By most accounts, TC has become a "foodie town."
What does this mean to you? How did this happen so quickly?
Where do we go from here?
How do we build on this reputation as a region?
What does 'local' mean to you and your restaurant … Northern Michigan only? The whole state?
We are the TC Business News. How does
business enter into your role as a chef?
What's your favorite dish you prepare?
What's your favorite local
Executive Chef & Proprietor
My foodie town: There has been a growing movement in the last ten years of people who appreciate healthy fresh food prepared from scratch. They embrace produce and meat from farms they could drive to if they wanted, artisan products, craft wine, beer and spirits. They are looking for quality service. This area has all of these. Add the unbelievable natural beauty of our region, the water and beaches, Film Festival, Horseshows by the Bay … and you can understand the giant "snowball" of press rolling through Traverse City lately. The word "foodie" isn't in my vocabulary. It is vague and gets thrown around a lot.
Next move: We show up and continue to strive to be better at what we do every day. The rest will take care of itself.
On 'local': Paul and Amanda Danielson and I opened Stella with the idea that we would source as much product from the surrounding region (30-50 miles) as possible. We started with two farms supplying limited produce the first summer and have grown to more than 40 farms in the Grand Traverse region. Last year we spent $140,000 of our food purchasing in this area alone. Local has also come to include many Michigan farms downstate through Cherry Capital Foods. Everyone benefits. Dollars stay in the area and the products we get are fresher and of superior quality.
The business side: My restaurant is a business. In addition to providing for our families, we employ 50 people who count on us for their sustenance. In a time when everyone is watching their dollars, it is a "high-wire" act to source the best quality ingredients, make everything from scratch and show a profit. I am very grateful we have been able to achieve these goals at Stella for the last eight years and give our patrons a phenomenal experience while doing it.
Dish it up: Pasta is what I'm really excited about right now.
Inspiration: The products inspire me. A lot of times I order things that will force me to come up with different preparations. I will ask a purveyor or farm what is looking good and go with it. I read trade journals and cookbooks a lot for inspiration. Finally, a "research" trip to Italy or the big city probably gets my creative juices flowing more than anything. I come back from Italy every time wanting to light the world on fire.
Where I eat: The Filling Station. Great pizzas and beer. I can bring my 1- and 3-year-olds there.
My foodie town: We are fortunate. Many regions never get this attention. But the foundation was built long ago. With agricultural history and natural beauty, many talented people made a choice to live and work here. I'm sure that the thought of being a "foodie town" never crossed their mind.
Next move: Stay focused. Concentrate on the hospitality fundamentals that led to your success. Pass your culture on to those who will be our region's next generation of entrepreneurs/restaurateurs. Take care of your guests and your staff.
On 'local': It means our region, most of the time, or for some products the western side of the state. We have come a long way in just five years with a local supply of many diverse products. The increase in availability of local proteins has been tremendous.
The business side: As with any industry, if you are planning on being around for a while this knowledge must be at the top of your list. Having a mentor, partner, spouse and group of friends who will be honest when assessing your work is the key to success. I have been fortunate to have all these people in my life.
Dish it up: This time of year, braising and slow roasting hit the spot for me. I'll take short ribs, lamb shank or brisket. It might take a little planning ahead but you can continue to enjoy them over the next few days. For something quicker but rewarding – seared scallops over sauteed spinach. Use the U-10 dry scallops and get the pan smoking hot. You'll need a good exterior vented exhaust fan, otherwise your housemates will not be happy until spring.
Inspiration: My family inspires me, as does our staff and loyal clientele. Truth is, I like serving people. I enjoy doing things for others. In my opinion, this is the best industry for someone like myself. It is an incredible win-win situation everyday for me.
Where I eat: When my wife and I head out for a light meal, we just conveniently walk next door to Red Ginger. Often we'll land at the Sushi Bar, order a Red Dragon roll, the calamari and a glass of wine. Quality, quick and a good vibe. Lately, we've also been meeting our daughter, son and his wife at the Om Cafe. Vegan-vegetarian preparation is something I haven't done a lot of. I enjoy exploring their menu and it's a refreshing change of pace for me. A little off the radar for downtown restaurants but worth a visit.
