25, No. 20, May 4, 2006
the job: Mike Steiskal
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
is a food service administrator IV at Krannert Center
for the Performing Arts.
on campus are nostalgic for comfort foods, newlyweds want to celebrate
their nuptials or world-renowned artistes want to cap spectacular performances
with special meals, Mike Steiskal, a food service administrator IV at
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, is the maestro who orchestrates
those gastronomic events. Steiskal, a chef who trained at Washburn Culinary
Institute, Chicago, has been dishing up memorable meals, hors d’oeuvres
and desserts at KCPA for about eight years. Prior to joining the UI’s
staff, Steiskal was the director of food service for the student union
at Eastern Illinois University for seven years and owned three restaurants
in Springfield over the course of seven years.
What got you interested in the culinary
It’s sort of an ethnic-family thing. And wealth was manifested
in food, and food was given to family. My mom did a lot of cooking and
made a lot of homemade breads, sausages and soups. Everything was homemade;
we just didn’t have convenience foods growing up.
For Easter, it’s a family tradition to make homemade rye bread
and sausage. This year, we made 40 pounds of sausage, and we grated
our own horseradish and mixed it with beets for red horseradish sauce.
It’s excellent on a sausage. Oxtails are another family tradition,
which are roast pork and sauerkraut dumplings. Just for fun, I sell
oxtails here at the café on occasion and we sell out, believe
it or not.
What does your job entail?
I run the Intermezzo Café, Interlude bar, hospitality for the
artists that perform here and catering inside Krannert Center. I have
a staff of 40 students and four civil service workers. We serve everything
from healthy to decadent food and everything in between.
We put out a dessert deck each night of a performance with 10 different
desserts. We also feature the Carnegie Cheesecake, which comes from
the Carnegie Deli across from Carnegie Hall in New York City. They’re
famous for their cheesecakes, which aren’t your ordinary cheesecake
– they weigh about 20 pounds a piece - and we go through a couple
a week. Chicago Sweet Connection does our other desserts.
Grilled cheese day is our busiest lunch day. We advertise it as “grilled
cheese, tomato soup and a Rice Krispie Treat (nap optional).”
It’s a memory from people’s childhoods and strikes a chord
about when they ate that for lunch and then had a nap afterwards. Demand
is pretty consistent at about 100 each time.
Our other theme foods are toasties, which are toasted sandwiches. We
do a fresh mozzarella, basil and salmon with balsamic vinaigrette on
Mondays and super nachos on Fridays.
Are your student workers in the hospitality
program here on campus?
No, they’re just regular students. Normally we get them when they’re
freshmen and they stay with us all the way through. We have a very diverse
group of student workers.
What kinds of things do the performers request?
Sometimes it’s nice and simple, such as a turkey sandwich, chips
and a soda for them and the crew. Other times it has to be all organic,
vegan and no dairy. We do a lot of buffets with veggie trays, assorted
beverages, and certain drinks, teas and brand-name yogurts that they
How much food do you go through during a week or month?
We’ve served more than 12,000 toaster sandwiches since August.
We go through about $7,000 a week in raw foods.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The satisfaction of doing an event well. When everything clicks, it’s
a good feeling. The most challenging part is keeping everybody happy.
When we have an event like the Vienna Philharmonic or Yo-Yo Ma –
and we have more than 2,000 people in the house – yet we’re
able to manage the cafe, the Interlude and its pre-concert event and
keep them going; get everything cleaned up for the intermission crowd
– which hits us hard as well; do a post-reception for 200 on the
same night and we’re able to succeed at it …
I have a great crew. If you have the support of a great crew, you can
do just about anything. I have a very loyal staff, and without them,
we couldn’t do what we’re doing here. We have so many different
people that like food different ways. That’s why at lunch we offer
a choice of 10 different side dishes with the sandwiches.