Work from a Magazine Shoot
Below is the article from Edible Grande Traverse Magazine. (Thank you Tamara!)I felt it was a really good shoot.The full issue is available online as well :) More of the photos from the shoot can be seen at my photoshelter account.
Farm to Table
American Spoon Café
Ready for a full-tilt boogie summer
By Tamara Stevens
|Chef Chris Dettmer and front manager Pete Peterson
(center, in matching shirts),along with their crew,
are ready to rock with fresh ingredients and a remodeled café.
Photo by Tracy Grant.
“I approach composing a dish the same way a sommelier chooses wine to enhance the meal,” states Chris Dettmer, culinary director for American Spoon Foods and the American Spoon Cafe. “I want the different flavors to support each other, not dominate or compete with one another. The herbs should complement the food’s flavor, not cover it up. And I want to celebrate many vegetables, not have the same with each entree. Food should give us a sense of vitality.”
Sitting on high stools at the reclaimed black walnut bar recently installed at the cafe, looking out on Petoskey’s Pennsylvania Park shaded by ancient black walnut trees, the chef is sharing his love of food. Listening to how he creates a dish such as his Spring Panzanella — bread salad with cattail shoots, pickled ramps and wild watercress — is much like listening to a poet read aloud his own poem.
His articulate nature makes sense when you learn he has a master’s degree in English and once taught literature at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. Although he considered continuing on for a PhD or going to law school, all the while he cooked at night to support himself. “I always wanted to be a chef,” he says.
Now Chef Chris plans each item on his menu with great consideration to individual ingredients and flavor pairings, making each dish unique. He is proud that more than 90 percent of the cafe’s ingredients are farmed or foraged locally.
“Our philosophy is to celebrate the agriculture of our area, where we have such a diverse array of products that are grown locally due to the unique climate with the lake. We have some of the best produce in the state, and we want to celebrate it and the farmers who grow it, the relationships we have with them, and in turn celebrate the sense of place of Northern Michigan.”
The beef for the bavette steak is from the Gallagher Farms. The walleye is locally caught. The goat milk used for the house-made ricotta cheese comes from Minnie’s By The Creek, on Ellsworth Road in Petoskey. Most of the vegetables come from Blackbird Gardens, Coveyou Scenic Farm or Bill’s Farm Market, all near Petoskey, or the Dhaseleer Produce Farm, south of Charlevoix. Duck eggs come from Cedar and sometimes a little stand just down the road.
The staff are making English muffins, smoking their own whitefish, grinding the pork for their sausage and the beef for their burgers and pickling just about anything that fits in a jar. “Pickled and smoked are two of my favorite flavors,” confesses Chris.
When American Spoon Cafe reopened in May after its annual winter hiatus, owner and CEO Justin Rashid, his son Noah Marshall- Rashid and chef Chris Dettmer unveiled not only extensive renovations and a fresh interior design but also a newly configured outdoor seating area, a large communal table cut from a slab of black walnut for solo diners, full dinner service and a liquor license.
The upgrades coincide with the company’s 30th anniversary of making artisan jams, jellies and preserves. Now, what began in 2001 as a gelato cafe with coffee drinks, breakfast and lunch has evolved into a full-service fine-dining restaurant. (Gelato lovers need not fear, though — the Italian version of ice cream is still available, in all of American Spoon’s rich and fruity flavors.)
While Chris oversees kitchen operations and develops the menu, the front of the restaurant is now masterfully orchestrated by Harlan “Pete” Peterson, former chef and owner of Ellsworth’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Tapawingo Restaurant. Pete, as he is known, is a three-time James Beard Award nominee for “Best Chef: Midwest.” He studied culinary arts in Paris, where he met his idol, Julia Child. He’s cooked for some of America’s greatest chefs. After an impressive 25 years offering exquisite dining to a loyal following, Tapawingo closed its doors in January 2009.
Pete admits that he was ready to get out of the business of running a restaurant, but not ready to get out of the food world. Since closing his restaurant, he says he’s still been “busy in the kitchen.” He works with the Founders Board at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, hosting “Great Chef” dinners as fund-raisers for the college’s culinary school, and, along with a chef partner, has provided private dinners to exclusive clients. At 69, Pete is at an age when most of us would consider retiring, but says he draws energy from the restaurant’s young staff and from interesting conversations with dinner guests.
