Patrick Russell grew up enjoying the fried pork chops, meatballs, and meatloaf of his mother’s Pikesville kitchen, but it wasn’t until purchasing Thames Street Tavern (now Kooper’s Tavern) in 1997 that he really learned the joys of cooking.
“I hired my friend [former Cork’s chef] Jerry Pellegrino to help me cook,” recalls Russell, who got his restaurant start as a busboy at The Mt. Washington Tavern at age 15. “I knew nothing. He brought me the Joy of Cooking, and he gave it to me and said, ‘Read this.’ Before that, a good dinner was Oodles of Noodles with jarred Prego Sauce.”
Russell (who also owns Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon, Sláinte Irish Pub and Restaurant, Woody’s Rum Bar and Island Grill, and is a partner in the Manor Tavern) became a quick study as Pellegrino schooled him in soups, stocks, and basic sauces. “The first thing Jerry taught me how to make was tomato sauce,” he says.
It was that sauce that eventually factored into Russell’s marriage proposal. “When I asked my wife, Katie, to marry me, I had made that sauce along with andouille sausage and meatballs and spaghetti,” he says. “I had it all simmering in the pot in our apartment, and I told Katie that I had to go out for a few hours—I needed fresh air—so I left her specific instructions, saying, ‘Don’t let the sauce burn.’”
But several hours later, Russell returned to a sleeping Katie—and a singed sauce. “I could smell it as I was coming in,” he says, laughing at the memory. “The sauce was burnt, but when I woke her, and I pulled the ring from my briefcase, she wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’”
Seventeen happily married years later, the family (including twins Colin and Kiley, Labrador retrievers Haywood and Ronan, and Leon, a petit basset griffon Vendéen) lives in a 1970s Monkton contemporary they’ve been renovating since 2001. The avocado-tiled kitchen was especially egregious. “It was awful,” says Russell. “We didn’t even have gas when we moved in. I rarely used the electric oven and cooked on a Weber grill for 10 years.”
And although the couple built their dream kitchen with a GE Monogram stainless-steel range, granite countertops, and reclaimed oak flooring last year, Russell still likes to grill, particularly marinated pork, beef tenderloin, and fish tacos.
“When I make these, I usually fish for the mahi myself,” says Russell. “A couple of times a year, I charter a boat to the Outer Banks or Ocean City. . . . I fish all day until four o’clock, put the fish in the coolers, and, the next day, I’m home and we sit down and eat fresh fish.”