Entrepreneurs in the Kitchen
Feeding Our Jewish Soul
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
August 1, 2016
Now serving Detroit . . . from tuna tacos to gravlax, from burger bistros to falafel stands, from farm-to-table pop-up meals at the Market to steak dinners at destination restaurants, from every day comfort kosher to wedding day feasts. . . our Jewish culinary scene is hot. It’s young, it’s gutsy, it’s innovative and it’s growing.
Who are the people feeding our people, our stories, or memories and our resurgence in the city? They are chefs, caterers and bakers, property developers and managers, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs, sharing their passion for good food and their resources to bring people together.
There are far too many venues and menus to cover in one gulp. In July, myJewishDetroit visited just eight of the many rising stars in Detroit’s burgeoning food industry. Here, in brief, are their stories:
Making a splash at The Fountain: Detroit’s first of its kind eatery in a shipping container
Wheels down, heads up. Restaurant developers Matthew Shiffman and Zaid Elia couldn’t have landed a better deal in the D than The Fountain Detroit, located front and center at Campus Martius Park. “Our entire vision was to find the best piece of real estate in Detroit,” says – Matthew. Open since Memorial Day, the 40-foot decommissioned steel shipping container has been repurposed as a restaurant. Today it boasts a full-service kitchen and bar, offering guests a fresh-air dining experience in one of the city’s most popular gathering places.
“The concept of a container restaurant is popping up around the country, but our menu puts us way over the top,” says Jordan Hoffman, Executive Chef, The Fountain Detroit. “We’re doing incredible numbers here, serving as many as 5,000 guests a week,” notes Theo Oresky, Manager of the restaurant. “But our second venue in the park – on the former Fountain Bistro site – is the prize.” Wait for it, the new flagship restaurant is on track to open later this year with a knock-out concept for fine dining – serving a blend between Italian and French-European cuisine.
A welcome kitchen: Inside Shed 5 at the Market with Aaron Egan
Born and raised in Lafayette Park, Detroit, a graduate of The Roeper School with a B.A. in History from the University of Michigan, and a Culinary Arts Degree from Oakland Community College, Aaron Egan clearly has found his calling: as a Jewish chef, and now Head Chef and Detroit Kitchen Connect Manager at the Detroit Eastern Market. Even the Yiddish words tattooed on his arm speak from the heart: “Libe un hunger voinen nit in einem.” (Love and hunger do not live together.)
On a quiet Monday morning at the Market’s Community Kitchen in Shed 5, we meet Aaron unpacking groceries and set to whip up a classic Mornay for mac and cheese. Within 20 minutes, we have a taste of his talents, spooning from a pot of pasta, in a heavenly blend made with love and real butter, a quart of milk and five cheeses including mascarpone. “Mac and cheese – my way – is the ultimate comfort food,” he says and we heartily agree.
When not cooking on his own, Aaron develops recipes for the Market and manages the weekly schedule of 20 food companies that run their business out of the kitchen. Additionally, he organizes cooking events for the city and hosts pop-up meals showcasing the work of young and emerging chefs in the community.
“This Town Ain’t for Weenies.”
Another one-of-a-kind dining experience in Detroit – with its whiskey lounge, sushi bar, fire pit and all-glass retractable roof that opens the main dining room to an awesome urban skyscape, seating 340 guests—Townhouse downtown has got all the details right.
Developer and owner, Jeremy Sasson, a graduate of the University of Miami with a B.B.A. in Entrepreneurial Management and Finance, got into the restaurant business five years ago with his first property in Birmingham.
“As a kid, I always was passionate about food. My parents were both busy execs and we went to restaurants or carried out nearly every day. So I’ve always understood what it means to be a guest. Everything we do here is about the guest experience. People come in with different needs. Some are hungry. Some are thirsty. Some want to entertain guests. Others just want to be entertained. Our focus is creating a truly unique experience that stimulates all senses.”
Chef Cari: caterer with a falafel cult following, creating kosher cuisine “outside the box”
Trained in New York at the Natural Gourmet Institute, an all vegetarian, health-supported culinary school, Chef Cari Herkovitz has worked as a private chef to celebrities including Ralph Lauren and Lenny Kravitz. Running her own show in Detroit for the past nine years, Cari has created her own niche as a full-service catering business specializing in health-conscious cuisine with international flair, all certified Glatt Kosher under the Kashruth supervision of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit. “It’s all about fresh,” she maintains. “Everything’s made from scratch. Nothing canned, nothing frozen.”
These days, with her husband and business partner Rabbi Israel Rosenbloom, Cari also can be found serving up Israeli-style falafels and fries at a pop-up food stand at the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square. “Our food is a huge bridge,” says Rabbi Israel. “We have Muslim customers, Lebanese, Egyptian, Yemen – Middle Eastern guests who love to tell us how different our food is from their mom’s. But they love it.”
