Five Minutes With...

Country Cat, Big City

Adam Sappington

When I opened my restaurant, I wanted to recreate the feeling of family dinners from my childhood. I grew up in Missouri in a family that cooked simple food. My grandmother and great-grandmother made fried chicken for people in the local jail in Vienna, Mo. Whenever I thought about cooking, it was fried chicken, collard greens, biscuits. It made a big impression on me, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
I got into cooking when I was 19 at Trattoria in Columbia, Mo., which was a forward-thinking restaurant there at that time. Teri Rippeto was the chef, and gave me a shot as a grill cook.

I was in love with it. When I wasn’t cooking, I couldn’t stop thinking about it: the energy of being on the line, the open kitchen. I couldn’t sleep at night; I would lie in bed and think about how to get better. I dove into magazines and books: Saveur, "The Kentucky Housewife" by Lettice Bryan, "When French Women Cook," by Madeleine Kamman, "How America Eats" by Clementine Paddleford. They inspired me.

When I was ready to leave Missouri, I found a culinary school in Portland that I could afford. I threw everything in a truck, drove out here and never looked back. There wasn’t a lot out here at the time. Greg Higgins, Vitaly Paley and Cory Schreiber had just opened their restaurants. It was great timing.

I started working with Cory at Wildwood, and he blew my mind. He basically took a San Francisco restaurant and opened it in Portland. I got to see the farm-to-table aspect Portland is known for come to life. We would go to the market and then come back to the restaurant and write the menu. This was back in 1995, when not a lot of people were doing it.

I stayed at Wildwood for 11 years, working my way from pantry to executive chef. It allowed me to study, learn from the farms and establish myself so I could one day open my own spot. I met my wife, Jackie, there; she started two months after I did, and it was love at first sight for me. We were friends for two years, then got together.

Being in Portland allowed me to look back at my roots and pull from them an American food perspective. I had worked in fine dining restaurants all my life, but wanted to do my food, and my family’s way of cooking. We knew where our food was coming from in a small town. So we framed the restaurant around whole animals. It reflects the true sensibilities, I think, about how food should be eaten.  
We opened The Country Cat in 2007; by 2009 we started serving brunch every day. Breakfast is the most personal meal of the day. People are way pickier about how their eggs are cooked than they are about a piece of protein. It’s a very disciplined service, but it’s fun.

It’s not overly sophisticated food; it’s from all walks of life. We make fried chicken done the right way—fried in beef suet—but it takes three days to get there, to render the fat for everything. The care that goes into it is like when my grandmother made it for me. It made sense to me that my grandmother’s cooking was as good as it was, because she had her hand on the spoon. I want to bring that back, that true American craft cooking. I think you can taste the pride and appreciation in what we do.

Adam Sappington is the chef-owner of The Country Cat in Portland, Ore.

Food Memories
Grandmothers and mothers instill such lasting food memories. It is a tribute to them that you honor their caring ways with food, Best to you

6/12/2012 11:04 AM Posted By: Francie Flynn
Service
Six of us loved the food. But, the service!!! We were in for an early meal. Really difficult to get our server's attention. Several servers at the back by gthe kitchen hashing out their previous night etc. Tatally indifferent to the few customers in the restaurant.

3/19/2012 12:22 PM Posted By: elizabeth parmley



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