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Professional chefs spend years honing their skills in the kitchen. They will tell you there is always something new to learn, whether that’s a fresh take on a classic recipe, a cutting-edge cooking method, or a unique way to plate food.
If you love to cook but need some inspiration and guidance, metro Detroit chefs in this section offer tips, techniques, and recipes to elevate your culinary skills. Learn how to select fresh ingredients and how to use them to make simple and wonderful dishes. Find out how certain herbs, spices, and grains can add more nutrients to your diet.
Now, if what you really like to make is a reservation, you’ll discover dedicated chefs and culinary entrepreneurs who focus on their menu selections and their philosophy when choosing ingredients. Natural, seasonal, sustainable, and locally sourced products, as well as vegan and gluten-free items, are menu trends that many guests are looking for and have embraced in their own diets.
Q: How did you choose the concept for Polka Restaurant?â€‹
A: I’ve been a business partner for 20 years with Mark Kolynicz, the president of the popular Polish Market in Troy. People were always asking us, “When are you going to open a restaurant?” About three years ago, we traveled to Poland to tour restaurants and do some research. Polka Restaurant was designed with the concept of providing our guests a memorable Polish dining experience. We serve traditional Polish cuisine with a contemporary twist. Our extensive menu selections include potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, pierogis, and pork schnitzel. We have a fully stocked bar of Polish and other European craft or specialty beers, with 18 brews on tap. There’s ample seating around the bar, which is modeled after Dom’s Vodka – Poland’s House of Vodka. Guests are seated at oak tables in comfortable leather chairs that were imported from Poland. Our waitstaff wears traditional Polish attire. The restaurant décor is complemented by floor-to-ceiling murals and floral paintings by Polish artist and Detroit-area resident Andrew Sikora. Our main dining area is highlighted by a panoramic view of Kraków’s main square. The ambiance will give customers a sense that they’ve been transported through time and space to Warsaw or Kraków. We always say, “You don’t have to be Polish to eat here. But after you eat here, you may wish you were.”
Q: How can I, as a home cook, elevate my own culinary skills?
A: As with mastering any skill, it takes practice. When basic tasks become second nature, a chef can create an environment where efficiency is maximized — which frees up time to create daily soups, make menu changes, and ensure specials are truly special. Each day, a professional chef must repeat the same recipes, trying them constantly and improving ratios. Every time I make potatoes at home and have extra time, I focus on one element, such as the seasoning, so the recipe is the truest reflection of the flavors I wish to portray.
I believe you can learn from books or personal instruction. I recommend The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America, which suggests a lot of starting points. For example, the book teaches you how to make basic bread, and then you can play with the recipes.
Keep at it. When first making pasta, I ended up with a big, sticky mess. But I really like pasta, and I wanted to learn, so I kept trying until I got it right. Every time you cook, take notes. Otherwise, when you find a version that everyone loves, they’ll want you to make the recipe again — but you won’t know how. Be creative, adding your own touches. Make dishes you find happiness in. After all, that’s what we’re all trying to do — put happiness on a plate.
Q: What type of steak would you recommend for the grill?â€‹
A: Steak, the tried-and-true favorite of many on the backyard barbecue. This is not about how to slice a steak (just a reminder, rest it and slice against the grain). Forget your NY Strip and T-bones for the moment — sorry, Joe the Butcher. When planning your menu, consider a less-expensive cut of beef. The cost difference can literally be upwards of $10 per pound. These have been referred to as “sub-prime” and “secondary cuts,” yet in many ways they rise above primary cuts. Try an “outside” skirt steak rubbed with a good oil blend, garlic, and fajita spices, or a flank steak with your favorite dry BBQ rub. These selections hold up great on the grill — season before you sear the steak on a hot grill. These cuts tend to have a nice bite to them without being overly fatty and typically have a more even thickness from end to end, which helps you keep grilling temperature more consistent. They don’t need to be pounded to the core or buried in a bun or tortilla to enjoy. Try them with some grilled vegetables or sherry- and olive oil-grilled onions. Great food can be simple and does not have to stretch your budget.
Q: What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
A: Apples. To me, the best time of year is autumn when apples and cider are fresh. I love apples straight off the tree or cooked in either savory or sweet dishes. Honeycrisp apples are exceptionally versatile. Their balanced flavor and crispy texture make them a favorite for hand eating. They also work well in bread pudding, chutney, compote, and bread stuffing. Apples pair particularly well with poultry and pork. I even add them to my sauerkraut! Cider is equally as versatile. Reduced apple cider can be used as a glaze for pork dishes, can be added to vinaigrettes, or can even be drizzled over ice cream.
Q: How do you choose your menu selections?