Chef de Cuisine
My foodie town: I have only been here for two years so I am not entirely sure about what has been going on in Traverse City before then. When I started looking at Traverse City restaurants there were two that stood out for me: The Cooks' House and Trattoria Stella. Seeing what they were doing made me feel like perhaps there is a place for me in this town. Since moving here I have met a handful of people in the industry who are dedicated to making the food scene better and better. This to me is what makes a "foodie" town: a community of chefs, cooks, bakers, farmers, brewers and winemakers, who support each other and work hard to maintain a good reputation for the area.
Next move: In order to build on the reputation of being a "foodie" town people need to continue to support the restaurants that are doing thoughtfully prepared, unique food. I would like to see more people in the restaurants that are showcasing what northern Michigan has to offer as opposed to having a preference for gimmicky happy hour deals and cheesy nightly specials.
On 'local': My first choice is to find product in northern Michigan. I try to see what's available before thinking about the menu so I know what I have to work with. Sure, I could get whole chickens cheaper from downstate, but why? I would rather support the community closest to me and help keep farms in business. Without the farms we have around here I don't think the food scene would be very special.
The business side: The level of business in a restaurant determines whether or not I have a job, but I try not to think about that. I just try to do what I enjoy making and eating myself and hope my customers will appreciate it. I think having that honesty about what you do as a chef is reflected in the final product.
Dish it up: Sausages in general, merguez is one of my favorites. Also boudin noir (a dark-hued blood sausage), which we will be serving at Foufou.
Inspiration: In the past, my former Chef Olivier Bioteau of The Farmhouse Cafe in San Diego. Under him I not only learned how to do things the right way but why it is important to do so, to have integrity and to take what you do seriously. What you do as a chef is your identity. Locally, Eric Patterson and Jen Blakeslee. Their food is [almost] exclusively locally sourced, which is difficult to do. Myles Anton, the chef of a large busy restaurant but still makes everything in house … bread, pasta, crackers. Phil Murray – he's open every holiday, until 2 a.m. on New Year's. I don't think I've ever been in Phil's and he is not on the line. Phil works hard. So does Guillaume Hazael-Massieux. He has two daughters, two restaurants, and a wife. If I ever think I'm working hard I look at my boss and then I get back to work. His passion for good food and his vision for what a bistro should be has helped me learn more about specific types of French cuisine that I otherwise would not have.
Where I eat: The Cooks' House, Trattoria Stella, Phil's On Front
Phil's On Front
My foodie town: TC has people who love good food. It has been here all along.
Next move: To continue as a whole community to grow and create what we do best. Food, wine and environment. To exceed in our own capabilities to improve.
On 'local': Local defines at the source of production. Could be in Traverse, Flint or even Allen Park.
The business side: Unfortunately, chef and business acumen is akin to an oxymoron – jumbo shrimp, square peg in round hole. The Chef/owner who can harness both wonderful food and straight business practices is wonderful.
Dish it up: My favorite dish to prepare varies. Sometimes when a turnip catches my eye, I make a turnip horseradish puree for my Cajun-grilled ribeye. Or my vision of a Rabbit Fricasse came in much more succulent than I could ever imagine.
Inspiration: My family inspires me.
Where I eat: My favorite restaurants are many – too many to list. I eat at all the local restaurants. Along with my fast food addiction I can safely say I have eaten in every single restaurant in the past 30 years.
My foodie town: TC has become a foodie town but I don't think it happened too quickly. I moved here in the summer of 2000 and there were several places here then that were starting the movement. Some of those places are still here. Many of the chefs in town now are products of those establishments. It has been a steady movement as long as I have been in town. It just feels like it happened quickly because the press is just really starting to talk about it. What it means to us here is more people coming to town to see what it is all about and more locals venturing away from their standby places to try new things with some amount of confidence that what they are going to experience is positive.
Next move: Where we go is up. We keep building relationships amongst ourselves and within the community, especially wineries and breweries. We keep working with local publications to write stories about us and stretch that word as far as possible.
