On Sept. 16, Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit will transform from an urban park into a celebration of the area’s array of culinary talent.
Click here to purchase your tickets to the Detroit Free Press Food & Wine Experience presented by Bedrock.
In addition to tastings, culinary seminars and panels, celebrity chef Graham Elliot will perform a live cooking demonstration and hold a meet-and-greet for VIP guests. The bespectacled Chicago chef is perhaps best known for his decade-long stint as a judge on Fox’s “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Jr.” and now as a judge on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.”
Elliot, whose father is from the Saginaw area, says he visits Michigan often to see family and catch a Tigers game, but he’s excited to explore a little more of Detroit’s burgeoning food scene.
We caught up with the 40-year-old White Stripes fan to chat about emerging dining trends and the similarities between appearing on television and running a restaurant.
Elliot’s answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
QUESTION: Why are so many Chicago chefs suddenly setting up shop in Detroit?
ANSWER: I think that you have proximity, some great microclimates. And you’ve got the U.P. as well as Traverse City and some great wines and ingredients. But also the economics of it. … The reason Portland, Milwaukee — a lot these towns — are drawing more chefs is because of the affordability. I’m in San Francisco as we speak. You can’t make money in this town doing restaurants. If you want to be in New York City, it’s going to cost you a trillion dollars.
Q: What are some of the emerging restaurant trends you’re seeing around the country?
A: More accessibility, less fine-dining. Not fussy.
Q: Is this casualization of dining here to stay? What happened to the predicted fine-dining comeback?
A: I don’t think we’re going to see fine dining the way that we thought we would, unless it’s, like, in a small, tiny setting where a hotel is backing it all and putting the money up. I think you’re going to see big red-sauce pasta places opening, like old-school Italian-style. I think you’ll see French, cream-sauce, what was super-fine-dining-type of restaurants, but doing it again in a setting that people can go and hit up a couple times.
Q: Almost banking on the nostalgia of it?
A: 100%. You’ll see chefs in giant toques and chef coats serving duck with the head on. That, all of a sudden, is going to be cool to a bunch of hipsters with their cameras.
Q: Any trends that need to die?
A: People get stuck worrying about little things like: “Are we gluten-free? And was this hand-harvested and comes from this little spot right here?” and things like that, but don’t really understand that there’s a ton of kids that can’t get access to food or people that have very unhealthy diets and need help. The understanding of the big picture is what’s good, and I think chefs are trying to help do that.
Q: Anthony Bourdain has said that he’s never met a gluten-free person in India.
A: It’s very much a first-world problem.
Q: What’s the best thing you ate recently?
A: I was at Swan Oyster Depot actually this afternoon for lunch. They’ve been there 80 years, and they serve Dungeness crab in a little glass cup and some smoked salmon and clam chowder. That’s the best, you know? Simple food done really well and very fresh. I love that.
Q: You were the youngest four-star chef in a major city. What advice do you have for young chefs coming up now?
A: To not get too caught up in accolades and reviews and things like that, because what you realize is that everyone’s a critic, everyone’s a foodie, everybody is going to Instagram and post pictures of all their stuff, so you don’t want to put too much focus on what a couple people write or say about you.
Q: How does being on TV compare to running a restaurant?
A: It’s similar because, at the end of the day, you want to entertain. You want to teach people, you want to show them things, you want to educate to a point. If you play music, do you want to play to a bar of 20 or a stadium? With “MasterChef” you reach 7 million people on TV alone, much less Hulu and YouTube and online after that. So it’s pretty cool to be able to have that pedestal and try to share and educate.
Q: Are you itching to get back into the kitchen?
A: Yeah. We’re going to be doing another project overseas soon, which we haven’t announced yet. That’ll be late summer. I think doing that, as well as having the bistro redone and ready to go will be really cool. You know, I dropped out of high school and started to dishwash and traveled around, worked with some great people and never pursued anything with TV. That was not what I do. So I really want to get back in there and cook every night and especially see all the guests and my team.
Q: What tool should home cooks own that would help them elevate their cuisine?
A: I don’t even know about elevating, but just being able to get in there and eat. I think a nonstick pan, a great set of tongs or wooden spoon, something like that, a little spatula and a mixing bowl. You really only need, like, three pieces of equipment to do some food. From there, you can move forward.
A lot of people don’t have $700 to go blow on a cool little blender. To get the most out of something and make it delicious, and using the least amount of money to do that, from there you can go and get little gadgets and fun things. Really learning how to cook and make food tasty when it’s more rustic, I think is more important to get a grasp on first.
Q: It sounds like you’re very focused on the economics of eating.
A: I think that you learn from food, whether its history, math, art, geography — all of those things. And trying to make it healthy and know where your food comes from and teaching your kids — all of that stuff I think is way more important than who can get the best review or rating or stars, or cook with one hand behind their back on TV for 20 minutes.
Find tickets and more info on the Detroit Free Press Food & Wine Experience at foodandwine.freep.com.
Contact Mark Kurlyandchik: 313-222-5026 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mkurlyandchik and Instagram: mkurlyandchik.
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