THIENSVILLE – First impressions certainly have their place in the dining experience – but it’s those last impressions that have really become pastry chef Matt Haase’s passion.
A veteran of the Milwaukee culinary scene, Haase learned early on in his career that an unimaginative or poorly executed dessert menu can cancel out even the most stellar courses that came before.
“You have these savory menus that are interesting and use all these things with great techniques, but then you plop down something that’s really lackluster at the end of the meal, and that’s the last impression,” he said. “I didn’t want to be held hostage by that.”
Haase joined the staff of Shully’s Cuisine and Events in Thiensville as head of pastry in December. “He’s brought an air of delight into our kitchen,” said Scott Shully, who co-owns the catering business with his wife, Beth. “You can just see and hear his love for what he’s doing, and he’s sharing that with a lot of our other young chefs that are learning the business.”
Born in Cleveland, Haase grew up in central Ohio before moving to Wisconsin in the late 1990s when he was in high school. It was around this time that he nabbed his first restaurant job and began to consider making a career of cooking, something that had always intrigued him.
“I was always interested in cooking when I was younger. My mom would cook dinner a lot, and I would help occasionally. It’s not like my family were insanely adventurous, but I was introduced to different cultures and foods,” he said.
From the beginning, it was getting the basics right that compelled him the most. “My dad would make brunch for us, and I was always fascinated with learning how to cook eggs. It piqued my curiosity.”
After attending culinary school in Pittsburgh, Haase sweetened his skills at Chicago’s French Pastry School. “I never wanted to feel at a loss for a lack of skills. I always wanted to be able to know enough about a lot of the aspects in a restaurant,” he explained.
Haase’s career has seen stints with Chicago’s Vanille Patisserie, Milwaukee’s Bartolotta Restaurant group, Rocket Baby, DanDan and Fauntleroy, to name a few. He said he was drawn to Shully’s because of the stellar work done by many of their former employees and apprentices.
“A lot of people I had worked with in the past had passed through (Shully’s kitchen), whether they did their internship or apprenticeship here,” he said.
When he came into the kitchen for an interview, the surroundings did not disappoint. “Coming from Milwaukee and being city-focused, you wouldn’t really expect the high-level, high-quality things happening outside of that big city. But walking through the kitchen I saw state-of-the-art equipment, and I was really, really impressed with that,” he said. “They really value creativity, and as an employee they want to make sure you’re happy. Just the fact that that mentality, that drive, that curiosity exists, and people are willing to keep changing, keep making things better, keeping quality as high as they can and not resting on their laurels, is something that definitely appealed to me.”
Hiring Haase was “a no-brainer,” said Shully.
“You always want to hire the best people that are available, period,” he said. “His enthusiasm, his passion, his knowledge – it’s just awesome, and it’s helped with the whole team. We talk food all day long, and it’s an awesome thing to have another person join in that conversation from the pastry perspective.”
With the rush of the holiday season over, Haase said he is now starting to find his footing and consider revamping and expanding Shully’s pastry offerings. He is looking forward to working with locally sourced, in-season ingredients to offer Shully’s guests options that are both familiar and surprising.
“I want to make sure that, as best I can, we have something for everyone as a base menu, but also be able to be flexible if someone has a special request,” he said. “I just want to find the stuff that tastes the best and be able to share it with people.”