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CHEF SPOTLIGHT: Tom Kneeland of Tips Up Cafe



By Alicia Dziak

Super fresh cuisine, delectable sushi and famous cookies can all be yours this weekend and every day at Tips Up Cafe! With the recent addition of Chef Tom Kneeland, the restaurant has an expanded menu that’s sure to wow!

Kneeland has been a fixture on the Ellicottville food scene since 1995, when he first came to town to work with a brewer-friend at another EVL restaurant. A few months ago, Kneeland decided it was “time for a change” and became chef at Tips Up, at 32 Washington Street, where he prepares a variety of delicious fare.

Kneeland noted that, “We make everything from scratch. We use fresh herbs and stock, and all fresh ingredients,” adding that his cooking could be described as a “light European style” and that he also specializes in sauces.

For Kneeland, it was a long and winding road to Ellicottville. He became a chef in 1980, and soon opened a bakery and sandwich shop in Charledoix, MI.

Kneeland’s chocolate chunk cookies, named “Tom’s Mom’s Cookies” to honor his mother, quickly became famous. Not just Michigan-famous, but really, really famous.

Kneeland’s aunt worked for President Ronald Reagan at the time, and once the President got a taste of those cookies, “he wrote me a letter and the White House began placing monthly orders for them,” said Kneeland.

Following the introduction of the cookies to Reagan, the President hosted a 1983 Williamsburg Summit, where world leaders met to talk face to face about international problems. Summit organizers requested food and drink donations to feed the press during the meeting.

Kneeland committed to providing cookies and some milk producers offered to provide the obvious beverage accompaniment. The New York Times decided to feature an article about the milk and Kneeland’s cookies, which was picked up on news wires all over the country.

“We made 12,000 cookies to feed the press (at the Summit),” Kneeland explained.

After the Summit, the cookies made their way onto the menu at various other White House parties and fundraisers, and Kneeland’s slightly fancier chocolate chunk cookies with pistachios were voted the number one “Fancy Cookie” in America by People Magazine in 1984.

Kneeland said that the whole experience “launched me into wanting to be better.” While he didn’t attend a traditional culinary school, Kneeland had professional training. He hired a European chef for his restaurant and continued to learn.

At one point, his cookies were franchised, but he has since stopped that.

After working in various capacities in EVL’s establishments, Kneeland is at Tips Up, happily preparing for this weekend’s Taste of Ellicottville. While he’ll be behind the scenes, visitors can enjoy Tips Up’s selection of chicken enchiladas, clams casino, sushi jalepeno popper rolls and of course, those famous Tom’s Mom’s cookies!

And just what keeps this chef in town? “Nice people and a beautiful town,” said Kneeland. “Ellicottville has become my home.”

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