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Posts Tagged ‘Scott MacInnis’

If you come by this blog now and then, you may remember a post from this spring, when I reported on our good fortune in luring Scott MacInnis to cook for us and spend and eveninTg talking about food and the restaurant business in Southeast Michigan. I haven’t had much of a chance to catch up with Scott since then. We see each other at the market once in a while, and we had one botched plan to get together for pizza and ice cream that we had to cancel at the last minute, so I was really pleased when an invitation turned up in my inbox asking us to join him and a group of other interested-in-food folks for a first look at his proposed new restauarant, The Redding, in Chelsea, MI.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a proposed restaurant, but it sounded like a lot of fun. When we arrived, on a dark and chilly Sunday evening, we spotted the place by a small paper sign tacked up above the door and a ladder underneath it, indicating the sign was really brand new.  The Redding isn’t even quite a work in progress yet — it’s more in gestation — but both the conversation and the food that evening has me crossing my fingers that the talented and enthusiastic team that’s working on The Redding will get a chance to show us their stuff.

Erik Majcher, Nathaniel Stanton, Aaron Vermeulen and Sandra Vermeulen are the investing partners in The Redding, and they are a team with deep expertise in architecture, real estate development and general contracting, as well as a considerable passion for food and wine. They’ve joined up with Elizabeth Smalley, who will be the brains behind the wine selection, and our friend Scott who will head up the kitchen.  The group has a really nice rapport, and their experience and knowledge of the many aspects of restaurant development is very much in evidence. And besides being smart and talented, they were all just plain nice, too.

The Redding is across the street from The Common Grill, directly in front of The Purple Rose Theater and underneath The Chelsea Gallery and The New Chelsea Market.

We spent the first part of the evening prowling around in that “underneath” part, the actual restaurant area, sipping on sparkling wine and eating crostini.  At present, The Redding is, well, a basement. A very nice basement, filled with art from the gallery upstairs and clearly a basement with “good bones” (lots of brick and fieldstone) and really great potential, but a basement nevertheless. All the guests enjoyed looking at the illustrations of the plan for the space and trying to visualize the plans in relation to where we were standing.  I was wondering, myself, if and how we would be eating down there and if I would have to keep my coat on the whole time (it was a bit basement-ish in temperature too) when we were ushered upstairs to where the gallery had been transformed into a dining room for the evening (special bonus — eat delicious dinner while looking at nice art; pretty cool).

Despite the fact that Scott was cooking under difficult conditions — he had to use a small stove in an empty apartment up above the gallery, and the (very gracious, volunteer) servers had to whisk the hot food across a small alley — he pulled off an elegant and excting four course meal. Each course was accompanied by one of Beth’s intelligent wine pairings. Except for the main course which had two wines (is that a wine tripling?) because of some friendly disagreement among the menu planners. The two wines led to a great and educational discussion about choosing wine to either complement or contrast with your food; news to me, but something I’ve already given some thought to since in menu planning.

And, what you really want to know? The food? Amazing.

The menu, in all its tasty detail is below, but, in sum, there was a creamy romanescu and leek soup, handmade butternut squash tortoloni, beef short ribs in a red wine reduction sauce, and lovely little coffee creameaux to finish. I didn’t know from creameaoux before, so in case you don’t either, don’t feel bad.  It was a sort of very dense mousse. Most of the ingredients were sourced locally, and all put together with care and attention to detail. I need to give a special shout-out too, to the coffee. I left my french press behind a long time ago and became an espresso snob, but the special roast from San Rafael, made up in a french press had me swooning (and up a good part of the night because I didn’t know my limits).

The group behind The Redding says they “aim to fill a void in the local market for wine and food enthusiasts” and create a place where patrons are encouraged to explore.  They estimate that they’ll be able to open about six months after they actually begin work. They’re in the process of lining up funding now, with an eye toward starting work soon. (First task, lower the floor almost three feet. Eek.) Their web site is not quite complete, but will soon be available at www.theredding.com with more information for both potential investors and interested (and eager) spectators like me.  I look forward to these good folks being able to put together the right funding package, their considerable talents and great location and provide us with an interesting and welcome addition to the Southeast Michigan restaurant choices.

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One of the pleasant surprises of this little blogging enterprise that we started about a year and a half ago is that it leads to all sorts of adventures. We’ve met new people, learned a lot about the challenges and rewards of owning an independent food business, and eaten better than ever before in our lives. Some of that eating better comes from exchanging ideas among the three of us, some of it from learning from other food friends, and some from the healthy pressure we out on ourselves to develop our skills and our repertoire so we can share it with our readers.

Last week, we had a very special opportunity to socialize, learn and eat all at once due to the generosity of Scott MacInnis, a talented and aspiring local chef.

Two of the three of us are Old West Side residents. When we spotted a story in the OWS Newsletter a few months backabout Scott and Jessica (his fiancée) and his search for a restaurant location, we thought that it might be interesting to interview him for our blog. I emailed. Scott emailed back. We were all willing, but we were all busy. Somewhere in the exchange Scott said that if we were going to be talking about food, we should be eating while we did it. He knows the way to a food blogger’s heart! At first I was thinking we would go out of coffee and a croissant while talking, but slowly it dawned on me that Scott was offering to cook for us. And then we got down to brass tacks.

So late one Sunday afternoon, Scott arrived on my doorstep with shopping bags and a cooler (although, sadly, not his fiancée who was studying for a final and resisted all our attempts to lead her astray), laid out his mise en place and got cooking. He had given us a shopping list that we divided among our three domestic units, and we all made sure there was a good supply of wine. I turned over the kitchen to him, hovered around to offer pots and pans and run out to cut herbs from the garden and watched the show.

