In anticipation of the first-ever Young Guns dinner at the Root - which sold out in less than 48 hours - Eat It Detroit will run a new profile every week leading up to the event featuring each of the six participating chefs. This week, it's Chef Andy Hollyday formerly of roast and partner in the soon-to-open Selden Standard in Midtown.
EID: What is your culinary ethos? As in, as a chef, what do you BELIEVE in? What is important to you as a chef in your cooking and, in a bigger picture, what do you think the most important values are for a chef to have?
AH: I believe in keeping things simple. I believe if you have some beautiful vegetables you don't need to do much to them to make them delicious. Sometimes as a chef you need to get out of the way and not complicate matters. All of us want to chef it up and get super creative, but the older – and hopefully wiser – I get the more I understand the adage, “less is more.” Food can and should speak for itself. That said, it's not always an easy thing to do. That’s why one of the most important values for me is to support farmers who are doing things right. Supporting their integrity on a local level will hopefully change farming and culinary practices in this country. If we don't, it will all be hormone pumped, pesticide poisoned, taste-like-nothing bullshit. And of course, if I’m trying to respect my farmer pals, I also have to be a chef who gives respect to my crew. They bust their asses for me and for our customers, and I want to teach them and mold them into not only good chefs but help them be the best people and the best colleagues they can be.
How/where do you see Detroit's/Michigan's culinary scene fitting in on a national level? Thinking in terms not of where it is (which is still far behind most other major cities/states) but where it COULD be, how can Michigan chefs/restaurants evolve and where do you see them going?
Clearly, the Detroit food scene is currently lagging a bit behind other cities. We do have a lot of gems, but everything is so spread out so it feels like we have less than we actually do. But we are in a unique position to highlight what Michigan has to offer. We’re a state that’s rich with a big network of farms, orchards, forests, and waters surrounding us. It’s the inherent quality of those things combined with Detroit’s history and personality that will make us distinct. We’ve always had a wealth of great ethnic food, but what's exciting, especially as a chef, is all the energy that's coming from these new restaurants, pop-ups, distilleries, breweries, and urban farmers. We’re contributing to a culture that's putting a demand on local resources, and utilizing them to define our local cuisine. There’s a lot of momentum building.
What advantages does a chef have in Michigan over other states?
First and foremost, the people here make the city and that is why I'm here – to feed them! I came to Michigan 10 years ago, and have been working in the city of Detroit for over 5 years. And I definitely don’t have any plans to leave. I’m inspired by all the hardworking, ballsy risk takers that I've met and become friends with. Opening a restaurant anywhere is risky, but it seems as though the rewards – and I mean that in terms of relationships and a sense of contributing to something more than financial – in the city are much bigger. What really excites me is being able to be a part of a neighborhood. Take our block, for example: Alley Wine is going to open nearby, apartments are getting cleaned up, the El Moore project that the Green Garage guys are doing. It’s fun to be part of what is almost a collaborative vision, even though we’re all doing our own, different projects. I also think that people often come to the city with low expectations. And to be honest, it feels good to exceed those with a stellar dining experience that will help change their overall outlook of Detroit.
What is your favorite cuisine and/or what are your favorite or signature dishes to make? What do you geek out over?
I hate this question, but I love pasta. And in terms of cuisine, I really like anything simple, rustic, and Mediterranean. Something as simple as grilled bread or grilled onions can be outstanding.
I truly "geek out" when vegetables are at the peak of their season. When you eat that perfect peach off the tree or carrot straight from the dirt. When food is alive is when it tastes the best. I love a fresh caught fish fried after a day of fishing in the lake. Ramps and morels are always exciting but taste better when you pull them from the woods yourself. Since I left Roast, I’ve had the chance to visit a few farms in Michigan and across the Midwest, and it’s been so interesting, so much fun. When Selden Standard opens, I’m just excited to be able to work more closely with some of them.
Tell me a little about your new restaurant - what is the concept? How will it fit within the existing Detroit restaurant scene, and how will it be different than what's already out there? What is your "in a perfect world" timeline for opening?
We wanted to open a place that was the kind of restaurant that we like to eat at. So that’s what Selden Standard will be: very sociable, seasonally driven, shared plates. There are a lot of great meals to be had in fine dining. A lot of them can be found here in Michigan, and believe me, I’ve ate at all of those places. But I don’t want white linens and an eighteen page wine list every single time I go out to eat. More than anything, I love great food and hanging out with my girlfriend and our friends. So we’ll be a much more casual, neighborhood place with outstanding food and drink. A place where you can feel comfortable eating with your hands and still hopefully leave saying, “Wow, that was a special meal.”
Detroit already has a lot to offer: I eat at Supino and La Feria and New Center Eatery and Roast and all those places all the time. But there are so many variations in what a good restaurant can be, and right now, there aren’t a lot of places where the menu is changing every 3, 4, 5 weeks; there aren’t a lot of places that have the capacity and culinary scope of a bigger, formal restaurant that are aiming to do more casual; and so on. So hopefully we will give people something new. I know other chefs and restaurateurs in town are looking to do more seasonal cuisine, more sociable dining room experiences, and I’m excited for that too. Greater downtown is growing, and speaking as someone who loves to eat, we need as many perspectives on interesting food as we can get. I’m just glad that we’ll be a part of that.
In terms of opening, our perfect world scenario is sometime in May, but we’re saying “mid 2014” because there are still so many variables. Ask me again in a couple months.
When James approached your about being a part of this Young Guns dinner, what was your reaction? Did you consider yourself one of "Michigan's most dangerous chefs" prior to this? What do you think of your fellow Young Guns?
I was stoked that James asked me. I don't really consider myself DANGEROUS and definitely not that YOUNG anymore either. I mean, I got into the industry 20 or so years ago, and I graduated from the CIA more than ten years ago now. So it’s hard to think of myself as young. But when James gets all amped up and starts talking about a community of chefs, how can you say no? His energy is contagious, and we do need to all support each other. Some sense of competition (for lack of a better word) should be there, but it should always respectful and friendly. All the chefs are very talented and great guys. I love all their restaurants. So something like this is fun to do.
As a chef, what do you hope to achieve in your career? Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years? And how do you hope to help strengthen and bolster Michigan's culinary scene?
Well, first, I want people to come into our restaurant and have a great time with great food. That’s why you get into this business and stay in it, you know? But in terms of the bigger picture, I hope to positively impact Detroit's dining scene and along the way, help build a better connection with the farmer not only at restaurants but for the general public. I want to cook good food and help change the way people look at the city of Detroit. I love working with new cooks and hope to have mentored the future Young Guns of this town. In 5 years, I hope to have kids and be married. In 10 years I would love to own a farm that would be solely dedicated to sourcing my restaurant(s). At some point, in a dream scenario, I would love to open another business, but first thing's first. Finally within 20 years, I hope I’ve had some role in inspiring and teaching younger chefs to stay here and continue the craft so I can go eat at their places with my family and friends.
Read last week's interview with Chef Brennan Calnin of Imperial in Ferndale here.