LET um EAT is about connections and community; about the Seeders and Feeders of the food revolution helping each other out and making business better for everyone. When Jason French asked us to keep an ear open for a new chef de cuisine to join him at Ned Ludd and Elder Hall we were happy to turn to our network. LET um EAT Chef Karl Holl reached out to a chef friend in California that he thought would be interested in the position and within a week the LET um EAT crew was hanging out in Jason’s kitchen with Mike Delaney, drinking beer, eating blood sausage on toast and BBQing on the back deck.
LET um EAT’s Karl Holl and James Serlin met Mike Delaney as young chefs at St Helena’s renowned but now-closed Martini House. In addition to spending countless hours in the kitchen, Karl, James and Mike did a lot of mushroom foraging together, hunting for chanterelles, porcinis, matsutakes, hedgehogs and yellow foots in the Napa Valley and on the Sonoma coast. On the line and in the woods, bonds were formed, and they’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Since Martini House, Mike has spent five years as sous chef at Healdsburg’s Madrona Manor and was then the chef de cuisine at Baker and Banker in San Francisco. A series of events led him back to the Napa Valley and for the last two and a half years he’s been a chef for Jackson Family Wines. “It’s always been my long term goal to end up in the Pacific Northwest once I leave California” says Mike, and now the opportunity has presented itself.
Just a month ago Karl put Jason and Mike in touch, suggesting that they might be able to help each other out. Mike and Jason had a couple of phone conversations and decided he should come up to Portland to further discuss the position. They spent the week hanging out, went to a couple of restaurants (Expatriate and Podnah’s), ate and cooked at Ned Ludd and even went to Jason’s daughter’s gymnastics class. Hey, it’s a family business.
Mike Delaney has accepted the chef de cuisine position at Ned Ludd and Elder Hall and will be in the wood-fired kitchen before the end of April.
We gave Mike a call this week while he was walking his dog before work and asked him a few questions about his upcoming move to the PNW and new job.
LET um EAT: Have you spent much time in Oregon?
Delaney: Quite a bit actually. My late grandfather used to live in Oregon. He used to work for the Department of Interior with National Parks (that’s how my family originally ended up in the DC area) and he retired to Oregon in the 80s. We used to make a lot of cross country trips as kids, to go camping with my family in Oregon, up and down the coast. My brother also lived here for 10 years and I came to visit him a lot. More recently with Jackson Family events I’ve come up here at least 6 times a year. Oregon has always been on my radar.
LET um EAT: What are you most excited about moving to Oregon?
Delaney: Well I’d be lying if I didn’t say fly fishing. No, but I’m also excited to move somewhere with a legitimate farm-to-table movement. There’s so much incredible produce and meat up here and a genuine clientele that really appreciates it. That’s really the ultimate, from a professional standpoint. I went and apprenticed in Italy for 6 months after culinary school and that experience really shaped how I wanted to cook. That was a big motivation to move out to California originally. When I was starting my career, you couldn’t really cook like that in Maryland [where I’m from]. Although things are really changing now, there is definitely a growing demand for quality local produce all across the country, but it is still relatively new. In Oregon it seems to be really engrained in the culture.
LET um EAT: What do you think about the kitchen set up at Ned Ludd, with having to run the restaurant out of the wood-fired oven?
Delaney: It’ll be challenge for sure. But I’m stoked to look at the way I cook differently, to reinvent myself a little bit. It’s definitely a different style of cooking. I’ve done a lot of fine dining recently, but I’m looking forward to stripping things down to their essential flavors. As far as cooking on wood, I really started my career that way. One of my mentors while I was in culinary school was a Carolina boy named Don Mastroni who owned a BBQ company. We used to cook whole hogs on barrel smokers with peach and apple wood. We’d stay up all night tending to the fires. The opportunity to cook with the wood-fired oven at Ned Ludd kind of feels like I’m coming back to my roots. Wood-fired cooking is pretty near and dear to me. It’s a real skill to be able to manipulate and cook on fire. We have some wood fired ovens at Jackson Family but I’ve never ran a restaurant off of one. I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
As for Jason French’s thoughts on the introduction through LET um EAT and bringing Mike onto the team:
“I’ve grown close to and trust my friendship with the LET um EAT crew and was thrilled when they thought Mike would be interested in the job. I wanted someone who could handle a growing business, culinarily and organizationally. After an initial conversation with Mike I knew he could be a great fit. We strive for creating a food culture here and not just a culture of work. When I asked Mike about his interests on his day off he mentioned eating out, drinking wine and then said, “I actually prefer to fly fish and forage and will often leave work and head to a river on my Friday….” I knew he would be an asset. His food is remarkable and his resume speaks to someone dedicated to all the aspects of being a great chef and leader in the industry. We look forward to welcoming Mike back to Oregon and into Ned Ludd and Elder Hall family in April!”
Mike is due to start in the kitchen at Ned Ludd on April 26. The LET um EAT team is also looking forward to having him around and to the many fly fishing, mushroom foraging and camping trips that will ensue.