Q&A with Local Chef About Fresh, Summer Cooking

Renowned Chef Eric Patterson shares tips for farmers market meals.

In the height of farmers market season, we talked with Chef Eric Patterson of The Cooks’ House in Traverse City about how he uses fresh produce in his cooking.

What’s it like as a chef to be able to walk down the street and hand pick your ingredients?

“Fantastic. Most good cooking is quality ingredients—75 percent is ingredients and 25 percent technique. We’re lucky to have access to fresh ingredients, especially in Northern Michigan where we have world-class produce. Second Spring, 9 Bean Rows, Loma Farmthrow a rock and you’ll find incredible ingredients.”

Do you plan your meal first, or go to the market and then plan a meal?

“I might go with an idea for a dish based on what’s in season, or I see something fabulous and develop a dish around it. Inspiration comes from walking down the aisles of the farmers market. Sometimes a dish will just develop itself. I’ve been cooking for 35 years, and it’s still magic to see how food pairs. The idea of parsnips pairing with cashews blows me out the water. You take two, three, four items, and put them together and end up with something greater than the individual.”

What do you look for when selecting produce?

“Freshness, crisp texture, vibrant colors like creamy ivory white parsnips. And I talk to farmers. They live it. They know what they’re talking about and love talking about what they do. If you’ve never seen a certain fruit or vegetable before or haven’t worked with it, ask about it. Farmers know what flavor it has and what to do with it. I promise you’ll walk away with a heck of an education.”

What are some of your favorite easy meals to make with fresh produce?

“Pasta, rice. I sauté veggies and add them to pasta. People often confuse good food and complicated food. You don’t have to get overly complicated to make a good dinner. Keep it simple.

“Read ‘The Flavor Bible.’ The first part of the book instructs on how to pair food and offers an introduction to cooking. The second part contains a list of foods, how to prepare them, and what they pair with.”

The Cooks’ House offers Farmers Market classes on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Participants go to the market to select ingredients with the chefs and head back to the kitchen to prepare and sample dishes made with the day’s purchases. The class costs $65.


By: Carly Simpson, MyNorth Media