Detroit’s Future of Food Is Female

11 women shaping the city’s culinary landscape
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marrow-folk-nest-egg-detroit - female chefs
(From left) Rohan Foulkes, Sarah Welch, and Kiki Louya pictured at Marrow

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the world will recognize the talents of women whose contributions to their respective industries are all too often under-acknowledged. This past year, the city of Detroit has become increasingly more ever-present on a national stage for its restaurant boom and the strides it’s taking in the culinary industry overall — largely thanks to the efforts of the women innovating new menus and establishments on a daily basis. As local eateries rack up prestigious awards and applause from reputable publications such as The New York Times and Bon Appétit, we recognize the female chefs bringing visibility to our city. Here, 11 noteworthy chefs who made their mark in 2019.

April Anderson, Owner and Pastry Chef at Good Cakes and Bakes

April Anderson has baked for Oprah. And Aretha Franklin. And former President Bill Clinton, too. As the owner of Good Cakes and Bakes, an organic bakery on Detroit’s west side, Anderson has served a number of notables, bringing awareness to the talent that exists in the city. But in the five years that she’s operated the Livernois space, Good Cakes and Bakes is sought after for far more than its Gooey Butter Cakes and rich brownies. Anderson has cultivated a space of inclusivity, proudly declaring the bakery a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals — Anderson co-owns the space with wife Michelle — and has made it her mission to hire formerly incarcerated citizens re-entering the workforce. Over the past year, she’s continued to secure her place in the spotlight, cooking up her decadent Lemon Velvet Cake on the Today show, sharing insight about what it means to be a maker in Detroit with editors at Food & Wine, and consistently landing a place on various lists of hotspots to visit while in Detroit. Last April, Anderson even launched a podcast about being a pastry chef in Detroit giving global listeners an intimate perspective into her world. Go ahead, subscribe to Cake Tastes Better Than Flowers now. Good Cakes and Bakes, 19363 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-468-9915; goodcakesandbakes.com

Genevieve Vang, Founder and Executive Chef at Bangkok 96 Street Food

Street food at Bangkok 96 Street Food is as exquisite as street food comes. Think, rice wraps so thin, they’re translucent, giving eaters a clear view of the vibrant purple cabbage, fresh carrots, and verdant lettuce inside. Or, a Pad Thai Roll that resembles a sushi roll, featuring stir-fried rice noodles in a flour wrap with your choice of protein and topped with crushed peanuts, a generous helping of sesame seeds, green onions, and an artful scribble of creamy sauces. Executive Chef Genevieve Vang’s dishes at Detroit Shipping Co.’s Bangkok 96 Street Food are an art form. And everyone knows it. Diners can’t resist snapping photos of her creative — often colossal — dishes, and this past year, Vang was nominated as the Best Chef of the Great Lakes by the James Beard Award Foundation. Bangkok 96 Street Food, Detroit Shipping Co., 474 Peterboro St.; b96streetfood.com

Gigi Diaz, Chef and Proprietor at Cannabis Concepts

As new marijuana laws are underway across the country, chefs are innovating methods for incorporating the psychotropic ingredient into intoxicating dishes. Gigi Diaz has been recognized as one of the most celebrated chefs to successfully do so. As a former High Times Top Cannabis Chef winner, Diaz is revolutionizing the way diners consume cannabis. With Cannabis Concepts, a Detroit-based catering company, she scientifically infuses dishes such as CBD Curry Chickpeas and Potatoes and Avocado Bruschetta with cannabis oils and spices. She also uses her intimate dinner settings to educate her clients on microdosing and the health benefits of cannabis. Cannabis Concepts; cannabisconceptsmi.wixsite.com 

Kate Williams, Executive Chef at Lady of the House and Karl’s

Arguably one of the most celebrated chefs in Detroit in recent years, Kate Williams has generated significant excitement surrounding her first foray into restaurants with Lady of the House. The Corktown stunner turning farm-fresh ingredients into standout dishes like Shrimp Butter and Carrot Steak has garnered attention from The New York Times, and has landed Williams as a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation Awards for two consecutive years. In 2019, Williams added a new establishment to her portfolio with the opening of Karl’s, a sophisticated diner with nostalgic charm on the second level of The Siren hotel. Swanky décor meets casual American fare at the new not-so-greasy spoon drawing swarms of diners. Lady of the House, 1426 Bagley St., 313-818-0218; ladyofthehousedetroit.com; and Karl’s, 1509 Broadway St., Detroit; 313-855-2757; karlsdetroit.com 

Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes, Co-founders and Co-owners at Folk

Having mastered sweet and savory toasts, flaky pastries, and almond flour-based waffles, Kiki Louya and Rohani Foulkes were ready to pursue new ventures outside of their quaint breakfast and lunch spot, Folk. In 2019, the female chefs joined forces with the girl gang at Marrow (more on them later!) to launch Nest Egg, a hospitality group that would go on to open Mink, a small oyster bar in Corktown, and intended to eventually re-open the temporarily shuttered market, The Farmer’s Hand. Louya and Foulkes represent Detroiters’ grit and inherent activism, creating work environments that are accepting of women and offer fair wages to all staff. Though Louya, who was named one of 16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America by The New York Times, announced on March 6 that she is departing the hospitality group this month, it is likely that she and the group will continue shaping Detroit’s food scene positively in the foreseeable future. Folk, 1701 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; 313-290-5849; folkdetroit.com 

Kirsten Ussery-Boyd and Erika Boyd, Co-owners at Detroit Vegan Soul

As one of the earlier restaurants dedicated to serving Detroiters adhering to a vegan diet, Detroit Vegan Soul has become a staple for plant-based fare. Now home to two locations — one in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood and another in Grandmont-Rosedale — the restaurant is easily accessible to those interested in trying its cult coconut bacon and Seitan Pepper Steak. Kirsten and Erika continue to redefine traditional soul food dishes with their plant-based approach and are welcoming celebrity figures along the way. This past year, they added singer Eric Benet to a long list of stars who make it a point to stop in during a trip to Detroit. Detroit Vegan Soul (East), 8029 Agnes St., Detroit; 313-649-2759; Detroit Vegan Soul (West), 19614 Grand River Ave., Detroit; detroitvegansoul.com  

Lisa Ludwinski, Pastry Chef and Owner at Sister Pie

Anyone traveling to Detroit knows it’d be sacrilegious to miss a trip to Sister Pie. The charming pie shop has made a name for itself for both locals and outsiders alike with its unexpected pie flavors and jumbo cookies. Ludwinski herself has been a champion of workplace equity and diversity, and she has introduced a triple bottom line business structure at Sister Pie. She’s consistently been a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation Awards and in 2019, even made it to the finals round. She’s also a favorite among national titles including Bon Appétit, Cherry Bombe, and Food Network. Sister Pie, 8066 Kercheval Ave., Detroit; 313-447-5550; sisterpie.com 

Manal Hussein, Pastry Chef and Owner at For the Love of Sugar

If you’re seeing a flood of images of cakes dripping with gilded icing, decked out in cookies and macarons, or boasting rainbow-colored layers, Manal Hussein may have played a role in setting the trend. Hussein’s whimsical Midtown bakery, For the Love of Sugar, has become a cult-favorite destination for a range of sweet treats. In addition to traditional flavors such as chocolate and strawberry shortcake, Hussein introduces cakes that represent the cultural landscape that makes up metro Detroit. For the Love of Sugar’s Knafeh Cake is inspired by the Mediterranean dessert it’s named after, featuring yellow cake filled with ricotta buttercream, shredded phyllo dough, and crushed pistachios. There’s an ashta-flavored macaron, and lattes are blended with rose water-infused syrups. Hussein weaves nods to her Mediterranean culture as beautifully as she creates the American classics. For the Love of Sugar, 100 Erskine St., Detroit; 313-788-7111; fortheloveofsugar.com 

Sarah Welch, Executive Chef at Marrow

As another vital member of Nest Egg hospitality, Sarah Welch is one of Detroit’s most respected female chefs. As executive chef at Marrow, she meticulously serves up prime cuts of meat and delicacies in imaginative ways such as cow tongue and the bone marrow that inspires its namesake. Along with Louya, Foulkes, and partner Ping Ho, Welch is a partner at Mink and will be involved in any future developments of The Farmer’s Hand. In 2019, Welch was nominated in the category of Best Chef, Great Lakes in the James Beard Foundation Awards. Will she take home the title this year? We’ll have to wait and see. Marrow, 8044 Kercheval Ave., Detroit; 313-652-0200; marrowdetroit.com 

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