Dining in Detroit. So many restaurants, but where to eat? This year New Center alone will see more openings than all of Detroit in 2009.
That’s not fact. It’s based on subjective experience. We lived through a pre-cocktail time when Cafe d’Mongo was the place to be and the opening of Chef Andy Hollyday’s first venture, Selden Standard was a minor holiday that lasted a week. We’ve been following Chef since his Clandesdine days at Michael Symon’s Roast. Years after opening, his Selden is still our go-to. Congrats to Team Selden on their upcoming venture in New Center!
And we thought 2009 was a good year.
It’s a small town—with a changing landscape, friends, and one we aren’t afraid to admit that we need help navigating.
In this four part series we take up the matter of entertaining and delicious with industry experts.
First up, the ultimate dinner host, Julie Egan of Salonniere, a former senior Obama White House official, whose intimate gatherings are known for driving conversation as much as they are the culinary arts.
Her early dinners were borne out of her house in a desire to create a salon culture, often times organized around a single topic of conversation or the works of a particular artist. Past FOMO, you missed the Tyree Guyton dinner.
As Salonniere has grown, its mission to build bridges and foster honest conversation has created powerful allies with organizations such as Soho House, Art Basel and the Detroit Foundation Hotel.
CV Henriette: What is Salonniere?
Julie Egan: Salonniere is a French word that means “the woman who holds salons.” A Salon is an artful conversational gathering with a purpose, held in an intimate setting over food and drink. We are a conversation and cultural agency inspired by the female-led Salons throughout history, designed by women to influence the cultural and political conversations of their times, such as those held in Harlem, Paris, Berlin, Cairo, Buenos Aires. Salonniere uses this format to introduce inspiring artists, changemakers and innovators to influential local and global audiences to celebrate their work, and help them form new partnerships, projects and collaborations.
Salonniere’s mission is to reimagine a modern salon movement, in unique intimate spaces – such as the living rooms of global influencers and hidden cultural spaces – partnering with the world’s most provocative culinary, beverage, art, thought leadership and real estate talent, to change the world, one conversation at a time.
CVh: What did you do before Salonniere?
“The tradition of art and culture and food that I experienced in South Africa, as well as different models and approaches to conversation and community, deeply influenced my diplomatic practice throughout my career.”
JE: Before Salonniere, I was a public servant. I started working in goverment at the age of 15, working nights and weekends as an intern for a state senator. In college, I worked full-time in the Michigan Legislature.
During that period, I took some time away and lived in South Africa, in Johannesburg, just after the end of apartheid. This was my first foray into what would become a lifelong career in international relations and diplomacy.
I worked in a township of Johanesburg, Soweto, learning from women who resisted apartheid by creating alternative finance mechanisms, called stokvels.
Stokvel is a name that originates from the term “stock fair,” and comes from the rotating stock auctions used by English settlers in South Africa in the 19th century. A stokvel is essentially and invitation-only club of 12 or more serving as a credit union or savings club in South Africa, where members contribute fixed amounts of money to a central fund on a regular basis (either weekly, bimonthly or monthly.)
These women in South Africa have been an inspiration to me throughout my career and in launching Salonniere. They risked everything fighting against apartheid by organizing politically and economically, sometimes costing their lives. They did this by illegally gathering as a form of protest and to feed their families. They gathered in traditionally “female” spaces – those related to food and hospitality, like the female Salons around the world—including in the back rooms of “shebeens,” or illegal, speakeasies in Soweto.
It was against the law in South Africa during apartheid for Blacks to gather or drink in public spaces. The tradition of art and culture and food that I experienced in South Africa, as well as different models and approaches to conversation and community, deeply influenced my diplomatic practice throughout my career. And stokvels were my original inspiration for Salonniere. Over time, I intend include a “Stokvel” element into Salonniere, regular gatherings of women to form savings/investor clubs to fund ventures started by women, artists and people of color.
“There is a “conversation crisis” in this country—we do not hear, see, or listen to one another. We lack empathy, the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.”
JE: I got into food for its ability to build bridges and break down barriers. Food is the soul of a people. It unites us. For me it has always been a way to understand a culture, a place, a people. It is a way to build emotional ties and emotional connection, and it was an important part of my diplomatic practice. It was a way to reclaim the power of a particularly female space, a space commanded by mothers and grandmothers, who exerted total control over these spaces and used them to build family and community, and to welcome visitors. I am the granddaughter of farmers in Canada and entrepreneurs in Detroit. For both, important conversations took place at the table over a shared meal.
