Gourmet – Food from the Heartland
Story by Megan Whitehead | Jun 27, 2016
Adam Sappington brings food from the Midwest to the West Coast.
photos by John Valls
Adam Sappington, executive chef at The Country Cat in Portland, Oregon, embeds his Midwest upbringing into his award-winning cooking. Being from a long line of Missourians, it comes as no surprise that Adam incorporated that heritage into his food and new cookbook, “Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from The Country Cat.”
As a child, Adam went through Jefferson City Public Schools: West Elementary, Jeff Jr., Simonsen and Jefferson City High School. He also spent time with his father while he DJ’d at the VFW and Elks Lodge in Jefferson City. Adam’s love of cooking started at this young age, shopping at farmers markets with his grandmother, who inspired his famous fried chicken with the recipe she would cook for inmates in Vienna, Missouri and cooking with his mother when he wasn’t with his father.
In order to expand his culinary pursuits, Adam attended Western Culinary Institute in Portland. He began his career at Portland’s Wildwood restaurant, where he met his wife, Jackie, The Country Cat’s executive pastry chef. After 11 years at Wildwood, Adam and Jackie opened The Country Cat in 2007. Their restaurant specializes in American craft cooking with a seasonal menu comprised of made-from-scratch foods created with ingredients from local farmers markets. Called “soulful and heartwarming,” the Sappingtons create comfort food that is beautiful and delicious.
Adam and Jackie fell in love at first sight, “over the stove.” This shows in their teamwork and continued success in their business ventures. They have two children, Atticus and Quinn, who have grown up in the industry. A self-proclaimed “restaurant family,” the Sappingtons make their kids their number one priority, teaching and cooking together.
Community is very important to Adam. He works to source his ingredients locally; he volunteers at the farmers markets and minimizes waste where he can. He also donates the proceeds from several dinners a year to the local public schools.
Adam’s interest in education doesn’t end there. He hopes to use his culinary skills to teach future chefs, and he’s even contemplating opening a farm-to-table school where he could teach young chefs how to run a sustainable restaurant. “As you begin to cook and learn, there is an innate want to spread that knowledge,” Adam says. “Through being in the kitchen, teaching classes and demonstrating at farmers markets, my desire to educate grew. As long as people are interested, I am willing to teach.”
In addition, Adam has taught classes at the Culinary Institute of America; the French Culinary Institute, in New York; and the Portland Meat Collective. Adam is well-known for his butchery, crafting the cuts of meat he uses in the restaurant himself. Time critic Josh Ozersky says, “I would call Adam the preeminent butchering chef in America. There are probably guys that cut up more meat than he does, and maybe better chefs, but nobody that butchers cooks as well, and there’s nobody that cooks as well as he does that’s truly a first-rate butcher.”
The Sappingtons and The Country Cat have been honored with several awards and recognitions in recent years. Adam was a nominee for the James Beard Award, a prestigious cooking honor, and a semifinalist for the award’s Best Chef: Northwest category three times since 2012. The Country Cat appeared on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in 2013; in 2014, Adam showcased The Country Cat’s cast iron skillet-fried chicken and biscuits on ABC’s “The Chew” and Adam and Jackie won Food Network’s “Chopped” in 2015. The Country Cat will also appear this summer on “Food Paradise,” on the Travel Channel.
Adam and Jackie are looking to expand their business with a new location at Portland International Airport. They have also opened an event space called The Calico Room, and they’ve created a popular apron line. The line, Broken Cleaver, features “fashionable yet functional aprons,” which include the Butcher, Baker’s, and Bistro aprons.
The Sappingtons passion for their work, love of their community, and desire to teach the next generation of culinary artists culminate in the success that they and their restaurant produce. Adam’s Midwestern upbringing has given the West Coast a small taste of Missouri.
For more about Adam and Jackie, visit their website, thecountrycat.net.