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What's On Your Plate?

Kate Elliott hopes that a visit to Juniper will change the way her guests eat

Kate Elliott (photo: Rose Mattrey)

Why the restaurant business? The hours are terrible, the pressure is immense and the satisfaction is only temporary.

Yet when you pose that question to anybody insane enough to enlist in this mayhem, you get a version of the same reply. Restaurant employees claim that hospitality is in their blood, that it’s a calling, and say they can’t imagine doing anything else.

Ask chef Kate Elliott that question and she will tell you, with candor, “It was quite simple: I needed a job.”

That’s Elliott. At 34 years old she is unassuming and humble, relaxing in jeans and her signature bandana at her new swanky eatery. She walks us down her road that ends at 810 Elmwood Avenue: Born in Buffalo, Elliott was an only child raised by a single, working mom. While Elliott says that her mother was a good cook, homemade meals were hard to fit into such a busy life. Elliott was not drawn to the kitchen as a teenager and admits to being a fussy eater.

Her favorite meal to prepare in her home kitchen is a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She undoubtedly cuts the crusts off.

She grew up on the West Side of Buffalo and made an awkward transition to suburbia, in this case Amherst. At an early age, Elliott rebelled, left school, and moved to Detroit to be an active member of a human rights organization. She smiles at the fond memories, and acknowledges that it was a time for her to come into her own. She struggled with her education, her family, and her sexuality. She returned to Buffalo a year later as a strong and independent woman with depth and a profound sense of self.

Elliott quickly made her mark on the Western New York culinary scene. Lacking any classical training, her resume reads like a who’s who of area eateries, many of which have sadly seen their lights dimmed: from Cybele’s to Just Pasta, from Sequoia (who can forget the legendary Bob Mallott) to Metropolitan and Saki’s. While paying her dues on the floor, she spent the majority of her time behind the line wielding a knife.

Elliott took a sabbatical from the steam table and grill to return to the University at Buffalo to obtain her degree in African American history. Under pressure from her mother and recognizing that she might not be able to work in the restaurant business forever, Elliott looks forward to the possibility of teaching some day. Not to worry for now, however: That day is many crème brulees away!

Returning to the restaurant business after school, Elliott worked in conjunction with Deborah Clark, owner of Chop Chop (302 Main Street) and Delish (802 Elmwood Avenue). She was eager to show her skills as both a head chef and a manager. She gained experience planning menus, ordering food, and organizing staff.

The brainchild of Elliott and Lindsey Malinowski, Juniper (810 Elmwood Avenue) was conceived as so many local restaurants are—over a few cocktails and a lot of conversations. Elliott describes her relationship with Malinowski, her business partner and co-owner, as unique. “We are a perfect match,” Elliott says. “There was nothing difficult about [opening Juniper], we have always agreed.” Such a relationship is rare, but they seem to share a common philosophy when it comes to food.

Also in the mix in the tiny Juniper kitchen is Roo Buckley, previous owner/chef of the now defunct Coda. Elliott had worked with Buckley several years ago and their ability to create together is outstanding. According to Buckley, Elliott is easy to work with and very open to collaboration.

After a months of planning, Juniper finally opened this summer. For Elliott, the restaurant is the culmination of decades of work. It is a place to call home where she can unleash her creative side.

When it comes to her restaurant, Elliott has a mission. “It’s a tall order,” Elliott says. “I want Juniper to change the way people eat.” The restaurant’s vision includes local ingredients prepared in a deconstructed way. Simple ingredients used purely with an emphasis on flavor and not conventions. She envisions food as a way to reconnect people and foster a community vibe.

Elliott recently competed in the first annual Nickel City Chef competition. Veteran chef Adam Goetz of Sample (242 Allen Street) challenged her to a cook-off. While the battle was close, Elliott prevailed with an exotic three-course menu based on an old-school staple: potatoes. Adventurous foodies dined on Adirondack blue vichyssoise with maple poached lobster. The main course consisted of rabbit wrapped in serrano with harissa and bruleed figs. An indulgent sweet potato flan with a rosemary mousse finished the decadent meal.

On Wednesday, October 14, guests at Juniper will have the luxury of sampling Elliott’s award-winning menu paired with appropriate adult beverages. Dinner will run $65 and reservations are highly recommended.

Juniper is proud to be a part of the Neighboorhood Collective, which is yet another way for the restaurant to connect with the community. The Neighborhood Collective features independent businesses including Annie Adams Jewelry Designs, Block Club Magazine, Lori Joyce Photography, and Studio 806 Spa.

For more information on Elliott or Juniper, visit The restaurant is open Tuesday thought Saturday with extended bar hours.

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