Amical has been open since 1994, but I first became truly conscious of the local food availability in the late 90’s. Amical started to take off when we dropped the quick service cafeteria concept completely in 2001. Our menu began to evolve and the Cookbook Dinner Series was getting some attention. The popularity of the Food Channel, celebrity chefs and quality of the published cookbooks had a lot to do with it as well. I remember Newsweek magazine did a cover feature on the Farm to Table movement. Then I realized it was a full-blown, across the board, nationwide shift in dining habits. It wasn’t just for the fine dining aspect of the restaurant industry, this included just about everyone.
As amical continued with the series, coming up with a week-long menu featuring a soup, 5 appetizers, 10 entrees and a dessert with recipes from a particular book was a challenge. It still is but certain things have changed.
Sourcing some specialty ingredients back then was time-consuming, frustrating and very difficult. Today it is much easier. In the beginning, we had decided to be as true as possible to the recipes as they were written. In our mindset, these were the rules. Looking back, I can’t believe we were so blockheaded. It’s as if we thought the recipe police were going to show up with a harsh reprimand, whack us with their whisk, label us non-compliant rule breakers, never to trust us with a best-selling cookbook again.
During that era, sourcing local products was hit or miss and somewhat unreliable. Overall, the restauranteurs didn’t understand the growers and they didn’t know what to make of us. I recall the first true effort was an organized round table meeting between chefs and farmers, arranged and mediated by Bill Palladino. That was an eye-opener.
Our guests, our staff, our local producers and the overall dining culture have made the series successful. Patrons have trusted us with our recipe interpretation. We have been able to personally converse about our selected menus with accomplished chef-authors such as Marcus Samuelsson, Donald Link and Frank Stitt. We have been able to visit the restaurants of our favorites such as Mario Batali’s Del Posto, the Bromberg Brothers Blue Ribbon and The Slanted Door of Charles Phan.
All of these experiences have taught us the obvious lessons of embracing our local and regional resources. Our meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, cheese and wine of Michigan’s treasured farms, lakes and orchards all can be found as suitable ingredient substitutions in the most acclaimed cookbook recipes of today. And that is rule we can follow.
Dave Denison is the owner and operator of amical, a downtown favorite in Traverse City. For more information about the amical Cookbook series, click here.