Delight in the best of Michigan’s earth and lakes prepared in Tapawingo’s dreamy, impeccable style. The new menu for Tap’s 25th season is a nod to its earlier years, with versions of Chef Pete Peterson’s favorite, crème de la crème dishes reappearing alongside the creations of new Michigan-born chef Ray Kusmack. This ’94 Culinary Institute of American grad, just landed the chef gig of a lifetime opening Tapawingo’s 25th season.
Any surprising flavor combinations on the new menu that you think really sing?
A sassafras-cured rack of pork, marinated in root beer, paired with a vanilla potato puree, with our housemade andouille sausage gumbo sauce.
Tell me about lunch at Tapawingo.
It’s casual but within the same realm of food we do in the evening. There’s burgers, smoked salmon BLT’s on brioche. Our own sausages with onions and peppers on homemade ciabatta.
You’ve mentioned sausage twice now.
I took a charcuterie course out in Napa Valley a couple of months ago and that revitalized my approach to sausage-making and curing. We make our own pastrami and sausage, smoke our own salmon. I plan on curing fresh anchovies and marinating them for salads.
These are no ordinary anchovies I take it?
I cure them with salt, then I pour spicy vanilla brine over them. Vanilla gives them a bourbon-y, oaky kind of flavor.
What will you do with June’s rhubarb?
I’ll do a salad with warm Marcona-almond coated goat cheese, baby spinach, blanched rhubarb, fresh Michigan strawberries and a lemon-rhubarb-vanilla vinaigrette.
What were the Michigan summer foods you loved as a boy?
My dad’s a cattle farmer and we always had a garden, cucumbers, squash, beets, sweet corn, grown right there on a farm in Paw Paw. I ate a lot of beef as a kid, which I still like, but now I tend to gravitate more toward fish.
The ultimate Michigan fish dish: Maple syrup-cured smoked trout with asparagus, frisée, fresh herbs, preserved lemon and lemon-pepper dressing.
How does knowing Midwestern palates shape your cooking philosophy?
I want the food here to be very friendly and familiar. But I want it to be special—traditional foods with a contemporary tweak. The food doesn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary, but it has to be perfectly cooked. We want to give people a reason to come up here from any other part of the state. And they’ll be very happy.
Tapawingo opened its 25th season for dinner May 1st. Lunch begins June 24th. Dinner reservations required. 9502 Lake Street, Ellsworth, 86-588-7881, tapawingo.net