On 'local': Local to me is the whole state. We are a very diverse state and I like to show people what Michigan has to offer. I use local products (Traverse City) and services like many of us do, but I don't want local to stop there. I am from Kalamazoo and there is plenty from that part of the state that we can use here.
The business side: It's a daily thing for me, as owner and chef. But even before this venture, business is something a chef thinks about all the time. A chef is more than just the guy in the kitchen, he has many other duties outside of the kitchen as well.
Dish it up: That is a very typical question from many people that know I cook. It is also the hardest one to answer. It changes all the time for me. I like to keep looking for new things and once I figure out just how I want it to be, it's time to move on to the next thing. So I can never really pin down that one thing I like the most. I can tell you that I go back to certain methods more than others. For example, I love to spend a day on the grill outside with a huge roast or something. To keep the fire just right, turn the roast at the right time, incorporate just the right amount of smoke, all over a period of 8 hours … that's cooking.
Inspiration: These days, my wife and kids more than anyone. They are all adventurous eaters and keep me on my toes. They have their favorites, of course, but when your 6- and 9-year-olds come and ask what's new, it keeps you on your toes. They keep me looking for the next thing.
Where I eat: Mine! Ha. Seriously, difficult to answer, not just because there are so many good ones, but because I know so many of the chefs and owners. I'll just say that it depends on what I am in the mood for because that makes all the difference in the world in my expectations for the evening.
Executive Chef & Owner
La Bécasse, Burdickville & Bistro FouFou
My foodie town: I first want to say that it didn't happen that quickly, and that we need to thank chefs like Jim Milliman (Hattie's), Pete Peterson (Tapawingo) and Phil Murray (Windows), who were real pioneers for young chefs like us. They really started everything in this area, knowing that there was a need for high quality dining. Being the owner of Restaurant la Bécasse, I could also say that [the former owners] also contributed to bringing good food and good chefs in the area. It is also interesting to know that some young talented chefs, attracted by the bright future of this area, are moving here more and more; high-end tourism and also great summer homes for the wealthy Midwesterners are allowing this to be. It's just a normal way for things to happen. The more good restaurants, the more fine dinners … Let's cream the soup, not each others.
Next move: Let's work hard, keep providing patrons good culinary experiences from good locally-sourced ingredients, meats, vegetables, fruits and all the great quality ingredients provided all year round to us. In order to be stronger, all the chefs who respect each other need to work together in promoting this area with their skills.
On 'local': I think local means that you know the people you're dealing with, the farmers, the winemakers, the growers. You can put a maximum distance on the label – 50 or 100 miles – but if you don't even know the farmers you are dealing with, they can't be local providers to you. Going to meet with the people who provide your ingredients is probably the way to make them become local, even if they are located in Grand Rapids or Lansing. I deal with farmers that I'm proud to say I know how many kids they have, that I've eaten at their table, that I've discussed business with them and their family on their property. Those people are local to me, even if I have to go to Manton to deal with them.
The business side: As a chef, business means bringing people in the door, be attractive, inventive, be real, and make sure you let the people know about it. If we can't do that, we have to close our doors. Sometimes it's difficult to do, we can't please everybody, but we have to try.
Dish it up: I love food all around. I feel relaxed and happy when I work with meat and charcuterie. I love to prepare patés and terrines, but anything that has to do with charcuterie. A specific dish? Come and try my duck and pistachio paté at la Bécasse to see how much love I put into it.
Inspiration: The first person that inspired me was my mother. She was an unbelievable "cuisiniere" (female chef in French). I still use her recipes. The hard work started with her, and you better believe she didn't mess around. Few chefs have inspired me and mentor me but Paul Bocuse is the main one, as well as chef instructors that I had in France, Bertrand Esnault, Alain Lecosec … all great chefs. Today, I could say that what inspires me are happy customers enjoying the food I prepare in my restaurants. It makes my life fun.
Where I eat: I don't have the time to eat out very often, but if I do, I like to go (other than my own restaurants) to Stella and The Cooks' House. Those two are the restaurants that always have something fun available on the menu. I respect their chefs and their food.