Beyond falafels, Chef Cari has plans to expand from her catering business to a new restaurant at a location soon to be announced. Stay tuned.
Aaron Belen: Bistro 82/Sabrage owner and award-winning developer with roots in Royal Oak
A licensed real estate agent in Michigan and graduate of the Barney Business School at the University of Hartford with a laser focus on success, Aaron F. Belen says that he gravitated to commercial real estate in his senior year at Cranbrook. At 33, he has an impressive list of accolades to his name including 2014 DBBusiness Magazine 30 Under 30, 2015 Crain’s Detroit Business: 40 under 40 and 2015 Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce: Business Person of the Year. With his own money on the line, Aaron is the driving force behind the $5+ million investment in Bistro 82 and Sabrage – a destination restaurant and lounge that now draws loyal customers from across the city. By summer’s end, AFB Hospitality plans to open The Morrie – a marquee property conceived as an eclectic neighborhood roadhouse and named for Aaron’s grandfather, Morrie Fenkell (z’l).
“It’s exciting to see others getting onboard with the growth of Royal Oak,” says Aaron. “We’re very serious about the part we play in making this city a culinary and nightlife destination.”
Hunny Khodorkovsky: Exec Chef Mom, making Friendship Circle’s Soul Café feel like home
Born in Israel of Moroccan descent, Hunny Khodorkovsky grew up in Montreal in an Orthodox Jewish household, where her mother kept a fastidiously kosher kitchen. “My mom baked our bread every day, made everything from scratch, we never ate in restaurants,” she recalls.
Three years ago, Hunny moved from California to Southfield with her husband and young family. From a stay-at-home mom with four young children, Hunny turned into a professional chef, trained in the culinary school of the Michigan Art Institute. “I’ve always enjoyed expressing my creativity though cooking, setting beautiful tables and hosting guests,” she says. “And I absolutely insist on the freshest ingredients available. In my kitchen at the Soul Café, all the breads, pastries and even the granola bars are fresh-made every day.”
“Huevous Rancheros or Israeli Shakshuka, what can I make for you?” Hunny asks when we meet at the Soul Café to take photos for myJewishDetroit. As we sit down to a delicious breakfast, Hunny takes in the friendly vibe of the dining room and observes. “We truly have a ‘whole neighborhood’ café here – one that reflects the cultural diversity of our open and welcoming community. And isn’t it amazing how food brings people together?”
Daniel Kohn: third generation caterer for Quality Kosher and Kravings
Great burgers, sushi, veg-friendly and gluten-free. What more can you ask of a kosher dining experience? Consider the catering for a wedding feast, a family simcha or holiday gathering. Covering it all from the kitchens of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills and their restaurant Kravings in Oak Park, Daniel Kohn and his mother Leah run Quality Kosher, one of the city’s most established catering and restaurant enterprises.
“My grandmother, Esther (Etta), a refugee from Hungary, started our catering business in 1968,” explains Daniel. “My dad, Paul (z’l), was a chemistry and biology teacher and started helping her with the business in 1978. It was my father who really took the company to where it is today. My father’s passion for great food was something we shared, and it will always influence our menu here.”
With kosher delicacies like Beef Carpaccio and dessert specialties like Hazel Nut Crème Chocolate Ravioli, Quality Kosher Catering continues to prove that being a kosher caterer is a privilege and a great opportunity to exceed every client’s expectations.
Keith Sirlin: a full-time attorney in private practice turns “Golden Chef” at home
With a fully renovated kitchen in his Bloomfield Hills home and knife skills the envy of anyone who cares to watch and learn, Keith Sirlin loves cooking for family and friends. He also has a growing waiting list of requests from his culinary repertoire that includes specialties like gravlax – home-cured in his secret blend of fresh-chopped horseradish root, beet and dill.
Slicing and plating salmon in prep for photos, Keith describes a journey of self-discovery that began three years ago in the Culinary Arts Program at Schoolcraft College. I was 61 – there was a week-long introductory class just to be admitted, and most of the students had already worked in restaurants; I was not as skilled as the other students and, as a result, was usually the last one to complete my practical exams, but I loved every minute.”
For Keith, cooking is not only his passion; it’s his way of giving back to the community. Often he can be found in the kitchen at the Woodward Avenue Shul, preparing meals for Shabbos luncheons or special events. Keith is not quite ready to retire from his law practice, but his reputation as a professional chef has grown. “I get calls now, people hear I’m a great cook,” he says. “What started as an outlet for my creativity has grown into a full fledged business called The Golden Chef, a Catering Company.”