Taking the Culinary Reins

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Local woman executive chefs make their mark.

West Michigan is no stranger to fine, eclectic, locally sourced dining. Meet three executive chefs making their mark on the landscape—and the table.

Featuring local products on the menu is a matter of pride for Chef Jenna Arcidiacono, Amore Trattoria Italiana co-owner. "One of my favorite summer dishes is 'fiori di zucca' (stuffed zucchini flowers). At Amore, we stuff the flower with locally made farm country cheese and beer-batter them with Founder's Centennial IPA. The more locally made ingredients, the better!"

For a great dining experience, Arcidiacono advises, "Always look for the locally grown or made products. You won't really find a delicious local tomato until late summer, so I don't put the Caprese salad on the menu until then. Ask your server what is fresh and locally grown."

Arcidiacono's Italian cooking expertise comes from formal culinary training (and living for five years) in Italy and having an Italian mother-in-law to learn from. "I feel like feeding people is my duty in life—to nourish them with food and smiles." www.amoretrattoriaitaliana.com/

Erin Jeffers, of Olive's, feels food connects people from all walks—everyone eats, and that's common ground enough to start a conversation. "I love the way food can challenge you, expanding your mind by expanding your palate. I love the way food comforts. I love the way food nourishes." Indian summer is Jeffers' favorite time of the year. "Our gardens are chock full of sweet, crunchy, fresh vegetables. I love simple risottos that showcase produce in its prime. Succotash is perfect for this season, a Depression-era favorite."

When dining out, Jeffers suggests, "If at all possible, order your dish the way the chef has written it." Typically, a chef constructs a dish based on specific key elements: sweet, salt, spice, crunch, cool. Modifying a dish could alter the balance and compromise your meal's flavors.

Jeffers needs to work with her hands to feel satisfied. "The most rewarding part of the day is tasting the final product and understanding what my staff and I are capable of, with a little hard work and a lot of good Michigan product." http://eatatolives.com/

Grace Gager, of One Trick Pony, likes lighter fare for summer's warmer weather and late dinnertime. "West Michigan has abundant greenhouses producing quality salad greens year-round that I love to take advantage of. These nutrient-packed greens, tossed in citrus vinaigrette, topped with wholesome quinoa and pickled veggies, are one of my favorite 'feel good' foods."

When dining out, ask your server questions. "Even if they haven't tried everything on the menu, they hear hundreds of reviews from diners." Gager also advises, "Go for the specials. They'll only be around for a limited time, so get it while you can!"

Gager loves food and playing with food for a living. She loves teaching people about food, challenging their perceptions. It is a fast paced and creative environment that attracts like-minded people. And, chefs pretty much get to wear pajamas at work." http://onetrick.biz/

 Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.

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