Chef Brad Greenhill has been playing with fire for a long time. Before he picked up a copy of Francis Mallmann’s cornerstone book, Seven Fires, he was known for throwing epic BBQs and bonfires at his house in Ann Arbor where he learned to cook in earnest. From grilling to more elaborate sit-down dinners that grew beyond his intimate friend circle to pop-ups, he attracted the palettes of strangers, all of whom were drawn to his bold and flavorful cooking style.
Including a lot of vegetarians. While Greenhill can butcher a pig with the best of them—and his brisket is, I admit, the reason I’m not exclusively plant based—he is equally at ease working his chef-ly magic on vegetables. It’s a hallmark of his cooking and, perhaps, the secret to it. His earliest audience was comprised of his mother and his uncle—both vegans. Which meant one of his earliest challenges as a chef was to create dynamic and nuanced dishes without the crutch of animal products. There’s a reason everything tastes better with bacon—and salt and fat. It’s delicious.
It was this challenge—and a dish—that forged our friendship. Back when Tunde Way was still at (revolver) Brad hosted a Mediterranean style dinner that included a cauliflower pasta that tasted so much like cheese that I asked the server twice for clarification— a satisfying level of mimicry I have only tasted glimpses of at Greenspace Café and Little Sparrow.
I challenge any chef—or Moby—to step up to Greenhill when he’s in the vegan zone. Granted, I’m biased. But also picky.
All this is a prelude to Greenhill’s announcement that he’s opening a second restaurant in Core City—Magnet, which he will be co-chefing with his long-time sous-chef, Mike Conrad. This month the pair are testing out recipes at Frame, a pop-up incubator in Hazel Park, Michigan. The menu, still in the works, will be guided by the theme of “plant centric fire food”—the entire kitchen will run off wood fire and the manipulation of a myriad of components: flame, smoke, char.
As far as culinary inspirations are concerned, these will be equally diverse. In Greenhill’s words:
“The menu will follow a Mediterranean structure to a meal, but the pantry will be sprinkled with bits of magic from Thailand, SE Asia, India, Mexico, Italy and the Middle East. Not in a way where we will necessarily be doing interpretations of dishes from those cultures or countries, but more in that they make staples in our pantry and inform flavors in a dish.
You may encounter a dish that has miso, Thai chilies, chaat masala, olive oil and chickpeas blended together. Those are components from very different areas of the world, but the result is something that feels like hummus and we’ll serve it with various vegetables drawing from another unique mixture of flavor profiles. On one hand it feels kinda like Mediterranean food on acid—and yet it’s not that at all.”
While Magnet won’t be a vegetarian restaurant, vegetables will take center stage, making it the perfect destination for meat eaters and vegans to dine with equal pleasure.
The concept may be new to Core City, but the vision that has been years in the making.
Many of the items from the test dinner I attended are iterations of dishes he and Mike have been playing with for years—Charred Romanesco and Rescaldo Pumpkin represents some of two chefs earliest collaborative efforts while Celeriac + Mushroom Souvlaki (vegan) brings to mind the richness of Takoi’s mushroom ramen broth (RIP), while the Chocolate Milkshake (built upon tahini) conjures an earlier era when Greenhill was bouncing around ideas in Jerusalem Garden’s commissary kitchen with his old friend, Ali.
I caught up with Greenhill to talk food, restaurants, and a few things in between.
CV Henriette: Who are you?
Brad Greenhill: Human being, chef, restauranteur, soon-to-be-dad and occasional jack ass.
CVh: How’d you learn to cook?
BG: I first started cooking when I was in college. I took my first line cook position almost 20 years ago. I’ve been trying to learn how to cook ever since.
CVh: Sun sign?
BG: I’m a Virgo through and through.
CVh: Sunny-side up or scrambled?
BG: Sunny-side. Got to have that runny yolk.
CVh: What came before cooking?
BG: Well cooking has kinda always been there, but there was a foray into the music business for several years doing artist management and a small independent record label. When I quit working in restaurants for a while, I started a small graphic design and web development firm that lasted in various capacities just shy of 10 years until cooking took back a full-time role.
CVh: Plans for your day off?
BG: Pretty low key. Usually sleeping, maybe some pancakes, and chilling with Noelle and Riley (our dog).
CVh: Breakfast or brunch?
CVh: All-time favorite chef?
