Made There: Chef Tad Mitsui finds harmony and home at Heyday Farm

His family business has expanded a 19th-century Bainbridge farm to include a bakery, high-end dining and more.

Chef Tad Mitsui pulls a carrot from the ground and brushes the dirt from the orange spear. He lifts the root to his mouth and takes a crunchy bite. Looking across the sunny expanse of Heyday Farm on the south end of Bainbridge Island, a smile stretches across his face.

Aside from serving as the farm’s executive chef at their onsite restaurant, Tad owns Heyday Farm. The work often reminds him of the 35-acre farm his grandparents ran in Kingston, Washington, when he was growing up. His love of roaming the farm to pluck vegetables from the earth and uncover each plant’s distinct qualities has not faded.

This video is part of our “Made There” series about local artisans. View more videos from Seasons 1 and 2

“When I was [working] in restaurants, I had always thought, ‘How neat would it be to be able to control the produce that we grow and know where it came from?’” Tad said.

Having worked in Seattle-area kitchens since his teen years, agriculture and cooking have long interested him. His rise to executive chef of his own restaurant comes as no surprise. 

The farm itself dates from 1897 and was the Pederson family farm for over 60 years. The farm began transforming to its current iteration in 2011. Tad joined Heyday Farm as the restaurant’s interim chef in 2015, and before long realized he had a vision to take it to the next phase. He created a business plan the following year and quickly became the property’s next steward. 

Tad’s wife, Tifanie, co-owns the business and is the farmhouse beverage director. She led the charge to create the farm’s own wine label in partnership with Woodinville’s Kerloo Cellars. Tifanie can often be found in the fields or greenhouses with farmers. Tad sits down each winter to go over the season’s successes and setbacks and map out the year ahead. These sessions are when Tad’s creativity kicks in, deciding which plants to grow and meals to add to the upcoming menu.

“Being able to walk out and see some of the stuff that we're working with is overwhelming and inspirational,” he said. “We go out and sample some of the stuff that's growing. Get the flavors, the smells of it, use it in our mind to translate it into a dish.”

The work on Heyday Farm extends beyond maintenance and education. The team has built their own little ecosystem on the property. The farm serves the restaurant as well as the farmstand and CSA produce packages. The bakery serves the restaurant, events and retail sales. The property as a whole can support events, community dinners and educational programs. It’s this symbiotic relationship that makes Heyday Farm special and highly functional. 

These elements have a deeply personal meaning to Tad. “Mitsui, my last name, translates to ‘three wells’ and as we've kind of built and developed the farm here, we've ended up with three wells of businesses,” Tad said. “We have a commercial bakery. We have the farm and vegetable production. And then we have the farmhouse with the events. There’s some harmony and feng shui there.”

The evolution of Heyday Farm continues to inspire Tad. Beyond his love of the cycle of farming and cooking, he enjoys creating food that elevates community togetherness. He hopes to continue helping the next generation forge a relationship with the land and an understanding of where their food comes from. He feels great pride knowing his own children love farm-fresh ingredients just as he did.

Bringing those fresh ingredients into your home menu can be as simple as making an accompanying sauce, Tad said. He offers a customizable chimichurri recipe you can make in a flash. It’s delicious on meat, fish or vegetarian dishes, and is a great substitute for pesto.

Making garden chimichurri

Step 1: Gather your garden herbs. Several combinations are often used in chimichurri, but Tad enjoys using marjoram, parsley and anise. 

Step 2: Pile the herbs and roughly chop them, turning the pile over to ensure the herbs are evenly cut and mixed through. The oils from each herb will begin to meld. Add the chopped herbs to a big mixing bowl.

Step 3: Add the additional flavors. For each cup of chopped herbs, Tad suggests mixing in a tablespoon of chopped garlic, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper and salt to taste. 

Step 4: Mix in the liquids. Stir in a quarter-cup of lemon juice, then add a quarter-cup to a half-cup of olive oil. Add more oil until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Tad says the chimichurri needs more oil than you may think.

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