I’m loving this summer FORKS on Tour ’14 book tour because it gives me the opportunity to see my own country. After spending three years traveling around the world, and then another 3 years reliving this experience in writing and publishing FORKS, I now get to experience places and meet new people in the United States.
If you’ve been following the news over the last year, chances are you’ve read or heard about the woes Detroit, Michigan is going through. Perhaps no other city has been beaten up and battered by bad press, corrupt politicians and a dwindling population due to businesses moving away from or failing to invest in Detroit.
All of this news makes one wonder, ‘why visit Detroit, at all?’
I might’ve skipped over Motown if not for Q-Man, my friend Quentin Johnson. I met Quentin Johnson (aka Q-Man) some 20 years ago when I was exploring the Indonesian archipelago on rented motorcycles, where an accidental meeting in a bar on Bali has turned into a lifelong friendship. He has visited me in California dozens of times and yet I’ve never visited his home in Detroit, until now.
Thanks to “Q” I had the pleasure of connecting with another of his good friends, Tim, whose son Jacques is creating a name for himself in the now burgeoning Detroit culinary scene. Less than two years ago Jacques injected energy, excitement and enthusiasm into a old and perhaps venerable watering hole that, like much of Detroit, had been abandoned. His Green Dot Stables may have an unclear and perhaps questionable history, Jacques restored the old tavern yet retained its heritage and legacy by not only retaining its name and but also its classic signage and hometown feel. With an updated interior, a simple menu that focuses on sliders and other small plates, nothing is priced more than $4. The bar follows the same simple concept: all drinks, including call brands are just $3. For Detroit, as it embarks on what will surely be a slow journey to regain its former glory, the Green Dot Stables is generating a lot of buzz.
I was honored that Jacques agreed to host a FORKS on Tour ’14 book signing event at Green Dot Stables. The event was scheduled to coordinate with the 313th anniversary of the founding of the city—313 is symbolic because it’s also the city’s area code. Partnering with one of Detroit’s growing craft breweries, Jacques used the event as occasion to tap open a Firkin of Biere de Garde from Motor City Brewing Works.
With the help of Q and new friends, I rolled Doc out of the FORKS Tour Van and set up a display on the patio at Green Dot Stables and throughout the evening shared stories, sold and signed books and enjoyed good local beer and two recipes from FORKS that Green Dot chef Les Molnar prepared for customers: Nyama Na Irio (p. 191) from Kenya and the Quinoa and Black Bean Salad (p. 87) from Bolivia. Les prepared about 40 servings of each and well before the night was done, Green Dot Stables sold out of both dishes.
For a city that arguably is smoldering in the ashes of its decades of failures with barely an ember lingering, young entrepreneurs such as Jacques Driscoll, Slows Bar BQ owner, Phillip Cooley, and the committed watch and bicycle makers at Shinola, who are out to prove manufacturing and quality crafted products can still be produced in America and motor city, are slowly giving the city the spark that they will use to stoke Detroit’s fire and regenerate the city’s former energy.
Jacques toured me through Detroit where I got lost among the decrepit buildings of the long-abandoned 40-acre Packard Motor Car plant, just one of the estimated 78,000 abandoned buildings littering Detroit. From their we wandered through the Heidelberg Project, the open-air art environment in Detroit’s east side. Its goals and mission are admirable, but critics and naysayers have long attacked the project. Former mayors and city council members doomed and demolished the project twice before, and more recently in late 2013 and early 2014 five of the residential properties that were key exhibits of the project were burned to the ground by arsonists. Remnants of the charred ruins now serve as foundations for resurrected Heidelberg found-object art sculptures—symbolic as I sense a burgeoning and yearning community with a powerful spirit and will that refuses to let Detroit to fall deeper into the hole it has dug itself.
One can find excitement most anywhere in Detroit. One evening I experience a massive outdoor party in celebration of a multi-community ad-hoc soccer league. With a huge bonfire, free beer with suggested donations, a bounce house, foam pit with slide and a fire-breathing dragon concocted from an old construction crane, the creative energy of Detroit’s rising generation is hard to pass off as “just a reason to party.”
There’s a good reason to think Detroit Positive. Property is cheap as evidenced by enterprising entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the excellent value that can be found among those seventy-thousand buildings. Negative thinkers are quick to spit on outsiders who have seen the value and accepted the risk of investment in Detroit. From faraway foreigners such as Peruvian Fernando Palazuelo who bought that massive Packard plant for a mere $405,000 to billionaire-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who has purchased some 7 million square feet of building space, perhaps the largest landholder in Detroit, to Chinese investors, speculators have their eyes on Detroit and certainly will contribute to the city’s revival.
My next stop is Detroit’s Eastern Market. Since the 1850’s Eastern Market has grown, evolved and served locals with staples from hay to hogs and just about everything in between. For some 40 years street artists have graced the market with massive murals, making the area a large-scale art museum and helping merchants attract attention and communicate offerings visually rather than through boring branding and over-designed logos. It’s organic eye-food for this wanderer and his camera. I could wander this part of Detroit for days, making me a good excuse to comeback to visit friends and watch Detroit’s comeback.
Before heading back to the lake house where Jacques dad, Tim, lives, we make one more stop — to Johnny Noodle King — Driscoll’s second and soon to be opened, eatery just down the street from Green Dot. Johnny’s will offer a selection of ramen dishes made from noodles Driscoll and Molnar have specified and tested.
Sadly, I must leave Detroit before Johnny’s opens. Yet given the success of the FORKS recipe dishes sold at Green Dot, the impending success of an asian noodle bar, I think I’ve planted a bug in Drisoll’s ear that perhaps a FORKS-inspired global kitchen could be part of Detroit’s resurgence and Driscoll’s growing culinary collection.
Check Out The Video of Detroit’s Fire-breathing Dragon:
My quick photo essay of time spent wandering Motown: