this from your website, so hopefully it’s accurate. So you can correct me
if anything’s wrong. So I’m going to
read it verbatim. “A native of small,
rural-town Michigan–” most of us know Howell– “and a Schoolcraft College
graduate, Chef Rigato’s cooking philosophy started
with his grandparents, who exposed him to the art of
handcrafted Italian cuisine. Rigato entered the
restaurant business at age 14 as a dishwasher
at a local diner. After enrolling in Schoolcraft
College’s culinary program at 17”– very impressive– “he
spent the next eight years working in some of metro
Detroit’s finer restaurants. In 2007, Chef Rigato became
personal chef for Ed”– JAMES RIGATO: Mamou. JASON ANDREAS: Mamou– “Mamou’s business,
Royal Oak Recycling and Royal Oak Storage,” where
his passion and enthusiasm in the kitchen sparked
their friendship and future partnership. The two collaborated in
developing and opening the Root, which was named
the top restaurant in Detroit in 2012 by the ‘Free Press,’
followed by Mabel Gray. In Rigato’s restaurants,
diners experience everything he loves about
growing up and living in the great state of
Michigan, community and the bounty of the Earth. At the Root Restaurant and Bar
in White Lake and Mabel Gray and Hazel Park, to Top
Chef season 12 contestant creates dishes with
ingredients sourced from his favorite local
farmers and artisans. Rigato welcomes his guests
as if they are family, aiming to nurture and delight them.” So again, a quick
round of applause– please welcome to Google
Detroit, Chef James Rigato. [APPLAUSE] The stage is yours. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah– good. Thank you very much. So yeah, that sounds accurate– nice PG version of– JASON ANDREAS: Good, good. JAMES RIGATO: –my
last 18 years. JASON ANDREAS: Awesome. JAMES RIGATO: So, yeah, I
got a job on my 14th birthday at a local diner in Howell. I’m not a big fan of
Howell, to be honest. It’s a pretty
culturally dead town. You can’t find a piece of fish. You can’t find a
person of color. You can’t find
anything interesting. So I really grew up just– I don’t know– hungry. That’s what I
always tell people. I grew up really hungry. And legit– I mean,
I had a single mom. And we were on welfare,
and she worked a lot. And so my sister and I
were home alone a lot. So I just was like
hungry for everything. And I think a trait that I
developed young that a lot of my friends didn’t– for instance, I’m
the only kid that– I grew up with kind of
posse of four kids, me and three other neighbors. And they actually had
it worse than I did. But I’m the only one that
graduated high school. And we moved downtown Howell. I grew up in a trailer park. We moved downtown Howell into
a house when I was about 12. And then I was in
proximity to that diner. And that diner kind of like– I don’t want to say
it saved my life, but it kind of shifted things. I grew up, and I always felt
like trailer park, Howell, like mundane things
are temporary. I always felt like my
situation was temporary. I was like, this
sucks, and I can’t wait to get over there,
where it doesn’t suck. JASON ANDREAS:
We’re going to have to put a disclaimer on
this video for anyone watching from Howell. So apologies. [LAUGHTER] Anyone from Howell, it’s– JAMES RIGATO: It’s fine. JASON ANDREAS: There’s some
decent things there, too. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, yeah. [LAUGHTER] JAMES RIGATO: No, I
don’t need to say it. JASON ANDREAS: Couple
stop lights– it’s good. [LAUGHING] JAMES RIGATO: But, I mean,
literally think about it. You grow up in a town. You have no– there’s
just no resources. There’s no live music. There’s no art. There’s no food–
especially food. Even right now, go
there and try to eat. I mean, it’s tough. There’s no food. So I always wanted better food. I wanted culture. I wanted life. And actually, my dad started
to enroll me in YMCA camps. So in the summertime, I’d go
away for two weeks at a time, and I’d go up to Camp Nissokone
in the middle of Oscoda. And there were kids all
over Detroit and Michigan, counselors from Africa
and South America. And literally, I remember
watching one of our counselors, this African dude from Kenya,
cooking potatoes over the fire and like butter and bacon fat. And stuff like that
was really the things that stood out in my mind. I’m like, man, here’s
all these people from different walks of life,
and we’re over this fire, and we’re cooking
potatoes from raw. We all can connect
with that potato regardless of where
we’re all from. So just things like that stood
out so I got a job at 14. Actually, if anyone knows Rose’s
Fine Foods down in Detroit, so that’s Molly
Mitchell’s restaurant. Molly Mitchell went to the
same high school as me, and actually elementary school. I’ve known Molly forever. Molly actually called me. She’s like, yo, I
know you’re 14 now. You can work at the diner. Come down and get a job here. So I did. I got a job. I just washed dishes,
and it sucked. It was like the worst job ever. And I ended up getting a
job at Papa John’s flipping pizzas instead. But that was kind of like– that day one, washing
pots and pans– and it was a 24-hour diner,
so it never shut down, and I went home, and my fingers
were all pruned, and I’m tired. I’m was like, man,
I got purpose. I felt like I had
purpose all of a sudden. And then you got paid. And I was like, oh my god. Growing up poor, we used
to walk to the party store and collect bottles on the way. And you get in the party
store with a buck, 10 bottles, and you’re like, dude,
that’s like a beef jerky or whatever, a Whatchamacallit
and a Mountain Dew. So once I started getting
paid for washing dishes, and then I got a job at Papa
John’s making $6.50 an hour, I was like, psht– I’m ballin’. For Like 18 hours a week, like,
