James Beard Celebrity Chef Dinner Showcases Michigan Talent

Townsend's Drew Sayes and Damien Yopek as well as Myles Anton from Traverse City represent local culinary scene


Rugby Grille chef de cuisine Damien Yopek served a venison tartare, shaved foie gras, red eye aioli, and pickled huckleberries.

Photo courtesy of The Townsend

The traveling James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour brought some culinary heavyweights to Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel on Wednesday, Nov. 14 as well as showcased some local top chefs.

Townsend Hotel’s Drew Sayes, the dinner’s host chef, and Damien Yopek, chef de cuisine at Rugby Grille, were among the featured chefs as well as Myles Anton of the Trattoria Stella and The Franklin, both in Traverse City. Rounding out the star-studded lineup were: James Beard Foundation Award winner Justin Aprahamian from Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee; Matt Danko of Sink/Swim in Chicago; Bill Glover of Gallerie Bar & Bistro from Columbus, Ohio; and Paul Virant of Perennial Virant in Chicago and Vie in Western Springs, Ill.

The multi-course dinner exhibited diverse culinary skill and technique, such as several pickled preparations from peaches to mushrooms, smoked ingredients such as celery root and goose sausage, and nose-to-tail cookery. The menu also showcased more interesting proteins and game, such as monkfish liver and venison.

Sayes, the hotel’s executive chef, got the night started with a variety of elegant hors d’oeuvres that included foie torchon on brioche with blood orange, smoked shigoku oysters, seared wagyu beef with an uni emulsion, spiced lamb loin on a chickpea cracker, salmon tartare served on a chicharron made out of salmon skin, and tempura octopus. The specialty cocktail to go along with the array of appetizers was a light and effervescent Hangar 1 “Rossellini Spritz.”

Yopek contributed a luxurious meat course with venison tartare, shaved foie gras, red eye aioli, and pickled huckleberries. 

Anton’s course of butternut squash cappellacci, smoked goose sausage, lardo, tomato, rosemary and thyme was a hit among the crowd. Anton explained the dish was inspired by a trip to Italy where he connected with a “60-year-old mama” and this particular dish was something she would do for the pumpkin fest. Even though he is based in Traverse City, he honed his culinary chops at Oakland Community College’s culinary arts program and worked as sous chef at the Townsend in the mid-’90s.

The Celebrity Chef Tour began in 2004 to bring the experience of dining at the historic James Beard House in New York City to other parts of the country. The Birmingham event is one of the tour’s most popular stops, this time selling out in two and a half days. 

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