Tapawingo’s Culinary Maestro For Hire: Pete Peterson goes mobile with private chef service

"I never dreamed that it would be more than a simple restaurant with real, local food," says Harlan "Pete" Peterson, the founder of Tapawingo, the acclaimed restaurant that inspired one national reviewer to deem its wee hometown of Ellsworth "the region's epicenter, gastronomically speaking."

Sadly, the 25-year-old restaurant-northern Michigan's only four-star Mobil-rated establishment and an employer of roughly 50 people during peak season-closed its doors earlier this year.

"It was heart-wrenching because it was something I started from scratch," says Peterson. Also crushed? Peterson's devoted clientele, a quarter-century's worth of foodies who deemed "Tap" the place for meals that mattered.

Though the experience of dining in the elegant country inn is a milestone that'll have to remain in the histories rather than futures of Tap devotees, the experience of enjoying a meal prepared by its master chef isn't. Peterson recently announced he will continue to create his trademark eccentric and local cuisine for clients as a personal chef for private meals (intimate and group), as well as special events.

How would it work? The client would provide the location; Peterson would work with the client to craft a menu personalized for his or her purpose-a special anniversary dinner, executive meeting or corporate event, for example-and prepare the food.

Variables such as travel time, food costs and number of courses would all play a part in the total fee, but clients can expect to pay $500+ for Peterson's on-site service.

"It will still give me a chance to be creative and do the style of food that I like to do," he says, adding that he will continue with many longstanding favorites from the old Tap menu, including his popular Michigan sweet-corn soup with roasted bell pepper coulis, tomatillo sauce and bronze fennel, as well as local hallmarks like morel mushrooms and a variety of seasonally inspired salads. Main courses may include his legendary lamb or pheasant. And for the finale clients can expect everything from fine chocolate to fruit cobbler. In traditional Tap style, ingredients will be locally sourced whenever possible, says Peterson.

Foodies who want more than a taste of Peterson's culinary genius can expect another Tap tradition to live on as well: Upon special request, he will continue to offer Tapawingo-style cooking classes.

Says Peterson, "It was time to close. The economy was a factor, my age is a factor, but [the on-site cooking and freelance classes] are allowing me to get another start and to keep going, doing what I like to do." BN