East-coast chef returns to his roots

East-coast chef returns to his roots

SOLON- Michael Lipcamon remembers strolling the rows of his grandparents' garden at a young age. He'd pull peas from the vine, chew on rhubarb stalks and stain his hands with mulberries fresh off the tree.

"I spent a lot of time out here as a child," he recounted. "I have a lot of baby pictures out in the garden with my grandma. She was a great cook."

Now, 15 years later, he's back in that same garden, continuing the slow food tradition his family started, with the launch of Amos Dean's. The catering company operates out of his grandparents' old house in Solon, which Lipcamon renovated to include an industrial kitchen in the basement.

"It's been pretty exciting so far," he said. "We've drawn a lot of influence just from doing Iowa roots food. I guess our focus is producing great food that's affordable for the average person. And using my experience to create the local concept."

A trained chef, Lipcamon worked in kitchens across the country before returning to Iowa in 2016 to refurbish the distinctive red house on Mehaffey Bridge Road and take over the one-acre garden.

"That was a big project," he admitted. "I remodeled the entire house myself."

A feat that included transforming an unfinished basement into a certified commercial kitchen, which cleared the way for an off-site catering license from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

"That was pretty much all last year," Lipcamon said of the remodeling and permit processes.

Amos Dean's officially opened March 15, offering everything from fresh produce delivery, to catering, to private dining. Lipcamon and his team have faithfully attended the North Liberty, Coralville and Iowa City farmers markets and have a following of customers who receive their weekly meat and produce deliveries.

And Amos Dean's knows how to do meat. Lipcamon has fine-tuned his culinary skills working at Binkley's Restaurant in Phoenix, then at the Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Boston as sous-chef, and most recently as the chef de partie of meat at Bouley, a Michellin-starred restaurant in New York.

"He's probably like the pioneer of farm to table food in America," Lipcamon said of Bouley's owner and award-winning chef, David Bouley.

It was quite the experience for the former Iowa City West High student who got his start washing dishes at the Brown Bottle in North Liberty when he was 14. But, all good things must come to an end, and Lipcamon saw an opportunity- and need- to head back to his roots.

"My grandpa is Amos Dean," he shared. "He has Alzheimer's and is up at the care center in Solon. Dad needed help taking care of him, so I moved back. That's kind of where the concept was born from."

Amos Dean, who founded his Solon homestead in 1967, worked as a butcher at the Wilson and Company meatpacking plant in Cedar Rapids. And, one day, he decided to bring work home.

"He built a smoker out here out of an old vibration chamber from Rockwell Collins," said Lipcamon. "He used to sell smoked meats and stuff under the table."

Dean's country-style ribs and hams were legendary. So much so, Lipcamon found the need to continue his grandfather's legacy two generations later.

With meat sourced from Sobieski farms of Washington and Bud's Custom Meats in Riverside, menu items include the famous Amos Dean's country-style ribs and honey ham, as well as a Texas-style beef brisket, five-spiced pork ribs, barbecue chicken and more.

Lipcamon will even roast a whole pig's head, like he did this year at North Liberty Blues and BBQ.

"The jowl, cheek, meat underneath eyelid ? they're awesome," he said. "Some people are intrigued and some people are like, oh my gosh that's gross."

While the company offers regular menus, Lipcamon said he'll custom tailor the catering experience to meet the customer's wants and needs. An approved University of Iowa vendor, Amos Dean's provides catering to any work place for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in addition to residential services ranging from backyard barbecues to weddings.

The red house's "Farm Table" is also at public disposal. Customers can reserve a dining table overlooking the garden to host a private, coursed dinner for up to 10 people featuring seasonal ingredients grown on the premises.

"That's something we're pushing into now that everything's starting to come to fruition in the garden," Lipcamon said.

He added the garden is 100 percent organic, although not officially certified. Lipcamon studied advanced agricultural techniques, getting into the biology of the soil, before taking over the garden.

"We try to grow lot of things that no one else is growing," he said. That includes heirloom tomatoes, peppers, peas, shishito peppers, cherries and strawberries, in addition to several varieties of leafy greens.

Amos Dean's offers tours of the garden and organic agricultural solutions, including a free garden consultation for home and professional gardeners. Next spring, the company will start selling a variety of plants, flowers and garden plugs.

Learn more about Amos Dean's at amosdeans.com and find the fare at your local farmers market:

? North Liberty- Sundays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pacha Parkway.

? Coralville- Mondays 5-7 p.m. at Coralville Community Aquatic Center.

? Iowa City- Wednesdays 5-7 p.m. at Chauncey Swan Ramp.

? Cedar Rapids- Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to noon at downtown Cedar Rapids.

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