Executive Chef & Owner
Lulu's Siren Hall
Bellaire Elk Rapids
My foodie town: It's great to be known as a "Great Food Destination," and it's extremely important that we all work hard at keeping such high standards. The classification of Traverse City being a "Foodie Town" has been a long process. Starting in the mid-eighties, most of the fine dining restaurants were found in smaller towns outside of Traverse City. However, in the last 10 years, Traverse City has seen a large expansion of new restaurants in the downtown area.
Next move: The best thing is to continue doing exactly what we have been doing – working with local farmers and purveyors to give our guests the best products.
On 'local': Local means the state of Michigan to me. What really matters is purchasing a product that is produced on a smaller scale, which tends to be of better quality.
The business side: As a restaurateur it is imperative to understand what is happening in the region, as well as building relationships with our guests and understanding what they are looking for. Hospitality is our business; giving our guests a wonderful experience is our purpose.
Dish it up: I don't have a favorite dish, but I find something very satisfying about preparing cioppino. You start by making a rich lobster broth and then bring all types of seafood and shellfish together. The combination is a very warming experience.
Inspiration: I can't come up with just one person who inspired/inspires me. I think it's a combination of the chefs and people I have worked with over the years. I have a desire to learn from those around me, never being content with what I know.
Where I eat: There are a handful of restaurants that I really enjoy; it just depends on what I am in the mood for.
My foodie town: I believe many of the elements found in other great food towns are present here. The area's natural resources and beauty make it a place for talented chefs, vintners, brewers and bakers to want to live. Our winemakers, brewers, farmers and bakers are producing products that can compete anywhere. The Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau does their job of promoting the area extremely well.
Next move: There are currently only a few food trucks in the area, but more are coming. Food trucks will bring talented chefs with innovative food options who may not have the capital to open a full-service restaurant. Also, food trucks will bring what many people have been pining for: more ethnic food options. All great food towns have a food truck scene. It's important that our local governing authorities help nurture this movement.
On 'local': During the growing season, we support local sustainable agriculture by purchasing from local farms and producers. There are still certain items we use that come from out of state. Things such as lemongrass, Kaffir lime and baby bok choy don't grow as well here as they do in California, for example. Some items such as coffee, fresh Japanese varietal mushrooms are from Michigan-based companies but are not grown in northern Michigan.
The business side: Since opening Red Ginger my responsibilities as a chef and restaurant owner are much broader than when I was cooking for someone else. Marketing & advertising, social media, website controls and content, service standards, trend research are all areas that I spend considerable amounts of time working on. Lately much of my time has been spent on our business model for expansion. Earlier this fall I went to Los Angeles and purchased a mobile kitchen/ food truck, which we'll be debuting this spring.
Dish it up: Thai Curry. It has been on the menu since we opened and has always been our best selling dish. I often run other style curries as specials: Indian curry, Japanese curry, Penang … all different, all delicious.
Inspiration: I've always admired Wolfgang Puck, the original celebrity chef. He's managed to become an icon in the world of food and hospitality. He still spends a lot of time working in his restaurants, especially the original Spago in Beverly Hills where he personally welcomes each guest when he's there (which is quite often from what I've been told).
Where I eat: Since last September my wife and I have taken a group of 5 of our employees out to dinner every Monday night. We have over 60 employees, so we enjoyed many dinners over the course of three months. We chose restaurants we felt shared our passion for dining well. With that said we visited the following restaurants (often several times): Siren Hall, The Cooks' House, Trattoria Stella, Amical, Bistro FouFou and The Towne Plaza. When it's just my wife and I, we often eat at Funistrada in Maple City. Well-prepared southern Italian food, great service in a cozy atmosphere – love it.
ERIC PATTERSON & JENNIFER BLAKESLEE
Co-chefs & Co-owners
The Cooks' House
My foodie town: We wouldn't say we are a foodie town just yet. We have the potential, but there is some work to be done. We need a vibrant street food scene, which is being filled by some great food trucks and carts. What we need most of all are more diverse ethnic foods from all over the world. All in all, however, we are excited to be part of the up and coming food scene that is developing.
Next move: Hard work and persistence. We keep building our reputation by not resting on our laurels, but instead we keep raising the bar.
On 'local': At the Cooks' House we use as much local ingredients as we can find. We have defined local as all of Michigan. What we do is work out in concentric circles, the closer we can find an item, the happier we are. A vast majority of our menu is sourced no more than 75 miles away.
The business side: We are, first and foremost, chefs, and business people out of necessity. We would rather cook.
Dish it up: Whatever we are cooking at the moment is our favorite dish to cook.
Inspiration: Rene Redzepi from NOMA; Thomas Keller from French Laundry and Per Se; Alice Waters from Chez Panisse; Bernard Loiseau from Le Cote d'Or. What inspires our cooking is a good farmers market, spending time talking with farmers, passionate amateur cooks, simplicity.
Where we eat: The Cooks' House, of course.
The Towne Plaza
My foodie town: As a chef, what it means to me is that we can on some level do things our own way and still be greeted with positive feedback. I believe it is the combination of a growing national interest due to magazines, The Food Network, etc. … along with the progressive mentality of the region, and the intense tourism industry.
Next move: I know personally we feel like we have not even begun yet. The things that get the most intense reaction are always the items which people know the least about. As long as we have a customer base like that, who knows what is possible. If we can find a customer who is interested in eating fried oysters on seared pork belly with jalapeno corn bread and poached eggs, then maybe we could try….
On 'local': For me it is all about the relationship with farmer, cheesemaker, winemaker. Sourcing products locally is not easy; it takes great communication and understanding. It is certainly not defined by a county or mile radius. If a farmer brings goods to me directly on a weekly basis, it feels very local to me no matter how far the travel distance is.
The business side: As a new business owner, I spend far more time doing things not related to cooking than I would have ever dreamed. I enjoy the new challenge, but miss very much what used to be my job as a hands-on chef exclusively. As a chef, you are an important cornerstone of the financial success whether you own the restaurant or not, so you have to always be guided by the bottom line or you will struggle for success. Nothing has changed on that front other than I used to love payday. Now it keeps me from sleeping.
Dish it up: It's not a dish but rather the art of charcuterie. The idea of a long process that transforms what is often a forgotten ingredient into an amazing dish is what generates the most excitement for us. It is why we have a focus on the pig; it is so versatile.
Inspiration: I'm honestly not inspired by any person. Instead, I am always profoundly impacted by the different places I visit. You can usually tell where I have traveled in the winter by what my menu looks like in the spring. Recent trips that have impacted my menu include South Carolina, San Antonio, New Orleans, San Fransico, France, Austria, Hungary and Italy.
Where I eat: I'm always thankful for every moment I spend at Stella, Blu, and The Riverside Inn.
Chef & Managing Partner
My foodie town: I am not a big fan of the word "foodie," but to me this means that there are some talented cooks up here doing some great things with food. Most are embracing local produce and proteins, which makes sense; we have awesome farmers, artisans and fishermen up here that most places do not have. Traverse City is a pretty cool place to live, especially for a chef. We have a ton of great stuff at our fingertips, the key is to not screw it up. Creating good, quality food at our restaurants creates competition, which in turn makes us all better in the long run. People have started to notice, which is nice.
Next move: Hopefully we continue to improve on the quality of restaurants in TC, from food to service. We need more ethnic restaurants here for sure, a noodle bar and good Chinese would be a nice start. We need to continue to support our farmers who are in our backyard. We as chefs and owners need to educate them on the best way to grow/sell for our seasonal restaurant business.
On 'local': Ideally we would like to use only Old Mission products, but we know that this is not a reality. We start here and work our way around the state to fulfill our product needs. This past year we focused on serving only local fish, which limited our variety to the customer for sure. To please the customer we have to supplement the local fish with ocean fish and it also helps to excite our culinary team.
The business side: People who read The Ticker and the TCBN are our customers; we advertise in The Ticker on a regular basis. I read The Ticker everyday as it keeps me up to date on happenings in our community as well as info on restaurant openings and closings.
