Traverse City, MI: The Chef's Choice

Traverse City’s reputation as a top foodie destination is growing as more stellar chefs choose to move to the area, open a restaurant, and knock our socks off. We asked four of the region’s most raved about chefs, “Why?”

Published: 6/27/2017

Executive Chef James Morse, The Boathouse Restaurant

“Most people don’t know that Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state behind California. Our region boasts so many great foods. I can get the freshest products, made with love, and connect with the providers on a personal level. My customers enjoy the story we tell about where the ingredients came from, when they were picked, and by whom. This makes my job as a chef that much more rewarding. Showcasing these great ingredients allows me to serve my guests unique dishes with flavors that they can’t find everywhere.”

Chef Dave Denison, Amical

“The farmers of this region have been here for multiple generations and farm-to-table has always been a way of life. As visitors began to take notice of this region as a destination, more were inspired to raise, grow, cook, create, and invest their resources, talent, and passion. More wineries, vineyards, and hops farms along with restaurants, brew pubs, and food trucks popped up. There’s a multitude of choices for the sights, smells, and experiences while enjoying a backdrop of natural beauty. Most of us chefs don’t mind the hours of toiling in the kitchen when we can step outside and live the life most others can’t. My question is ‘How did this region go unnoticed for so long by so many?!’”

Chef Paul Olson, Mission Table

“I get excited in the summer when there’s a lot of awesome produce. In May, the asparagus comes in, and that’s the start of it. Morels and Ramps start popping up everywhere. I spent several years as a chef in New York City and Connecticut, and we paid 16 dollars or more per pound for them. Here they grow in my backyard. In June, the fruit starts with strawberries and then on to blueberries and raspberries in July. Of course it depends upon the weather conditions and every year is a bit different, but that’s part of the fun too. We call up the farmer and place an order, and they bring it right after they pick it. In August, the Sun Gold tomatoes are amazing. I could go on and on. Being a chef here is inspiring because everything is so fresh—it comes straight from the soil to our kitchen.”

Chef Jennifer Blakeslee, The Cooks’ House

“My partner, Eric Patterson, and I were working in a Michelin-starred kitchen under French Chef André Rochat when we decided to move here and open our own restaurant. Of course we were excited to have a more intimate venue and complete control over our menu. But more importantly, the agriculture here is so plentiful! Several food growing programs have been established that allow farmers to raise crops throughout the year. Also, when we started out nine years ago, we went to the Farmers’ Market for our ingredients. Now, the farmers meet with us each December, and we pick the seeds we want them to grow. We use what they grow until it’s gone. This keeps challenging us to try new ingredients. It’s a very attractive arrangement for chefs who have worked at top restaurants around the world. Here we can source great ingredients, inspire each other, and raise our children in a beautiful community.”

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2017 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.