The Traverse City area takes its food and drink seriously, which is why it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. The Cooks’ House is a perfect example of why I’m drawn to this part of the state. The restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients to create eye-catching dishes that please the palate and support the community.
Two years ago, chefs Eric Patterson and Jeremy Heisey allowed me to shoot in the kitchen of their original location, which meant squeezing myself between the stove and the sink. Empty plates, the aftermath of satisfied diners, were passed under my nose to a hardworking dishwasher.
This trip, I’m going to shoot at their new location, just across the street from where I had my first encounter with their artful food. As I walk inside, I realize it’s not too much larger. Chef and co-owner Jennifer Blakeslee secures me a prime spot at the bar. From here, I take in the activity in the kitchen and the busy dining area, where there’s a nice buzz. The crowd is sophisticated but casual. I chat with a couple of serious foodies from Columbus, Ohio. They have heard good things about The Cooks’ House.
I can see (and smell) the reason for the rave reviews as I photograph entrees before servers sweep them away to hungry guests. A simple but popular arugula salad of caramelized onions, candied pumpkin seeds and goat cheese catches my eye.
Another server walks by bearing a plate of walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lamb’s quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette that smells as delicious as it sounds. And my favorite thing to shoot: hand-cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers. The composition and delicate flower petals scattered across the plate draw my attention. Plus, I’m a fan of anything with homemade pasta. I soon realize that I won’t be able to leave without buying dinner.
As I shoot, I enjoy talking with the amicable staff. One of the line cooks is doing fantastic work, and it turns out he was the aforementioned dishwasher from my last visit. We joke about our previous close encounter. The sommelier joins the conversation, and we start talking about Sauvignon Blancs, a recent favorite of mine. She suggests a Semillon, a dry and sweet white wine.
I can almost taste the smooth, crisp wine. I’m convinced. I opt to occupy my bar perch a bit longer and taste one of the dishes I’ve seen and smelled all evening. The chefs prepare my meal of the pasta and arugula salad. I officially call it a night by pairing my food with a cool glass of the recommended Semillon.
Kevin J. Miyazaki is a Midwest-based magazine photographer. His food and restaurant photographs have appeared in Michigan Travel Ideas, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Midwest Living and Travel + Leisure.