recently, for my 30th birthday, I went to the Smoky Mountains and had a good time. Saw a baby bear stuck up in a tree.
What's on your travel "bucket list?"
I haven't been anywhere in the continent of Africa yet, or Australia. I've always wanted to go to Morocco. It's a big world – there are a lot of places I'd like to visit.
What else do you like to do when you're not working?
Other than travel, I love seeing movies. I just saw 10 movies at the Milwaukee Film Festival. I spend a lot of time with my parents; they are cool people. We like to cook together a lot. Lately, I've been practicing archery. My dad gave me a bow for my birthday and I set up a target in my parents' backyard. My sister also does archery. She makes her own arrows, teaches classes, wins competitions. I'm just trying to hit the target at this point.
What kind of food do you like to make?
Everything. Whenever I go to a new country I love to do food tours. I also really like to make soup. I like the process, how much time it takes to make and how the flavors change. A soup can taste very different from one day to the next. This summer I made cold cucumber soup with buttermilk. I ate like a gallon of it, but my favorite is probably Brazilian black bean stew – it's my mom's recipe – with four different kinds of meat.
Recently for a work party I made watermelon pokè that was really good. I marinated watermelon in sesame oil, tahini, red wine vinegar, plum wine vinegar and some other stuff and then grilled it. I have a cold watermelon salad I love to make, too, with Kalamata olives, onions, mint, feta. Basically, I'll make anything. There's not a recipe that daunts me, except, maybe, baking is sometimes hard. It's chemistry. Everything has to be measured perfectly and then you put it in the oven and have to give up control.
What do you think about the word "foodie?"
"Foodie" is kind of like "hipster" – it's both good and bad. Is that me? Probably, but it's also like, "oh now it's a thing so I resent it." I like thinking of myself as an individual, but, yeah, I am a foodie. I just think it's cool people care more about food than they used to. It's helping the quality improve in many grocery stores and restaurants.
Where do you shop for groceries?
I shop a lot of different places. Fancy stores, Whole Foods, Outpost. Recently I started going to Cermak (Fresh Market). They have such a wide selection of ethnic foods. I got this baby octopus salad there that was really delicious and adorable.
Do you plan to stay in the service industry?
I like it. It pays my bills and the management here is very understanding and nice. They let me take six weeks off to travel and then return and get all of my shifts back. I feel pretty blessed. But someday I might move out West – Oregon or Colorado – someplace with more trees than even Wisconsin.
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