Wednesday, November 2, 2011

[Real Detroit Weekly] Top Chef: Detroit's Rising Culinary Masters

Photos from the Root Restaurant and Bar by Nicole Rupersburg.
Chef Alexis Henslee, Metropolitan Cafe
Way way wah-wah-WAY out at the corner of Van Dyke and 24 Mile Rd. in Shelby Township – an area not exactly known for cutting-edge cuisine – Executive Chef Alexis Henslee is changing people's perceptions and drawing in diners from all corners of metro Detroit (thanks in part to some very well-timed love from Dame Abraham). Metropolitan Café has been open since May 2010, and almost immediately caught the attention of greater metro Detroit for Henslee's "upscale yet accessible" contemporary American menu that truly highlights the bounty of Michigan's agriculture. Henslee has a huge passion for Michigan products, and being situated in what seems to be this far-flung corner of Macomb County is an advantage for this cosmopolitan restaurant – they are surrounded by farmland, by the very same small farmers Henslee loves to work with.

Henslee grew up in northern Michigan where her parents owned a restaurant and where she really developed her enthusiasm for all things homegrown. She attended the Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts Program where her initial focus was pastries, until she was introduced to savory cooking and hasn't looked back since. Now she is one of only a handful of female executive chefs in metro Detroit running a high-profile kitchen, and she's rocking it out.

The menu at Metropolitan Café caters to all tastes and price ranges; you can go full-throttle fine dining if that's what you're after, but you can also order a less-fussy sandwich or pasta dish for under $10 – they may be cheap but they're anything but simple. The Metropolitan Café is "metropolitan" by absolute definition, and Henslee succeeds in striking the balance between fine and fun dining, fusion and friendly food exceedingly well.

Chef James Rigato, the Root Restaurant and Bar
The Root Restaurant and Bar is another unexpected culinary mecca in what most outsiders consider a culinary wasteland. Located in a strip mall – a strip mall! Take THAT pompous perceptions of what fine dining should look like! – in White Lake (hang a left at Pontiac and drive another 30 minutes), the Root is all about going back to the basics.

Executive Chef James Rigato speaks with such passion and enthusiasm for what he does that it's easy to get swept up in it, and there's no better place to be so easily swept. (He also REALLY loves Patrick Swayze.) The Root is all the fineness of fine dining without any of the attitude. It's sophisticated while still being FUN, and their ethos of transparency and accessibility is carried throughout every aspect of their restaurant.

For Rigato, the menu at the Root is his opportunity to truly communicate through food. He uses the highest quality products he can get his hands on and everything is made from scratch and prepared in-house, from smoking the bacon to baking the breads. Rigato is another staunch supporter of using Michigan products, and puts right on his menus the names of the different local farms and purveyors they work with.

The Root hasn't even been open for six months but the word has spread fast. Turns out, when you do something this noteworthy and unique, people are willing to drive great lengths to experience it for themselves. The menu is contemporary American but really quintessentially Michigan; they also host prix fixe dinners monthly that really focus on the of-the-moment products of the season. Check out their "Wild Game Feast" on November 30, a five-course menu that's all about the tastiest of all Michigan's wild animals - rabbit, pheasant and deer. Also check out their Black Friday Brunch on November 25.

See the full article here.