Parker Bosley: Then and Now

Elite chef embraces humble cuisine

Parker Bosley, widely considered to be the godfather of our region's local food movement, has no doubt enjoyed a long and fruitful livelihood in Cleveland's food industry. Trading in a career in public education in his late 30s, Parker says his desire to become a chef was born simply.

"I came to this not so much as a chef or an advocate," he says. "I came to food through eating. I was a patron first and became increasingly interested in and put a higher value on the idea of the dinner table: what you're eating and when you're eating it. I decided I wanted to cook because that's how I could have the kind of food I wanted to eat."

That's how it all began, but that career change has taken Parker on quite an unexpected journey through the years. He began to make a name for himself in 1982, when he took over the kitchen at Sammy's in the Flats. "By then, I knew my cooking was good because I had the right skills, but I still didn't think it was great because I was using inferior products. Having grown up on a farm, I knew there were people growing the kind of food I wanted. So I went back to the country and asked farmers if I could buy from them. Within a couple of years, Sammy's really was producing the very best food that had ever been produced in the Midwest."

As Sammy's grew and became a more diversified corporate business, Parker decided he wanted to stay small. He left to open Parker's Bistro (later renamed Parker's New American Bistro) which operated for more than 20 years. Over time, it became a nationally recognized establishment. "By the time I retired, there were a lot of other really good restaurants springing up in the area," says Parker. "I had my time, it was a great time and I was very fortunate. It was someone else's turn."

But Parker didn't retire for long, instead transitioning to a completely different side of the local food movement. He now works with farmers as the chef-in-residence for Fresh Fork Market, a local foods subscription service. "It's very exciting," says Parker. "I'm being introduced to ingredients that I never cooked in my repertoire at Parker's — more humble foods that you don't see in fine dining. I'm learning how to cook many things for the first time."

"This local food movement has been very dominated by 'foodies,' a term that I just detest. My final mission is to get everyone to think of those folks who aren't foodies, who can't just go into any store and pay these extravagant prices. Let's find ways to serve them with local products too."

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