Made in Detroit: Homegrown chefs create a sizzling food movement

“Detroit is a hotbed for growth in the food scene,” says Liz Kellogg, whose PR company Kellogg & Caviar specializes in restaurants and hospitality brands. “We’ve been seeing chefs in New York slowly starting to leave and going to smaller cities like Asheville, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and now, Detroit.”

Kellogg is also making a move. After working for more than 10 years in New York’s food industry, Kellogg is among a wave of chefs, restaurateurs, and entrepreneurs who are leaving bigger cities for Detroit.

From her new office at Detroit’s WeWork Merchant Row, she’s been watching the market closely and has noticed an uptick in the quality of thoughtful cooking, and chefs making waves at places like Selden Standard and Katoi—a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2017.

It’s a great launch for a food-related business—or any business, for that matter—in Detroit. On May 25, Detroit will host the Creator Awards, a global initiative by WeWork to “recognize and reward the creators of the world.” Finalists from the Midwest and Canada will compete for $1.5 million in grants. Over the course of the year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe.

With two WeWork locations, at Merchant’s Row and soon at Campus Martius, Detroit is the second city to host the Creator Awards, after Washington, D.C.

WeWork Creator
Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya run The Farmer’s Hand, a neighborhood market for the Corktown community.

Michigan born and bred chefs like Mabel Gray’s James Rigato—who is building a restaurant brand that is centered around the region’s best ingredients—is a good example of how Detroit’s pride is being translated into its food identity.

And then there is Brad Greenhill, of Katoi, who is introducing Southeast Asian ingredients—pushing the boundaries of Detroit’s food landscape by challenging his diners to experience more diversity on their plates.

Chefs who can’t afford the rent in Manhattan—or simply don’t want to be constrained by the economics of running a restaurant in Chicago—are rethinking where they want to build their restaurant empires. And Detroit is certainly one of those places.

Take chefs John Vermiglio and Josef Giacomino of Grey Ghost, and two-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents, of Sixteen restaurant fame. Both Lents and Vermigilio are from Michigan, left to cook in Chicago, and are now back.

Lents, who will head up dining at the new Foundation Hotel, told the Detroit Free Press, “It’s a town that’s hungry for new things and for quality. I think it’s been starved and it deserves better and I hope that I can be part of bringing the culinary scene to where Detroit deserves.”

At Grey Ghost, you’ll find a neighborhood eatery and cocktail bar proud of its Detroit roots. That’s evident in its welcoming, Midwestern hospitality, commitment to butchery, and the beautiful craftsmanship, which made Eater’s list of most beautiful restaurants.

But Detroit’s food movement isn’t just about its new restaurants or inventive cuisine. It’s about getting Detroiters access to fresh, healthy food, especially in some of the more economically challenged neighborhoods.

Just west of downtown, Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya run The Farmer’s Hand, a neighborhood market for the Corktown community. Part grocery, part cafe, and part farmers market, they bring in local produce and make food for a community that hasn’t always had access to a high-quality grocery store.

Louya, a native Detroiter, who was born in the ’80s, remembers having vivid memories as a child of traveling out to the suburbs to go food shopping.

“We are filling a need, and it’s access,” says Foulkes. “We feel very strongly that every neighborhood should have a beautiful, safe market. Here, they can get eggs and a cup of coffee. We are just two women but we’ve created something that’s tiny and mighty.”

Louya says they chose Corktown because it is a vibrant neighborhood of people who have lived here for generations. “It’s one of the oldest in Detroit, and every time the economy took a downturn, the population stayed the same,” she says. Today, Millennials and young families are moving in, adding to the mix.

“There are so many people that are inspired to start their own businesses and coming from other places to share their food,” says Louya. “The more people willing to share their cuisine and their ideas with the city is only going to make the scene more diverse.”

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