“Later, in my career at the State Department, I used food—including some of my grandmother’s recipes—in dinner salons overseas and in New York to build bridges with people from around the world over a shared meal.”
“In general, Detroit is charting its own path on food, and many of our cooks, chefs and restaurant owners are part of that conversation.”
CVh: What to expect from Salonniere in 2019?
JE: In fall 2018, we launched a Global Salon Series in partnership with the Detroit Foundation Hotel and Chef Tom Lents, which in 2019 will bring global flavors and conversations to Detroit via leading global chefs, sommeliers, food and beverage innovators, artists (including female hip hop artists!) and entrepreneurs who want to collaborate and co-create with Detroiters. We launched an exciting project with The Financial Times (more to come on this in 2019!) and are kicking off a 5-city 6-dinner Salon Conversation Series on the margins of 3 major global art events focused on a local Detroit artist to raise awareness, support and partnership for his work. We launched an exciting collaboration with Chef Andrew Carmellini and NoHo Hospitality Group in 2018. Finally, we launched our Podcast and began working on a project – the Detroit Artist Inclusion Project – focused on increasing the inclusion of local artists in local real estate projects, both of which we intend to roll-out in 2019. For interest in our Salons, which are by invitation only to ensure a wide range and diversity of voices at our table, please drop us a note regarding membership at www.salonniere.co
Salonniere’s Favorite Restaurants/Menu Items:
10. Al Ameer
Favorite Middle Eastern restaurant outside the Middle East. Favorite meal: Shish Tawouk and Arabic coffee.
9. Warda Patisserie
Best tarts in Detroit. Warda’s pastries are based on her travels and previous life in North Africa, France and Southeast Asia. I have also lived for significant periods of my life in France and North Africa, and Salonniere works with artists and have featured cultural and culinary traditions from France and North Africa: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania. Our favorite tart: an original creation for Salonniere called the “Shiraz Tart” with Lychee custard, Rose mousse and white chocolate glaze. We consider all of Warda’s pastries a work of art.
8. Buddy’s (original location)
Best pizza in the world!
7. Yum Village (soon to be in the North End)
We love everything about YumVillage, including Chef Godwin Ihentuge’s focus on combining family roots (African/Caribbean) and life experiences. We love.the rice and beans, plantains and jerk chicken. so good they make us cry each time! We also love that they intend to deliver and intend to crowd-source 20% of the menu using #VoteYumVillage
5. Sweetwater Tavern
4. The Clique Restaurant
Number one breakfast spot—especially the scrambles and pancakes!
3. San Morello
From the Pewabic tile, the open kitchen, the lighting, to bistro vibe and the play on words focused on Michigan cherries (Morello), we love everything about the attention to detail by Chef Carmellini—especially the friendly professional staff and the folks who run a tip-top show behind the scenes. And Chef Carmellini has created an all-star Italian menu that keeps us coming back multiple times a week. You will find us there for breakfast meetings eating Eggs al Forno, for dinner for the Spaghetti alla Ricci and Chef Carmellini’s Grandma’s ravioli, and for a Martinez at Evening Bar. Oh, and our favorite dessert of 2018 was “Sweet Chocolate Chaos,” a dessert co-created by Chef Carmellini and Detroit artist John Dunivant inspired by and served by performers from Theatre Bizarre as part of a Salonniere Art-to-Table Salon—Chef Carmellini’s his first-ever dinner in Detroit! Such a class act to prioritize a collaboration with a local Detroit artist as first order of business!
2. Lady of the House
We love Lady of the House because it reflects Chef Kate’s focus on culinary artistry with a purpose. Everything about Lady has intention: from the no-waste nose-to-tail butchering, to the ingredients sourced from local farmers, to the Detroiters represented in the beauty of the interior, to Chef Kate’s grandmother’s tea cups used for tea service, to the tampons available in the women’s bathroom. You can find us at the bar drinking our favorite martini in the world: The Lady of the House martini and eating everything on the menu, starting with the oysters.
1. Central Kitchen + Bar
Our home-away-from home. We are in the business of food x art x conversation. So our favorite places are inclusive, foster conversation and serve interesting and approachable dishes that make you feel good. Central is cozy, welcoming, and diverse. You can find people from all walks of life enjoying good company and conversation at all times of the day and evening, which we love. Favorite dish: Buttermilk Fried Chicken sandwich and fries (best fries in Detroit). Favorite drink: Five Boroughs.