Pete goes way back with Justin Rashid, who was himself recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 1984 for exceptional leadership in American cuisine. They first met when Pete was a chef at the Rowe Inn in Ellsworth. Later, Justin and his family dined at Pete’s Tapawingo, and Justin would often appear at the restaurant’s kitchen door with edible treasures he had foraged in woods and along creeks.
“Justin was doing that before it was cool,” adds Chris.
“Pete is such a pioneer of the local food movement in Northern Michigan,” Justin says. “He is the most popular and most respected among food lovers here and anybody who comes up north. He elevated the quality and standard of the dining experience in our area. It’s a great pleasure to have him in the cafe. He’s here to manage by teaching all those countless details of pleasing guests.”
Pete’s reputation was well known to Chef Chris long before their first meeting. Chris is originally from Ann Arbor; his wife, Carolyn, grew up in Petoskey and has known Noah since grade school. Chris’s cousin worked for Pete at Tapawingo, and so had one of the chefs Chris worked with in California.
Chris had gone to California for the food, and studied at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He eventually became the chef de cuisine at the Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley. On his way to Meadowood, he spent seven years cooking in some of Northern California’s premier restaurants, including as sous-chef at the Michelin two-star Chez TJ, 36 Edible and as saucier for chef Daniel Humm at the three-star Campton Place. He even appeared on Iron Chef America, as well as televised cooking programs on PBS and BBC.
In 2010, Chris had just returned to his native Michigan with his wife and infant son when he had his first meeting with Pete. Pete describes it as a conversation where they connected over food, chefs and restaurants, and then “a flame was ignited;” the two culinary masters clicked. Subsequent conversations over the winter brought about a plan to place Pete as dining room manager of the newly renovated and expanded American Spoon Cafe.
“I told Pete it was my wildest dream to have him in the cafe — in a consulting capacity or however he would like to participate,” says Chris. “Everyone spoke highly of him.”
Pete has been watching Chris and sees how everything the chef does is driven by flavor. He loves being involved with dining again, and in a setting where the staff has a passion for quality and high standards.
“I am all too happy with the resurgence of real restaurants that cook real food,” says Pete. “I love being here, that’s no baloney. I could only work in an establishment if I was confident that the product was high class. Justin and his family are such quality people, I have so much respect for them.”
Chef Chris’s menus reflect his Northern California experience and his own love of vegetables, and make full use of Michigan varieties of farmed and foraged produce. Wild ingredients like ramps, asparagus, watercress, nettles, morel mushrooms and spearmint were well represented on the spring menu, often foraged by Justin. As the seasons change and other varieties of local produce become available, so will the menu.
“The constant will be the standard of deliciousness. Everything is done well and should be phenomenal,” says Chris.
The cafe and its guests often serve as testing ground and testers for new products that end up on the shelves of American Spoon Foods’ six stores. Last fall, they pickled fresh cucumbers and served them on the their hamburgers. An obvious hit, jars of pickles were soon available for purchase in the stores.
The new liquor license brings a beer list made up exclusively of Michigan brews, from locations including Weberville, Frankenmuth, Dexter, Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids. However, “There are too many good wines out there to restrict our selection to just Michigan,” says Chris. Patrons can choose from over 35 wines including American Pinot Noir, Napa Valley Cabernet, white Burgundy and true Champagne. Cocktail creations are almost limitless, as the chef puts his signature twist on old standards — such as Mimosas made with Champagne and a blood orange sorbetto. As summer comes on there will be fruit-infused vodkas and gins to blend into the bar selections.
Event plans include private parties, tastings and farm dinners — both in the cafe and on location at the farms. Pete expects this summer to be “a full-tilt boogie,” with dinner added to the repertoire, the expanding culinary reputation of the region, and as his old friends hear that he is back in the area.
“Part of my motivation is I don’t want to disappoint Pete,” says Chris. “His reputation, his knowledge of food, his expertise — if Pete Peterson is my critic and standard of quality, everybody is going to be happy, because he knows food so well.”
American Spoon Café is located at 413 E. Lake St., next to Pennsylvania Park. Breakfast and lunch are served seven days a week; dinner Tuesday through Saturday. House-made gelato and espresso drinks are available all day long. 231-347-7004, Spoon.com/cafe.
Tamara Stevens is a writer and photographer living in northern Emmet County. She wrote the article “Still Local After All These Years,” on American Spoon Foods, in the Holiday 2011 issue of Edible Grande Traverse magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.