Dish it up: Cassoulet for sure. Braised local lamb shoulder and any other good local pork, rabbit, venison.
Inspiration: My chef from New York who I worked with while at culinary school and after I graduated. Frederic Perrier, he worked at some of the best restaurants in France while he was doing his lengthy apprenticeship. Lots of charisma, talent and energy. There are so many good cookbooks out now that have inspiring food in them. David Chang from momofuku, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert and Martin Picard to name a few.
Where I eat: We like Siren Hall, Red Ginger, Stella, The Cooks' House, La Becasse. Chefs Inn for an awesome sandwich.
Executive Chef &
Director of Operations
My foodie town: What this means to me is that the restaurateurs and chefs who have made TC a foodie town have the right idea and are doing the right things to keep this movement in full motion. I don't believe it happened all that quickly, rather it has been a progression of almost 10 years in the works. Something as large as this for this area doesn't happen overnight.
Next move: We build on this already sterling reputation by doing exactly what has gotten us here in the first place. Hard work, collaboration with other restaurants, special events, opening new restaurants, expansion of the restaurant infrastructure of the area and sharing of information with fellow chefs.
On 'local': Local to me means anything that I source from the state of Michigan. My squash and heirloom tomatoes come from Copemish. Whole hogs that we've fabricated for charcuterie come from Coopersville. I get honey from Otto's farm near Grand Rapids. My rabbits and quail eggs come from Bunny Hop Ranch in Leelanau County. The greatest fromage blanc and raclette cheese come from Leelanau Cheese. Point is, if we are spending our restaurant dollars within the state the revenue stays within the state. It's a win-win for everyone involved.
The business side: A business mind needs to be one of a chef's top two shining points at the forefront of their mind with respect to restaurant success. A chef can be a great cook, a great leader, a great administrator, a great mentor, a great butcher, a great visionary, but if they don't understand the business aspect of a restaurant your success rate for the future will not be high. To be a great chef you have to have the concept of food and labor costs as part of your arsenal.
Dish it up: It's not so much a dish that I like to prepare but charcuterie – a craft that I am tremendously passionate about. It is almost a science. It requires patience and precision. To be able to take a whole hog and turn it into salumi, coppa, prosciutto, Serrano ham, lomo is satisfying and unbelievably rewarding.
Inspiration: My mother inspired me when I was young as she is truly a phenomenal cook. My father being a skilled butcher when he was young and showing me that trade was also truly inspiring. I get inspiration for dishes and general creativity by going to Chicago and eating at multiple restaurants. Seeing what other chefs have going on makes you want to step up your culinary game.
My foodie town: Frankly, I'm humored by the term "foodie." Often people use the term in an attempt to escalate the importance of the compliment they just gave me. It's become a pompous status badge … you asked.
Next move: Hand in hand with the farmers and wineries. The local food, chefs and winemakers have all risen to shine at the same time. Twenty years ago we were doing great things at Windows Restaurant, but it was so hard to get quality local foods and wine to ride along with us. Right now it's happening all over northwest Michigan; just continue.
On 'local': Literally doing business with people that have an equal opportunity to reciprocate business with me. Whether it's the guy I buy eggs from, my plumber or my insurance agent, I like to keep them close. I enjoy handing checks to farmers with dirty hands. It's not always easy, but it's always worth it. I proudly use many local products but it's not my overriding focus – quality, freshness and uniqueness are. When that criteria comes locally, it's awesome.
The business side: It factors in less than most traditional "business minds" might think. In a small restaurant like mine I'll succeed if I pay more attention to my guest and the plates I'm creating vs. caring about advice from my accountant. I'm not foolish, but that's my business model.
Dish it up: Soup. It's alchemy.
Inspiration: My father & TC restaurateur Charlie Chamberlain; Phil Murray (Windows alum 1988-2003); French chef Eric Ripert.
Where I eat: We spend so much time at work/away from home that it's often hard to go out, so my wife Mari's home cooking gets my vote – but if I had to choose a restaurant, J&S Hamburg downtown TC.