Someone’s in the kitchen with Pat

By Mary Lu Laffey

Pat Eldean on deck
Photo: Brooke Haveman

Pat Eldean can certainly find her way around a kitchen.

For nearly 30 years, it was the galley at Piper’s Restaurant as the owner and general manager of Holland’s legendary, waterfront dining spot. It closed in August.

It was preceded by the Sandpiper and, for a small window of time, a home-based school called “Cooking with a Flair.”

Sitting at a high top communal table at the restaurant, Pat reminisced about the wonderful goings-on in the front and the back of the Piper house. Especially during the holidays.

While dining at the Piper was a holiday tradition for many, many area residents, the restaurant was never open on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve or Christmas. “Those days and Sunday are all about family,” Pat said. With all of the meals that she and her dedicated staff shared with customers, it was easy for diners to feel as welcome as family.

More than a thousand wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners were celebrated under her watch. Business deals, New Year’s Eve celebrations and birthdays made their mark. There’s been live music, art classes and activities too many to mention.

“I was in business when prime rib and a baked potato was considered special,” she smiled. “The volume we required never allowed us to become farm-to-table. Although, we served whatever was in season and lately from local growers.”

While the palates of diners drove Piper’s menu, the chef was able to be more creative with weekend specials, offering variety in dishes or approach. Which is something she plans to do in her own kitchen.

Food staples at Pat’s home provide an eclectic pantry — garlic, shallots, quality vinegars, sea salts, dried seasonings, EVOO, grains and pasta.

Favorite food magazines? Bon Appetit and Cook’s Illustrated. The educational approach to recipes in Illustrated intrigues her; Pat earned her undergraduate degree in education at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and finished her master’s at Northeastern Illinois University.

About wine? In her view, it is harder and harder to make bad wine.

Pat Eldean with rhino sculpture
Photo: Brooke Haveman

“I appreciate wine whether it is in a bottle, box, Tetra pak, sealed with a screw top or cork.” Her favorite grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

With the luxury of time, she and her husband Herb will be spending New Year’s on holiday — almost the first ever. Destination? Bilbao, Spain.

Traveling more is one of her new year’s resolutions.

Her No. 1 resolution is to enjoy her passion for cooking that she hasn’t had time to indulge.

Cooking for the two of them and their family — son Wade and daughter Kori, both married with children — is high on her list. It rivals what she calls a perfect evening.

“For me, a perfect evening is one with the girls,” Pat said. “At this time of our lives, we laugh a lot and have more fun than before. And we also reminisce.”