Eric Peterson learned at the age of 3 that food can bring joy and facilitate connections, and he’s carried that knowledge into adulthood, turning his once budding passion into a profession.
“When I was young, I would stay with my grandma, and we would make cookies. Taking those goodies to my family, I saw how happy that made them,” said Peterson, the owner and chef of The Fresh Palate, a popular bistro located in his hometown of Alpena.
The Fresh Palate offers simple farm-to-table options like Mexicali Blues (salsa, guacamole and chips) and unique dishes like Blue Shine (blue corn-encrusted chicken, Spanish rice, cilantro corn, guacamole and chipotle ranch), seemingly southwestern themes. Other trendy options include You Sashimi (ahi tuna, avocado, cucumber, wonton chips and horseradish sauce) and Traveling Hart (bulgogi steak, wild rice risotto, kale, Brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, tomatoes and green onions). Peterson’s featured Jah Bless combines a Thai curry butternut squash burger with peanut sauce, caramelized onion, smoked Gouda, tomato and microgreens. It comes with smoked paprika sweet potato fries and spicy black garlic aioli.
Peterson described his menu as “farm-to-table with a West Coast fusion.” Using seasonal, fresh ingredients, much of Peterson’s menu is similar to those found in San Francisco or Portland, Oregon, which isn’t surprising considering his background.
“I moved out when I was only 15 years old. I had my own apartment, and early on, I started hosting a lot of get-togethers where I would cook and make drinks for my friends,” Peterson said.
He landed his first restaurant job at 15 working as a dishwasher, then moved up to line cook shortly after. After high school, he bounced around from California to Hawaii to Oregon and elsewhere, always working in restaurants, always starting out as a dishwasher and ending in a higher position.
Peterson then attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland and interned at Jardinière, one of San Francisco’s most influential restaurants, known for it is California-French cuisine.
“Culinary school taught me a ton about product identification, flavor profile, balancing flavor and traditional old-world French style cooking technique,” Peterson said. “Jardinière was the first place to show me how farm-to-table worked. … They taught me how simple is very elegant.”
Despite working in several large cities, Peterson said he chose to open his restaurant in Alpena because he wanted to give something back to the community.
“It’s a good place to raise a family, and I was ready to do that,” said Peterson who has three children. “I appreciate the community I’m from. ….”
Mary Beth Stutzman, president and CEO of the Alpena Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said The Fresh Palate, which opened in 2009, is more to the community than just a restaurant; it’s become a local hangout.
“Live music has also found its way into the heartbeat of The Fresh Palate experience,” Stutzman said. “The Fresh Palate experience goes from foodie haven to full-body immersion, touching upon all five senses. Guests leave a touch calmer, a song lighter and with a happy belly.”
Megan Westers is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about dining and spirits.