“Chef Mike is whacky, eclectic, and so incredibly passionate about what he does. When you taste one of his dishes, it’s as if you are tasting a piece of his personality. When he and I work together, the kitchen becomes our stage and we are well choreographed ballerinas. He’s my funky red haired dumpster child, and I have nothing but real love for him and his creative mind. Oh and one more thing . . . it’s pronounced sweatpants.”
I met Chef Mike Conrad when he came to work at Takoi Ann Arbor. He enlisted to help my business partner, Chef Brad Greenhill, in the kitchen and immediately became part of the family. He was the chef who enjoyed experimenting with vegetarian dishes for me—his love of cooking so great he would take time between lunch and dinner service to prepare family meal for the staff.
When I went through my baking phase, he made time to discuss caramelization at length and various techniques in molecular gastronomy. While Greenhill’s critiques were accurate and to the point—more fish sauce, less duck fat—Conrad’s were always encouraging: maybe less salt next time, but those triple chocolate whatever cake truffles (hacked from Christina Tosi) are fucking delicious.
Every kitchen needs a scientist-coach on the roster.
Over the years we’ve had the unique opportunity of building restaurant(s) together—one in an Arbor (that moved to Detroit), one in Detroit, and another in Detroit (after a fire destroyed the first) as well as too many popup experiences than I care to recall, including a dinner at the James Beard House. A great friend and mentor—Conrad is an artist whose talents I have seen flourish with hard work and dedication to, more often than not, tragically banal tasks like fetching dry ice for a broken freezer or making curry for 100 in a home kitchen with actual dishes but not an actual dishwasher.
People tend to think that restaurants are the vision of one person, specifically one chef.
Which is false.
It takes a team of singularly talented individuals to create something bigger than any one person. That garbage Grant Achatz drops about recipes and ownership? Ignore it. Real life does not unfold like an episode of Chef’s Table.
As in kitchens, as in life: no one can do it alone.
If you ever visited Takoi, you’ve tasted Conrad’s food.
And if you’ve ever attended one of Conrad’s dinners, lucky you. His playful mix of influences—French, Indian, Mexican—is as flavorful as it is thoughtful. Case and point: his churros—scallop and savory caramel—is an experience I will never forget. Bonus points if you’ve attended a dinner with his frequent collaborator—Pastry Chef ay Seldon Standard and James Beard Rising Chef—Lena Sareini.
Like the soap says, we’re All-One or None.
OVER THE OCEAN: Songs for the Line
*daily progression from open to close.
Over the Ocean by Here We Go Magic
Death by Made in Heights
Highway Patrolman by Bruce Springsteen
Perfect Wife by Amigo the Devil
In a Sweater Poorly Knit by mewithoutYou
The Goodness, pt 2 by The Hotelier
Drag My Body by Hotwater Music
Golden Skans by Klaxons
Bad Dreams by Joywave feat Mick Jenkins and Little Simz
Please visit here to listen on Spotify.