Mike Eckles has been cooking since he was a kid. The private chef, who co-owns Abode Fine Dining with Marcus D’Onofrio, caters to a southeast Michigan clientele, with many based in Birmingham and Bloomfield.
“We are a hybrid between private chef and catering,” said Eckles. “We specialize in high-end dinner parties in homes where we bring everything, like a fancy restaurant dinner.” The meals are made in front of their clients for better quality and efficiency.
Word-of-mouth has helped their business grow. “Most dinners we do either result in another dinner or they refer us to someone else,” said Eckles, who can cook dinner for two or cater special events with 200 guests, such as grad parties and weddings.
Eckles recently appeared on the Netflix show “Pressure Cooker,” where he made it to the finale, ending as the first runner up. “It is kind of like ‘Survivor.’ You have a bunch of chefs that are either safe or up for elimination,” he explained.
His appearance gave their local business a boost, but their demand was already ramping up beforehand. “For a three-year-old company, we’ve been growing rapidly,” said Eckles. During the show, the daily staff meals that happened behind the scenes were among the memorable moments. “All the cooks would create something and we would eat it together,” he said.
Eckles – who attended Lahser High School until his senior year at Bloomfield Hills High School, where he was among the first graduating class – started cooking when he was 12.
“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s fine now, but she stopped cooking when she went through chemotherapy,” he said. “I started making mac and cheese and went from there.”
He would go on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.
Now he has found a niche. “We specialize in tasting menus with different courses and smaller portions,” Eckles said. “That keeps your palette excited when you’re trying something new.”
Their five-course tasting menus feature seasonal selections and monthly themes, such as the state of Michigan with locally-sourced wagyu steaks and morels.
Another theme was inspired by his TV appearance. “During the Netflix show, there was a challenge to do monochromatic food, but you still had to make it cool and interesting,” said Eckles. “When there is a color theme, like purple, people don’t even notice it because the shades vary.”
Client requests can vary, too. “For events like small weddings, people have asked us to do a Chipotle burrito bar in their backyard, but make it cool and fancy,” he said. “If you name it, we can cook it.”
They can prepare traditional meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas and meet unique needs like a recent pop-up restaurant in Mexico.
The company also provides the supplies, from pots and pans to plates, silverware and tablecloths. “We can bring servers and a bartender if needed. It’s the full package,” said Eckles.
The chefs are equipped to think on their feet. “We’ve turned grills into ovens when there wasn’t an oven,” he said.
These aren't the hardest details for him. “The most challenging for me personally has been learning all the things an entrepreneur should know. You don’t learn them in a kitchen,” he said.
Leading the way has been the most rewarding aspect so far. “I can cook the food I want to cook and I don’t have to answer to a head chef,” said Eckles. “We have a creative team and I like the excitement of building your own destiny.”
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent