Daniel Campbell Executive Chef Tallulah and Bella Piatti
When Daniel Campbell left Detroit at the age of eighteen, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He ended up working in a number of restaurants in Seattle, climbing the ladder from dishwasher all the way to the top. "Seattle had great food and a great restaurant scene with lots of fresh seafood," Campbell says, "I want to bring a lot of nice fresh fish and sea creatures and such to Birmingham."
Campbell's passion for seafood has its roots in Seattle. The passion further rooted itself in Michigan when he came back to work for Takashi Yagihashi at the now defunct Tribute. After Tribute, Campbell became the Chef de Cuisine at Michael Mina's Saltwater at the MGM casino. Dan's work at Saltwater, like chefs at at most casinos, may have been under appreciated.
Don't get me wrong, Campbell never once made mention of being under appreciated, however, the lure of Tallulah and the prospect of opening Bella Piatti was enough to bring his culinary prowess to Birmingham. His impact is immediately noticeable, too.
Open since October 6, Bella Piatti is unique in layout and its menu. Campbell explains Bella Piatti's cuisine, northern Italian cooking is, "The closest to my philosophy of food – you take a dish, make it with eight ingredients and then take four away and see if you have a similar dish." The ingredients tell the story. "You make something with three or four ingredients, everything must be pristine," says Campbell.
At a recent menu tasting, Campbell presented a wood fire grilled Monterey Bay sardine topped with a simple mix of pine nuts, roasted peppers, golden raisins and high quality olive oil. Not only was this dish a joy to eat, it was great fun picking and plucking at the large sardine for each delectable bite.
Randolph Supnet, Pastry chef Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak and Saltwater
Quick, name one local pastry chef off the top of your head. Dessert is what many diners look forward to more than the meal itself, but the pastry chef is often unknown. Pastry chef Randolph Supnet of Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak and Saltwater is pushing the envelope through the use of savory ingredients and fascinating compositions.
Supnet had no intentions of becoming a pastry chef, in fact, his first job at Michael Mina Bellagio was as line cook. Until one fateful day he was given the opportunity to work with pastry chef J.J. Stith. "J.J. was an ex-marine so she was very intense," Supnet explains, "She was loud and would throw things at you. Her turnover was ridiculous."
Supnet and Stith got along just fine, however. "I would keep my head down and mouth shut," he jokes. From Stith, Supnet learned many of the techniques he still uses to this day. "J.J. taught me to never make desserts too sweet," Supnet says, "too sweet will kill every other flavor."
Desserts that feature cardamom, sea salt flakes and jalapeno grace Supnet's menus regularly. "I'm more into savory," Supnet says, "When I go out with my girlfriend, I never order dessert." Don't worry, though, Supnet's creations are always intriguing. Whether it's a cardamom sponge or chocolate pudding, the taste and presentation will always be dynamite.
James Rigato Executive Chef at the Root Restaurant & Bar, White Lake10;
The Root Restaurant & Bar is another unexpected culinary mecca in what most outsiders consider a culinary wasteland. Located in a strip mall – a strip mall! Take THAT pompous perceptions of what fine dining should look like! – in White Lake (hang a left at Pontiac and drive another 30 minutes), the Root is all about going back to the basics.
Executive Chef James Rigato speaks with such passion and enthusiasm for what he does that it's easy to get swept up in it, and there's no better place to be so easily swept. (He also REALLY loves Patrick Swayze.) The Root is all the fineness of fine dining without any of the attitude. It's sophisticated while still being FUN, and their ethos of transparency and accessibility is carried throughout every aspect of their restaurant.
For Rigato, the menu at the Root is his opportunity to truly communicate through food. He uses the highest quality products he can get his hands on and everything is made from scratch and prepared in-house, from smoking the bacon to baking the breads. Rigato is another staunch supporter of using Michigan products, and puts right on his menus the names of the different local farms and purveyors they work with.
The Root hasn't even been open for six months but the word has spread fast. Turns out, when you do something this noteworthy and unique, people are willing to drive great lengths to experience it for themselves. The menu is contemporary American but really quintessentially Michigan; they also host prix fixe dinners monthly that really focus on the of-the-moment products of the season. Check out their "Great Pumpkin Feast" on October 27, a five-course menu that's all about the greatest of all Michigan's fall produce, the ephemeral pumpkin.
Alexis Henslee Executive Chef at the Metropolitan Café, Shelby Twp.
Way way wah-wah-WAY out at the corner of Van Dyke and 24 Mile Rd. in Shelby Township – an area not exactly known for cutting-edge cuisine – Executive Chef Alexis Henslee is changing people's perceptions and drawing in diners from all corners of metro Detroit (thanks in part to some very well-timed love from Dame Abraham). Metropolitan Café has been open since May 2010, and almost immediately caught the attention of greater metro Detroit for Henslee's "upscale yet accessible" contemporary American menu that truly highlights the bounty of Michigan's agriculture. Henslee has a huge passion for Michigan products, and being situated in what seems to be this far-flung corner of Macomb County is an advantage for this cosmopolitan restaurant – they are surrounded by farmland, by the very same small farmers Henslee loves to work with.
Henslee grew up in northern Michigan where her parents owned a restaurant and where she really developed her enthusiasm for all things homegrown. She attended the Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts Program where her initial focus was pastries, until she was introduced to savory cooking and hasn't looked back since. Now she is one of only a handful of female executive chefs in metro Detroit running a high-profile kitchen, and she's rocking it out.
The menu at Metropolitan Café caters to all tastes and price ranges; you can go full-throttle fine dining if that's what you're after, but you can also order a less-fussy sandwich or pasta dish for under $10 – they may be cheap but they're anything but simple. The Metropolitan Café is "metropolitan" by absolute definition, and Henslee succeeds in striking the balance between fine and fun dining, fusion and friendly food exceedingly well. | RDW