A: We focus on local and seasonally available ingredients, especially seafood. We offer USDA Prime steaks, as well as chicken and chops, but seafood is our specialty. It’s the “top of the catch.” We serve the freshest fish and shellfish. When in season, we use lake fish, including Lake Superior whitefish, and perch coming out of Lake Erie, Canada. Throughout the summer, wild salmon and Alaskan halibut are abundant. We also seek out Michigan-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables for our entrées and side dishes. I like to keep things simple. I don’t make a dish overly complex or mask it with a lot of flavors. I want our guests to taste the fish because it’s delicious, whether sautéed, grilled, or broiled. For people who rarely eat fish, I would recommend salmon or a whitefish, which is really light in flavor. Shrimp is also a good choice. We have seafood options to please almost anyone’s palate — from Fresh Oysters, Calamari, and Asian Glazed Shrimp to Ahi Tuna, South African Lobster Tail, and a Daily Fresh Catch. Our wines are hand-selected from all over the world to complement our menu selections. At Detroit Fish House, we are committed to excellence in our menu items and our guest service.
Q: How do you buy extra-virgin olive oil, and what is the best way to use it?
A: When you are shopping for extra-virgin olive oil, avoid brands in clear bottles. The worst enemy of olive oil is light, especially direct sunlight. Choose a dark-colored bottle, which will help to preserve the oil. You always want to look at the label. The extra-virgin olive oil products from California are really good because they only use California olives — a single olive blend. Many of the imported products are made by big producers who buy olives from Greece, Spain, and Italy and use them to make a bigger blend. The oil is good, but it’s a different type of extra-virgin olive oil. When you bring your olive oil home, store it in a cool place, away from any heat source. I recommend that you don’t cook with extra-virgin olive oil. It has a full-body taste and is delicious on raw salads. One of my favorites is fennel salad with red onions and parmesan cheese. You add the oil, some salt, and cracked pepper — it’s so easy and healthy. You can also mix extra-virgin olive oil with red wine vinegar and some raspberries for a nice vinaigrette. You can mix the oil and the vinegar together with any fresh fruit or even a honey or mustard. These are very simple ingredients that make something wonderful.
Q: How do you apply Hospitality in your life?
A: Most folks might assume my answer would be service related — how my teams and I use, teach, and spread hospitality at our restaurants. The more true answer for me is really about all the small opportunities for kindness through hospitality in everyday life. It’s about slightly changing the course of someone’s day — a call center operator, a gas station attendant, a stranger on the street — by giving them just a little dose of positive and caring energy. It’s applying graciousness whenever possible, and just being good humans to each other! It’s the reason we love the restaurant business, because along with exceptional food, drink, and ambiance, we get to provide the most extraordinary thing: happiness through hospitality.
Q: Is there a simple way to add more nutrients to my diet?
A: Herbs and spices not only add flavor to our daily meals; they also have quite a few health benefits. For example, cilantro is good for digestion and helps to stabilize blood sugar. For a healthier version of tacos, I chop up a little cilantro and mix it in to make a pico de gallo. Parsley also improves digestion. It’s a diuretic that helps flush toxins out of your system, improves liver function, and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. When I’m eating quinoa or rice with a stir-fry, I’ll cut up a little bit of cilantro and parsley and mix those in with the grain.
I love garlic! It helps to stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and boost energy. I’ll use a fresh clove to make vinaigrette. If you don’t like to bite into large bits, take a zester or microplane and just shave the garlic into your dressing. Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory and detoxifier. Lemon is a natural diuretic and it helps to balance out an acidic diet. Fill a mug with hot water and add a slice of fresh lemon and a piece of fresh ginger. Enjoy this healthy drink to jump-start your day.
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Q: How do you cook your pasta for Carbonara?
A: The pasta is cooked in two steps. While a pot of water is brought to a boil, we sauté cubes of guanciale, which is smoked pork jowl. Next, we add a little shallot. After the guanciale browns and becomes crispy on the outside and sweet inside, it is set aside. The pasta initially cooks for 4-5 minutes. Then we take three scoops of water from the boiling pasta and add it to the guanciale rendering. We add the pasta, which is still uncooked, and we toss it in a continuous motion for another 3-4 minutes until it is al dente. As the pasta cooks, it soaks up the water and releases the starch that remains, and that’s what makes the “cream.” We add egg yolk, freshly grated pecorino and parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh parsley. Once plated, we place the jowl on top. That’s our secret; we always finish the pasta in the pan. The American version of Carbonara uses pancetta and heavy cream. Our pasta is much less fattening and more flavorful. This process is called “risottatura.”
Q: How do you create the perfect coffee blend and roast?