BG: That’s a tough one. There are so many that have influenced me. Though the one that made the light bulb turn on in a transformative way was Francis Mallmann. I love cooking with fire.
CVh: Quickest way to get fired in your kitchen?
BG: Simple. Make shitty food.
BG: Not so simple. Make not shitty food and take extra initiative and interest in learning.
CVh: Cookbook everyone should own?
BG: For the home cook, Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller is good for simple staples or anything written by Ottelenghi. His books are great.
CVh: Shift drink?
BG: I recently quit drinking, but for the longest time a mescal sour with coco nib bitters was my go-to or whatever delicious concoction Drew has on tap.
CVh: Late night snack?
BG: Pizza. Always pizza.
CVh: Favorite vegetable?
BG: Is pizza a vegetable? JK. Whatever’s fresh. I like them all but have a soft spot for those in the brassicas family and, being from the Midwest, I love potatoes.
CVh: Least favorite vegetable?
BG: Rutabega. I don’t get it. I never will.
CVh: Most underrated restaurant in Detroit?
BG: I always love a magic chicken from Taqueria El Rey, though I’m not so sure you could call them underrated. Maybe slightly under the radar.
CVh: Staples every kitchen should stock?
BG: Kosher salt, citrus and olive oil. You can make anything good with those. With a bottle of fish sauce, you can make everything better.
CVh: Tell us about the first time you got drunk.
I think I raided my parents liquor cabinet after they had gone to bed. I was mixing whatever there was with coke while watching late night television and thinking how disgusting alcohol was but that the buzz was kinda cool.
CVh: Tell us about the last time you got drunk.
BG: My birthday. I had dinner at Mabel Grey and Chef James and I were knocking back Old Forester birthday bourbon. Noelle had to drive us home.
CVh: Saturday night. Dinner reservations anywhere in the world. Where?
BG: Street food in Thailand—no reservation required. No jacket or shoes either. But if we’re talking fancy, I’d still one day like to check out Noma and see what it’s all about or one of those Mallmann dinners in the woods in the Patagonia.
CVh: What’s playing in the kitchen?
BG: I leave that to the cooks, generally. But if it’s me, it’s usually in the old school hip hop or some chill electronic / dance music. Can never go wrong with Talking Heads either.
CVh: Dinner at home. What’s cooking?
BG: We go through fits and starts when cooking at home, but it’s usually in the Mediterranean realm. Generally something slathered with hummus or tehini.
CVh: Favorite restaurant you’ve never visited?
BG: There are so many! Even though it’s probably well past its prime, I’d still love to visit the French Laundry. That was the first cookbook I ever owned.
CVh: What’s for dessert?
BG: Ice cream. Recently it’s Graeter’s Mint Chip in the freezer.
CVh: Last documentary you saw about cooking?
BG: I watched the Chef’s Table on Bo Lan in Bangkok. I generally don’t care much for that show, but when Thailand is in the mix, I can’t resist.
CVh: What’s the concept?
The concept at Magnet is plant centric fire food. What does that mean exactly? Well the kitchen is 100% fueled by wood fire and the menu will largely focus on vegetables—yes, there will still be meat—but vegetables in many ways will take center stage.
The restaurant takes a lot of inspiration from the DIY Detroit mentality, with almost everything being made from scratch: vinegars, yogurts, misos, naturally leavened bread, fish sauce, etc. We want the food to have an elemental simplicity, be tasty as fuck and dynamic yet healthful. We aspire to be a place you can frequent daily and your body won’t hate you—but also a place where you can indulge if you so choose. Since the restaurant is centered around a 32-seat bar, there will be plenty of imbibing to go with the eating.
CVh: Who are the players?
Mike Conrad and Myself will be running the kitchen. I’ll be splitting my time with Takoi, Mike will be at Magnet around the clock. Beverages by Drew Pompa.
CVh: Food inspiration?
All over really. As a magnet is something that attracts like items around it, we’ll cook with the ingredients and foods attracted to us. The limitations are largely from what we have available to cook with—which is fire–and what we have available to us in Metro Detroit.
CVh: Design inspiration?
BG: There’s a kind of Stanley Kubrick thing going on.
CVh: Sneak peak at the menu?
BG: Not a chance, but we are testing ideas for it at Frame in October.
BG: Early 2019.
CVh: Actual timeline?
BG: Early 2019.
All photos have been provided courtesy of Joe Vaughn and Frame. Tickets to Magnet Test Dinners at Frame may be purchased here.