Friday, November 29, 2013

[EID Feature] Young Guns: Nick Janutol, Forest Grill

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 Nick Janutol, Chef de Cuisine of Forest Grill.

Chef Nick's background: After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Chef Nick Janutol moved to New York City where he worked under Daniel Humm and was part of the team that elevated Eleven Madison Park to three Michelin stars. Looking to move closer to home, Chef Janutol moved to Chicago. In Chicago he worked under his friend and mentor Chef Matthew Kirkley. Under Chef Kirkley’s leadership, Chef Nick opened the two Michelin star RIA in the Elysian hotel. The pair then left and moved to L2O, where they took the restaurant to a two Michelin star rating. Chef Janutol finally made the move back to Michigan where he has been able to take his experience in fine dining to create an exceptional spin on the causal and comfortable atmosphere he has always enjoyed in restaurants.

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?

NJ: This feels a little like a loaded question. I could talk for days about the values and beliefs behind why I do what I do. The words that best describe my philosophy are quality, consistency, integrity, and hospitality. If one starts by truly believing that every guest is equally important and works as hard as they can to make them happy, then you have done your job.

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?

I think you are right in saying Detroit is behind major cities like New York, Chicago and the San Francisco area, and it is unreasonable to say we are not. That being said I don’t think we are as far behind as far as you think. Having lived in both New York City and Chicago for a number of years, I have had the chance to see once empty neighborhoods explode with incredible restaurants. When I look at Corktown or Ferndale it feels like the West Loop or Brooklyn five years ago, you can feel this energy. It really feels like we are one or two great restaurant away from creating the competitive playground needed to propel this city.

What advantages does a chef have in Michigan over other states? 

Michigan chefs have a blank canvas and a public that wants to see it colored in; we have a clientele who wants to see more. All in all Detroit is an entrepreneurs dream.

You recently moved back to Michigan after working at some high-profile restaurants in Chicago. What really prompted you to make that decision, to leave such a high-profile market for one that is markedly less so?

Michigan especially the Detroit area is home, and there is a great future for her food scene here. Maybe I am niave in thinking that Detroit will rebound, but I will see it through. I am committed to this area and want to be a part of this great upswing that I feel is inevitable. With that said, the goal of entrepreneurship is one of the biggest reasons I moved back.

What is your favorite cuisine and/or what are your favorite or signature dishes to make? What do you geek out over?

I guess the pc answer is “seasonal products from the farmers market,” but that should be a standard in any restaurant you go to. With that said, I love French fare, not the typical American French bistro, but true French food that is produced by great chefs like Charles Barrier, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Olivier Roellinger, and Yannick Alleno to name a few. For me it is truly inspiring to see what is possible with food. I strive to create dishes that are not spur of the moment, but well thought out and executed consistently.

Who have you worked with who has most influenced you, and who most inspires you as a chef?

I have learned from so many people in this industry. There are so many great chefs out there, each with their own philosophy and ideology. However, Matt Kirkley, the chef of L2O, has been one of the most influential chefs for myself as well as a great friend that I have worked for. He inspired me to have a hunger for knowledge, a drive for quality as well as reinforcing the need for integrity.

When James approached you 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?

The whole young guns name is a bit contrived, but I love the idea that we as chefs are getting the opportunity to cook together. This will be a great event, where we can share ideas and techniques with each other. That is something that is huge in Chicago and New York, the idea of meeting up after work and swapping stories and ideas. This event will only help Detroit grow as a restaurant scene.

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?

Over the next 20 years, I hope that I continue to grow as a chef and businessman in the Detroit area.