A: It’s a labor of love and a century-old passion for great coffee. We’ve developed relationships with third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation families of expert coffee growers who are dedicated to their land and regions. For the ultimate consistency, Crazy Fresh is roasted to perfection in small batches. It allows us to quickly adapt to any atmospheric changes that arise from season to season due to the weather. Once roasted properly, the taste profiles of favorite Crazy Fresh varietals year in, year out yield an explosion of inherent natural sugars, caramels, and chocolate notes, combined with a full, round flavor and a smooth and clean finish — no roughness, no sours.
We keep it simple at home, too. My wife Joanna and I drink coffee out of a French press every morning. Our tastes might change from time to time — right now, we’re on an amazing Crazy Fresh Mexican Chiapas — but the method doesn’t change. We can’t start the day any other way.
Crazy Fresh coffees are micro-roasted to order and delivered within 1-2 days to our customers in the food and beverage industry, and to coffee lovers who order through Costco, Amazon, and our website.
Q: How can I add more protein-rich grains to my diet?
A: Quinoa, lentils, farro, bulgur, amaranth, freekeh, and legumes are not only rich in protein, but these super grains can also turn an everyday dish into something different and unique. Try amaranth in its flour form to make pancakes for a healthy power breakfast. I like to add farro to my Mediterranean salads. For a tasty twist on risotto, use farro in place of the rice. Most people are familiar with bulgur wheat in tabbouleh. I make bulgur stuffing, rather than using bread. It’s a great option for stuffing a chicken or turkey. Freekeh adds an incredible flavor and texture to stir-fry. It’s a wonderful alternative to overly processed, long-grain white rice. As for legumes, I make a lot of healthy beanlike relishes and salsas. When we grill salmon or chicken, instead of serving a sweet relish, I usually make it with beans and fresh herbs. We eat a ton of lentils at my house. We love them hot in soups and stews. Leftover lentils with a bit of feta cheese, tomatoes, and herbs make a great salad for lunch. One of my favorite dishes is quinoa oatmeal. I rinse it very well, simmer it in milk on the stove with a pinch of salt, and cook it until tender. I add a little bit of brown sugar and some dried apricots or cranberries. It’s incredible — even my kids will eat it!
Q: How do I select the best fish at the market?
A: When you look at a whole fish, the eyes should be convex and clear. If the eyes are starting to turn concave and cloudy, that generally means the fish is old. Another measure is the color of the blood that runs through the gills. A bright red color indicates the fish is fresh. If the color is turning brown, that fish has been sitting for a while. Fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy or stinky. Most fish smell like the sea. Firmness is another quality of freshness. The older the fish, the softer and mushier it’s going to be. If you’re buying whole fish and it’s not scaled yet, it should have the natural slime coat that protects fish in the water. Fresh fish should have a nice, beautiful sheen to it and feel a little slimy on the outside. The less slime there is, the older the fish.
We use a rating system from 10 to one. Ten would be live fish in the ocean or the lake. We’re looking for fish that are nine-plus, based on all of those freshness factors. We don’t accept anything less than a nine, which would probably be two days out of the water. When you’re looking for fish at the market, be sure to ask, “When did you get it in?”
Q: How do you choose ingredients, and what is your inspiration for menu items?
A: For the proteins I’m using, I look for sustainably raised animals that are treated humanely and live the life they are supposed to live. They’re not kept in crowded, stressful conditions or injected with antibiotics or hormones. Sustainably raised meat tastes better and the natural flavor is so much more complex. We’re focusing on great steaks. We have a Super Prime Ribeye, a Prime Bone-in Filet, and a Super-Prime New York Strip, all from single farms. One of my favorite entrées on our menu is a Poulet Rouge with Mustard Greens and a Guajillo Oil. Poulet Rouge is a small breed of chicken that most people have never tasted. Another favorite is our Pork Loin Tomahawk with Gruyère Grits and Crispy Leeks. I’m a huge fan of Southern food. The grits will be ground specifically for me out of the Carolinas, and will be something that, typically, is not seen around here. I look for the best possible ingredients and use local Michigan products when I can. I’m also trying to feature vegetables, fruits, and charcuterie that people may not be so familiar with. A lot of my dishes are especially robust. I’m very “herb-forward.” Often people can’t quite get their thumb on what that flavor is, but it’s never overpowering.
Q: What is your focus when purchasing items for your menu?
A: We use natural, locally sourced products whenever possible. All of our beef comes from C. Roy’s, a Michigan pasture-raised, grass-fed beef company. We order our chicken, dairy, eggs, and much of our cheese from Eat Local Eat Natural, a distributor in Ann Arbor that sources from smaller family farms. Our menu features burgers, sandwiches, tacos, salads, and starters, and includes a full list of vegan items made from scratch as well as gluten-free options. We support local craft breweries. Among our 30 beers on tap, we rotate a selection of 18 different Michigan draft beers. We also feature more than 30 local bottles.