Market Chef : Mike Eells
If you’ve ever eaten at the Coutry Cat you know that at that restaurant freshness is a benevolent, if strict, ruler. If-you want-it-done-right-DIY is the backbone, the silent motto of all the work that goes on in that kitchen. Luckily enough for us and for the restaurant, sous chef Mike Eells effortlessly adheres to that philosophy – he probably couldn’t break allegiance if he tried.
Growing up in McMinnville, Eells spent the weekends, evenings and summers getting good and dirty in the garden that his mother kept. Working by her side, tending the vegetable patch that fed the family through the summer and baking with her in the kitchen during the less-sunkissed months, food and freshness and hard-working hands have always been inexorably linked in Eells’ world. Nowadays, he keeps his own plot of land, “I plant every spring. It’s a small little patch, but it’s enough for me.”
A little innocent chanterelle hunting with his father led to his first paying gig with a professional kitchen. “My dad got on this kick of collecting chanterelles and morels and we’d go out and end up with way too many of them,” he says. The best kind of embarrassment of riches! “We went in to our favorite restaurant for brunch after one of these hunts and mentioned that we had way too many of these mushrooms. They ended up sort of hiring us to collect chanterelles for them every weekend. I still do it now – my roommate and I tried to go deer hunting a little bit a go, but we ended up just picking chanterelles instead – by the crateful.” Treat though venison is, I’ll take a crate of chanterelles over that any day.
By age 20, following a not-awesome stint in college, Eells found himself in a series of restaurant kitchens. The 9 hour shifts seemed to fly by and it quickly became clear that food wasn’t just a passion, it was a true calling. “I’ve always had a pretty strong understanding of flavor so it came pretty naturally but I realized I needed to build technique so after a few kitchen jobs I decided to go Oregon Culinary Institute for professional training.” And as for his current gig? “I got so lucky when I landed at Country Cat straight out of culinary school. Adam and Jackie are so great. I love coming to this place. I just keep learning so I’m not going anywhere.”
Find Mike at the Country Cat in the kitchen during the morning hours – from 5:30am on! – making seasonally-inspired versions of the Great Breakfast Classics like Eggs Benedict and country ham and eggs, as well as helping Chef Sappington with the heavy lifting, breaking down whole pigs and sides of cow into good food that feeds body and soul. Find Mike in action this weekend at the Montavilla Farmers Market making a summer-y-licious, sun-drenched August tomato soup!
Garden Fresh Tomato soup
- 2 lbs fresh tomato, peeled and seeded, quartered or smashed by hand, save the juice!
- 1 cup small diced carrot
- 1 cup small diced celery
- 2 cup small diced onion
- 6 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
- sachet of fresh herbs and spices:
- small bunch each of parsley, thyme, sage
- bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon peppercorn
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 3 or 4 allspice berries
- 2 cloves
- 1 star anise
- salt to taste
- sugar or other sweetener for balance
- vegetable oil