Detroit Grown & Made dinner series shines light on black chefs and farmers 

A taste of urban paradise

The scene could have been that of a rustic farm in upstate New York or a quiet vineyard in Napa Valley. Amid bountiful plots of dinosaur kale, collard greens, Asian squash, and heirloom tomatoes, was a long wooden table beautifully accented with wildflowers, elegant place settings, and a menu that rivaled any high-end pop-up dinner.

View 36 photos from the Detroit Grown and Made pop-up here

A gleaming Bentley was parked nearby. Well-to-do Detroiters — black, white, young, and old — were smartly dressed in summer linen and flowing dresses. Youths in crisp white T-shirts with towels folded over their arms carried out dish after exquisitely plated dish — all sourced from gardens just a few feet away.

Never mind the burnt-out building across the street or the fact that most of the dinner guests until then had never stepped foot in the city's North End.

Until that cool summer Sunday, few had even heard of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm where the dinner was held.

"It's like Hudson Valley, but way cooler," says one of the event's organizers, Devita Davison.

Davison's voice rises in volume and urgency when talking about the food scene in Detroit, but it's more than ticking off the names of new trendy eateries that gets her excited. She runs communications for FoodLab Detroit, a group of socially conscious entrepreneurs with the shared goal of building the city's food economy, not just for wealthy foodies, but to provide an ecosystem that everyone can enjoy.

"Food is a place where you will bring all types of people together," she tells us.

It's that communal experience that breaks down barriers. How farmers, chefs, and activists of color are addressing poverty, racial disparity, and food insecurity, and how just by sitting at the same table and eating together, decades of racial tension can begin to heal.

That's what the Detroit Grown & Made dinner series is all about.

The idea for the dinner series was born from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum.

Davison had been brunching in New York City with chef Maxcel Hardy, a Detroit native, who was trying to find his path back to his hometown after 16 years away.

He had also been a featured cook in the Black Chefs Series in Harlem at Blujeen restaurant. Every other week, a different African-American chef had a platform to show off his or her culinary skills. He suggested bringing the series to Detroit, to which Davison suggested making it a Detroit-specific event that not only highlighted Hardy's talents but also shone a light on black farmers.

Meanwhile, Peter Dalinowski, proprietor of the pop-up venue (revolver) in Hamtramck, was searching for his own ways to integrate more black chefs and growers with his venture. (revolver) got its start in 2013 when Dalinowski partnered with Nigerian-born chef Tunde Wey. The sleek space attracts a well-heeled, mostly white clientele, who were willing to pay upward of $100 per ticket to test out the creations of some of the area's most promising chefs (including Hardy).

The two connected after a chance Google search led Dalinowski to Davison's Pinterest page.

With Davison's deep connections with local farmers, the culinary wizardry of Hardy, and Dalinowski's vast rolodex of (revolver) followers, the trio had just the recipe to get Grown & Made off the ground.

"It just happened serendipitously," Davison tells us.

We were among the first guests to be seated at the inaugural Grown & Made dinner at the North End farm.

On the menu: grilled heirloom tomato salad with an Avocado Champagne dressing; brook trout with wilted greens and vegetable gratin; followed by a chicken Sambuca with an oven roasted herb tomato quinoa pilaf with pine nuts and dried cranberries; and a rhubarb and strawberry crumble to finish — its sweet aroma wafting through the breeze.

We delighted in each course, impressed not just with the freshness of the ingredients, but with the complexity of each dish, noting that aside from the avocado from the dressing and the proteins, pretty much everything came from the farm.

Hardy punctuated that point: "The rhubarb you're about to eat was harvested maybe 45 minutes ago."

Happily, full dinner guests marveled at the level at which the hosts executed the dinner, and toward the end of the meal we heard the types of whispering the hosts were banking on: Once my friends hear about this, they'll have to be convinced to come back to check out the city.

Future dinners will be held Oct. 2 at Plum Street Market Garden at MGM and in November at D-Town Farm. For details go to http://www.revolverhamtramck.com

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