Chef Patti Cook developed her culinary skills out of necessity.
“I was a really picky eater as a child, and my mother was a terrible cook,” she remembered. “I started experimenting, and by the time I was 10 years old, all my friends were coming to my house to eat what I was cooking!”
Her husband and business partner, Frank Hughes, is clearly one of her biggest fans.
“Patti has incredible talent,” he commended. She’s catered events from Ocean Reef to Washington, D.C.
In her teenage years, Patti took on a babysitting job with a Southern Italian family. While corralling playful young children, she managed to observe the family’s matriarchs as they prepared multi-course meals from scratch, chopping fresh herbs and rolling out their own fresh pasta.
She recounted one of her first large-scale catering events in which a friend who owned a chemical company was bringing employees from across the country for a training session in Baltimore. In order to keep the trainees close by at the convention center in the downtown urban setting, he recruited Patti to cater the training sessions.
Her mark was left in D.C. for among other things preparing more than 200 cakes per week for the famed Kramerbooks & Afterwords, the first bookstore and café concept opened in 1976 that has since established itself as the city’s preeminent café.
Though never formally trained as chef, she’s certainly proven her talent, and it’s celebrated up and down the East Coast.
Her passion for good food is as strong as her passion for art, and she garnered her local culinary following when she opened Made to Order in Islamorada’s famed Treasure Village artist colony before it became a Montessori school.
When the opportunity arose for her to continue her freshly prepared and celebrated menu at the former Tropical Café, a long-reputed breakfast spot in Islamorada, word spread like wildfire.
“I was so worried on the first day that no one would show up, but I remembered walking out of the kitchen and seeing the dining room full of former customers and friends,” she smiled.
Made 2 Order, a playful take on her first dining success, is tucked away underneath the bridge at Tavernier Creek Marina between numerous quaint dive shops. If you’d never before there before you could easily miss the turn.
The air-conditioned dining room’s walls are filled with bright, beautiful paintings from local artists. Pastries and baked goods filling the counter are works of art as well. A covered, outside patio area in the rear offer waterfront views with which to enjoy the array of breakfast and lunch offerings. As their website claims, and I can certainly attest, “Made 2 Order provides a peaceful disconnect from everyday life.”
As the name clearly indicates, each item on the menu is prepared from the freshest ingredients and prepared with caring hands.
“We go out of our way to make sure we have vine-ripe tomatoes,” Hughes explained, adding, “We don’t wait on the institution” for conventional food delivery. The couple regularly treks to Homestead for produce purchases to ensure they’re utilizing only the highest quality ingredients in their menu items.
I recently sampled the Sun-dried Fajita Salad with chicken, a favorite from her original outpost.
“I was hoping I could get away with not having that on the menu again,” she laughed, explaining that the marinating and preparation for this particular dish is an especially intensive one.
Her willingness to make her own sun-dried tomatoes and salad dressings from scratch speaks volumes of her commitment to her customers’ needs.
After resisting the temptation to try a tart, muffin, or sweet treat from the coffee counter, Patti insisted that I try Artichoke Roll, and I’m so glad she did. This petite French roll filled with artichokes and cheese then baked until golden brown is a fantastically sinful treat.
Online reviews recount multiple visits to Made 2 Order during a short visit to the Keys. The quaint atmosphere, amazing food, and superb service make me anxious to return for dinner when they begin the service again in October.