Starting From Scratch

When life gets complicated, the Sawyer family keeps it simple at home by sticking to the basics.

Jonathon Sawyer doesn’t have the luxury of spending an evening at home with his family very often. The busy chef runs three Cleveland restaurants and travels extensively for work — he was on the road a total of 170 days last year for food shows and television appearances. But tonight, he’s traded the commercial kitchen for the one in his 200-year-old Shaker Heights, Ohio, home, where he’s preparing dinner from scratch with his wife, Amelia, 7-year-old son, Catcher, and 4-year-old daughter, Louisiana.

“My goal is to make breakfast for everybody every day,” says Jonathon, who has made a conscious effort to spend as much time with his kids as possible. “On my days off, I like to roast a chicken because we typically get two to three meals out of it. We’ll have roast chicken one day, then we’ll have chicken salad for lunch the next day, and we’ll also make chicken stock so we can have soup. It’s really easy.”

Keeping things simple doesn’t mean he’s willing to sacrifice the quality of the food he feeds his family — or his customers, for that matter. Sawyer is a firm believer in the slow food movement. For him, the best meals are made from fresh, wholesome and organic ingredients that are sourced locally.

His food philosophy was life-changing for Amelia, who says she never cooked before Jonathon came into her life. “I was a sushi-and-pizza kind of girl. When we were living in New York, I could get it every day,” says the former event planner. “It was cheap, it was easy, it was fast. Jonathon introduced me to a whole new land. He was very big into local produce, local meats and all that.”

Her diet changed the most, though, when son Catcher came along and was diagnosed with kidney disease. The Sawyers started to research foods that would keep him as healthy as possible. Grains, fruits and veggies were at the top of the list.  »

“From everything we read, the people who had the most success had a macrobiotic diet,” says Amelia. “We still eat eggs and beef, but we definitely eat better. Our meals became less processed and incorporated more whole, fresh foods.”
While they wait for dinner, Louisiana and Catcher take a break from setting the patio table to munch on homemade kale chips.  “The first time I made them,” says Amelia, “my kids devoured them. Since then, potato chips are virtually unseen in our home.”

With the new knowledge Amelia has acquired about healthy eating, she recently started a blog, called Scratch and Bones (, which offers recipes that serve as alternatives to processed foods.

“As I’m learning, we are going to be able to show other people how to make things from scratch,” she says. “Fast food is cheaper and easier, but in the long run, it’s not. There are kids who are obese and sick and have heart problems or diabetes. It all stems from processed food.”

Getting back to the basics isn’t difficult, Amelia says. Bread, for example, has only five ingredients — flour, water, yeast, sugar and salt — and “it’s one of the simplest things on earth to make,” she adds. She credits Jonathon with teaching her that when something is simpler, it’s better.

“It’s 100 percent true,” she says. “When I first started cooking, I’d try to make things with 20-plus ingredients that were complicated and confusing. I nearly had a breakdown. He showed me you can get a lot of flavor with just olive oil and salt and pepper.”

Jonathon makes the kitchen look like a playground as he slices tomatoes, finishes the mac and cheese and pulls roasted vegetables from the oven — all while he dodges small children and two dogs named Potato and Vito.

“With the kids running around,” he says, “I can put stuff in the oven, go do something else for 40 minutes, and when it’s done, it’s done. Whether it’s overcooked, undercooked or it’s right on, it’s not the end of the world to make mistakes at home.”

When the family sits down to dinner a few moments later, it’s clear everything is just right, and not just with the food. 

“At this point in our life, we’re pretty pleased with how things have turned out,” says Amelia. “We’ve definitely found a way to make it all work.” 

Kale Chips

1 bunch of kale

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Olive oil cooking spray

Wash and dry kale. Break off leaves into bite-sized pieces. Put pieces of kale into a zip-close bag. Add soy sauce and shake vigorously. Spray baking pan with olive oil spray. Once coated in soy sauce, place kale piece by piece on pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. Watch closely as these tend to burn.

Tomato Salad

3 whole heirloom tomatoes, sliced 

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon cucumber, sliced thin

3 assorted radishes, sliced 

½ red onion, sliced very thin 

tablespoons lemon juice 

1 tablespoon goat cheese 

3 basil leaves 

1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt

Salt and pepper to taste

Season sliced tomatoes with half the olive oil, salt and pepper. In a mixing bowl place cucumbers, radishes and onions, and season the mixture with remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Arrange vegetables on a plate and top with cheese. Finish salad with basil leaves and Maldon sea salt.

Roasted Chicken

1 2½ pound chicken

1 bunch thyme 

1 bunch rosemary

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon salt 

1 teaspoon pepper 

2 carrots, cut in large dice 

1 onion, cut in medium dice 

4 fingerling potatoes, left whole 

Salt to taste

Pull chicken out of fridge and allow to warm to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and rub olive oil over chicken. Stuff cavity with rosemary and thyme. On sheet tray, place carrots, onions and potatoes. Place chicken on top of vegetables. Roast chicken in 450-degree oven. After 15 minutes, turn oven down to 325 degrees and allow the bird to cook another 25 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165 degrees after pulling it out of the oven. Allow chicken to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve with the roasted veggies. Save the juices to spoon over the chicken.

Roasted Veggies

1 bunch broccoli, cut off stem 

cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 red peppers

10 Castalvetrono olives 

10 Nicoise olives

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of one lemon

Season broccoli with half the olive oil, salt and pepper, and place in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Roast red peppers in the oven on the broiler setting for 10 minutes or until they blister. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cooled. Peel and julienne. In a bowl, toss the olives, cooked broccoli, roasted red peppers, the remaining olive oil and the juice of one lemon. Season with salt and pepper, and plate.

Homemade Macaroni & Cheese

1 cup homemade chicken or vegetable stock

2       tablespoons butter

cups skim milk

½ cup flour (more if you want sauce thicker)

1 cup finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

½-1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons breadcrumbs

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 cup chopped broccoli

1 teaspoon olive oil

Olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine stock, butter and milk in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add flour and cheeses to thicken. Reduce heat to medium, simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir to combine. Set aside or freeze for later use. (The Sawyer family makes a huge batch of this sauce and freezes it. Whenever they want mac and cheese, they just boil the noodles, add the sauce and bake.)

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Add noodles; cook until al dente, according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl; stir in sauce, broccoli and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Lightly coat a 9-inch-square baking dish with cooking spray. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan and oil; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top. Serve immediately.