And what a show it was! It was like an episode of Iron Chef was happening right in my kitchen! Scott whirled around like a chef-dervish, managing the creation of a wonderful five course meal, finding time to sit down himself to eat, and engaging us all in an impassioned and entertaining dialogue about food, cooking, great chefs, restaurant work and life in general. Now and then, the conversation was punctuated by a great cackle of glee occasioned by his pure pleasure in cooking or a particular flavor. The rest of us were pretty gleeful too. You can see why:

A Sunday Supper by Scott MacInnis

Asparagus Green Leek Soup
– flavored with curry and coconut milk

Mixed greens with Charred Tomato vinaigrette and Parmesan-Reggiano

Handmade Morel Agnolotti with (Tantre farms best) Chantrelles and cream sauce

Crispy Duck Breast with Fingerling potatoes, braised cipollini onions, lardon, with a tamarind / mushroom infused stock reduction and brunoise vegetables.

Vanilla, cardamon and cinnamon ice cream with apricots and a white wine apricot glaze.

(Those who want the complete record can check out the flickr set).

All the courses were delicious. The duck breast probably solicited the biggest collective moan, but it was the ice cream that I thought about at my desk the whole next day. Nick got a bowl before going to bed and has been peering into the freezer ever since, hoping that more will magically appear.

The others might have thought that I was being a selfless hostess, hanging out in the kitchen washing pots for Scott (there were rather a lot of pots — all due credit to John who jumped in part of the way through), but I was actually relentlessly picking his brains on all manner of things, from the uses of duck fat (myriad and delicious), his recent stint at Logan (of which he speaks with with respect and affection), the optimum number of egg yolks in ice cream (twelve! Good God!) and especially about his aspirations to open his own place in the Ann Arbor area. Below are some the things I learned in that last part of the conversation. My notes and memory got a little fuzzy somewhere in the third course (and probably third wine pairing) so Scott was kind enough to fill in on email.

The general question that we started with was “what are the challenges of getting a restaurant business going, particularly in the Ann Arbor area.?”

He began by talking about how consumers need to think more critically and clearly about the food their choosing. He pointed out that food choices become so clouded by the “commercialization of food service, mass production and price, that quality often is an afterthought. What’s easy and fast (not to mention familiar) usually beats out what is artisan, or moreover, what is good (not to mention good for you!).”

When I asked him to talk more about the Ann Arbor-specific challenges, he, as the G3 have before him, noted it’s surprising that “a town with such a well rounded and smart population was so lacking in the food department. ” Scott was anxious not to offend all the hard-working people that are working in the AA restaurant industry but stressed ” there’s really little out there that piques interest.” He does see this as a great opportunity though; there’s a lot of possibility for change.

We also talked a lot during dinner about the problem of finding the right location and about how daunting downtown Ann Arbor real estate is at the moment. “Between the prices for space and availability, it’s not easy to find a good fit.”

Scott sees the next big challenge as finding the right people to work with. He says this is a problem for food professionals in general because “we mainly like to be in the kitchen, not running around into other kitchens looking for people like us.”

And the final big challenges is, of course, money. When I followed up with him later, her wrote “I’ve spoken with a number of business owners about how they got their start, what were the biggest hurdles and what the hell I should be doing. Their responses? Stay focused and organized, make sure your plans are air-tight and the resources will come (from a surprising array of means). Some were financed outright, by a wealthy interested party, relative, etc; but some were financed through creative mortgaging and passing around the hat.”

One of Scott’s comments in email summed up for me his delight in bringing people together around food, and his excitement about the role he can play: “The other impetus for me to open is because we (together) can make our community better. Sound a little overzealous? Probably is, but it does help make me want to do this all the more.”

Let’s hope that Scott puts together the pieces soon. If he can realize his vision for a comfortable and innovative bistro, the local food scene will be much livelier and more interesting.

It’s typical of Scott’s generosity and desire to share his passion that he actually offered to write up all his recipes for the blog. I sense the man has some trouble knowing his limits (he said he had to pull himself back from creating a twelve course tasting menu for our “simple supper”), and he wrote the other day to confess that the hectic pace set by his impending wedding was keeping him from writing the dishes up. I let him off the hook. But he was nice enough to share this one. The picture doesn’t quite do the soup justice. The flavor was bright and elegant, and it was a great way to start the meal. Those are chives from my backyard floating on top. I’m so proud.

Asparagus, Green Leek Soup

1 Bunch Michigan Asparagus
1 Bunch Leeks
2 quarts unsalted chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 bouquet garni (wrap one green leek end around parsley, thyme, bay leaf, 4 crushed garlic cloves and 8 peppercorns)
2 T unsalted butter (prefer Plugra or other 83%+ butter fat)
1 cup Heavy cream
2 T curry powder
6 Oz coconut milk
1 Oz lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Oz creme fraiche

Wash and chop leek and combine with butter in heavy bottom stockpot on medium-low heat.
Sweat slowly until tender
Add asparagus, de-stemmed and chopped.
Add chicken stock and boquet garni and increase heat to medium.
Bring to simmer and continue to cook at simmer for 1 hour.
Puree with immersion blender and strain.
Return to heat at medium and add cream, curry powder and coconut milk.
Season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper.
Finely chopped chive and creme fraiche to finish

Finally, let me just add that the reward of being a a good hostess is getting to keep the left-overs. We were eating well for almost a week off the odds and ends left in the fridge. Baguette sandwiches with duck breast and arugula pesto anyone?

Scott is happy to talk more with any of you about food, cooking and the local restaurant business. You can always find him through us, but you can also reach him directly via scottmacinnisATgmail.com

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