When Chef/Owner Jeff Mitchell opened Naples, Fla.’s first farm to table restaurant, The Local, he brought with him a family heritage of three generations of professional restaurateurs and accomplished home cooks. His Italian grandparents owned a restaurant in Detroit serving traditional Italian home style cooking, and his Italian mother is a passionate cook whose nightly dinners were cooked from scratch from the freshest and best ingredients. She was also Chef’s earliest influence.
The dinner table drew his large, extended family together, with meal preparation a family affair. Mitchell was assigned to make scratch pasta — at age seven. By eight years old, he was making his own fettuccini from scratch as an after school snack. For greens, he accompanied his uncle to forage in open fields for dandelions, trips that became a lifelong memory and formative influence.
During a wilderness trip on less-than-appealing rations, Mitchell was nominated chef for the group, and combined his innate palate and his foraging experience for rations — to rave reviews. He was a designated chef on a second wilderness expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School, when he made three meals a day, including gnocchi from powdered potato and milk. Again, he enjoyed five star reviews.
While not a traditional route for a chef, it did the trick. “When my father picked me up at the airport from Patagonia I announced that I wanted to go to culinary school,” said Mitchell. He sent off his application to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Before enrolling in the CIA, he returned to Colorado (Boulder) and worked in the kitchen of the local Red Fish restaurant learning about Louisiana cuisine and in particular, its French roots. The restaurant’s chef took him on as an apprentice and “taught me everything, especially the French basics,” said Mitchell. “He was an extremely talented mentor.”
After graduating from the CIA, he relocated to Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s hospitality and tourism program full time, while working full time at the farm-to-table restaurant The Creamery. At The Creamery, the owner would challenge him to come up with recipes on the spot based on the day’s delivery of fresh produce and meat. “It opened up my creativity,” Mitchell says. The experience was also a key to Chef Jeff’s future farm to table restaurant.
He settled in Naples after visiting his parents, who were seasonal residents. He gained front-of-the-house experience as a server for a local chain of highly acclaimed restaurants, and was soon promoted to wine director for the entire group. The experience proved invaluable. “I was able to use my hospitality training in yield management and also learned to run multiple restaurants,” he notes. In the process, he became a consummate restaurateur . . . and began dreaming of owning his own restaurant.
The Local is the realization of a lifelong dream. It opened to fanfare and continues to earn excellent reviews and a devoted following.