There are no tangible pretensions at The Cooks’ House; it is cozy and welcoming as soon as the guest enters the small restaurant in downtown Traverse City. To describe The Cooks’ House is not a simple task. The owners and chefs, Jennifer Blakeslee and Eric Patterson, explain the food as “regional new American.” They both have diverse backgrounds that bring a mix of influences to the foods they collaborate on. “Regional” refers to the foods they use being purchased almost entirely from local farmers and suppliers; where as “new American” draws from a diversity of influences that can speak through The Cooks’ House creations.
Jennifer and Eric were living and working as chefs at Andre’s in Las Vegas not too long ago when they decided it was time for a change; a big change. Both had longstanding and impressive food careers, but were looking to do something more independent. Jennifer is originally from the Northern Michigan area and suggested Traverse City as the answer to their mission of creating a restaurant that embodied local sustainability. In 2008, they made the move—Eric and his wife had never even visited the area, but they trusted Jennifer’s recommendation. Everyone has been supremely pleased with the community, and the ways in which The Cooks’ House has been able to support local sustainable cuisine.
From the choices they make in the kitchen to whom they collaborate with, it is obvious that Jennifer and Eric care a lot about what The Cooks’ House is doing in Traverse City. Eric explains, “We are very involved in the community.” Both go on to elaborate that it is important to them to be community members. They are involved in everything from Paella in the Park to the supporting the Michigan Land Use Institute to participating in Food for Thought’s Green Cuisine. The Cooks’ House even has their own annual fundraising event for the Coalition Health Access Program.
Very regularly, The Cooks’ House puts on a Wine & Beer Dinner Series where Jennifer and Eric partner with a local winery or brewery to create an evening of food and spirits. Before each dinner, they taste the wines and beers to then create a menu for a five-course meal that compliments the latter. Usually it is a very unique and singular experience because the restaurant is so small in size, so both The Cooks’ House and the collaborators can get experimental and showcase the region.
It is really apparent that Jennifer and Eric are interested in creating menus from good food, and are excited about what they have created. Eric explains, “We don’t try to have any airs about us. We are not trying to be a high end restaurant.” Both of them seem genuinely invested in showcasing the foods that they are able to get from the more than 70 farmers that they work with, most of those being within a 60-mile radius. Jennifer goes on to explain, “For us, its about the food and the people.”
The Cooks’ House is the epitome of local food, and they revel in the opportunity it brings to their menus. Eric says, “The farmers we buy from are the rockstars, you can taste the love they put into their product.” Both he and Jennifer agree that it is the care and hard work the local suppliers put into their food that should be attributed to the successes of their menus and their restaurant. Local sustainable cuisine means more than just a place where people go to eat, instead, Eric explains, “We try to live the idea that a restaurant is a community builder.” Northern Michigan is lucky to have The Cooks’ House as a part of its community.