oh, my god, are you kidding me? That’s like $100 a week
I can probably make. And so then I got a
job at a restaurant. Because one girl in
my class was like, yo, we need a pizza guy
at our restaurant. I said, I can make pizza. Went to that restaurants. I was 16. And I could make pizza
better than anybody there, but that’s when
I saw line cooks. That’s when I saw a chef. I saw a dude in white checks. Checks are like the chef pants. And I was like, oh, that guy
is a chef, like for a living? Like that’s what he
does for a living? He’s a grown-ass man. He’s got kids–
like, oh, my god. [LAUGHTER] And then I saw the cooks. And now you look
back at these cooks, and they’re like 23-year-old,
drugged-out bums. But then, I was like,
these dudes are flipping and like hitting each other
with tongs on the butt and lighting hands on fire
and just like spinning shit, pulling off tickets. You used to put a
plate in the window, and you put enough English on
to where it goes to topple over but spins back. I was just like, bfft! I couldn’t see straight. And so about six
months into that job– I’m like almost 17, 16– grill cook quits. This dude AJ, choked out
Caveman– the saute cook, we called him. He choked out
Caveman on the line. [LAUGHTER] And I’m like, damn,
this guy’s crazy. And AJ quits. Chef was a nice guy,
but he sure as shit was not going to get on
that hotline and cook. He was like 40, and they’re
always drugged-out cooks doing 600 covers a night. He’s like, you! He’s like, Jimmy, can you cook? I’m like, yeah, I can do it. I’ve been watching
him for six months. Went on the grill, banged-out
grill, and killed the night service. The owner comes over, and
he’s like, I’m lead cook. You’re the new grill cook. OK. So grill cook is a big position. It was like 45 hours a week. I just get the schedule. But I don’t know if they
just forgot I was 16 or [LAUGHTER] But 45 hours a week. Like they schedule you at 2:00. Well, OK, well, class
gets out at 2:40. So like sixth hour, Mr.
O, I was like, Mr. O, can I go to art class and paint
if I finish my homework early? He’s like, yeah, OK, cool. I had three hours of art. So he was like, yeah. OK. I literally finished my
homework and just get in my car and go to work,
punch in at 2:00, close down at 12:00 midnight. Bring back a pitcher of
beers in the kitchen. [LAUGHTER] The guy hands me a beer. I swear to God the
dudes forgot I was 16. So I just started working. And I stated dating a waitress
who was much older than me. And she eventually
found out [INAUDIBLE]. [LAUGHTER] But that just like– I just immediately– and
then I was making like– I don’t know– $10
an hour, $11 an hour. I eventually got a
raise to like $11.50. I moved out after I
graduated high school at 17. I tried getting an apartment
but couldn’t sign a lease. But I had like
four grand in cash. So I was like, can I just
pay for six months up front? This was the village in Wixom
if anyone knows where that’s at. One of the whole complexes
was burned down at the time. And so I think they were like,
we’ll take it– whatever. So I just gave six months’
rent, they gave me the key, and I had an apartment. So 17, apartment, I’m making
like $11.50, $12 an hour, 50, 60 hours a week,
enrolled in Schoolcraft. And I just was entrenched. That’s really my
jump-start, I think. Because I opened a
restaurant at 26. I graduated from
culinary school at 20. All day long, I got people
that come to my restaurant, even now, as recent as last
night, oh, you’re baby face. You’re so– how old are you? Where’s your dad at? Where’s the chef? I’m 32. I’m young. I’ve been doing this– I’ve been on the grind. I’ve been standing on
quarry tile under UV lights, banging pans, for 18 years. I could be a fucking surgeon. [LAUGHTER] So to me, that’s the
industry in a nutshell. And that’s how I started,
banging pans, drinking beers, just being the man. But then at Schoolcraft,
I was like, oh, shit. There’s actually finesse, right? There’s knowledge. There’s like, OK,
this is a profession. This is as distinguished as
politics or the fine arts. This is ballet. I’m like in the club,
and I see a ballerina, and I’m like, oh, shit. No, actually, it’s that. It’s not pop, lock, and drop. [LAUGHTER] It’s actually pirouettes. So I got “The French
Laundry Cookbook.” That changed my life. And I came across a couple of
my fellow chefs at Schoolcraft, and those guys are
just like, I got it. I was like, OK. So at, I don’t know, 19 I
took a job with Matt Prentice at Shiraz. I don’t know if anyone
here remembers Shiraz, but that was a good restaurant. And I started getting
serious about food. And then I became a sous chef. I just got in tune with
Michigan seasonality. I always grew up with it. I always saw, oh,
it’s blueberry season. Oh, pick your own cherries. Oh, farmer’s market, corn,
like so-and-so has a whole pig, and then they’re slaughtering
because the Windsor’s coming. I always knew that. When you actually start
applying it to menus– Halloween is a pagan holiday. It’s the harvest. Winter solstice is– even like
I started paying attention to history and
food and holidays. Everything started making
sense through food. Travel, right– you see
what France is doing. You go see the mussels
on the coast of Brittany and where Prince
Edward Island actually discovered their similar
climate for mussel harvesting. And all these
things will start– even today as I travel
now, just constant– it’s like formulaic. There’s algorithms, and
they’re all plugging in. So food did that for me. JASON ANDREAS: Well,
I’ve been listening– so Chef Rigato has a new
podcast, or a newish podcast with Ann Delisi. We were talking about
Ann earlier, who’s a local DJ, really awesome,
great music taste if you ever listen to her. But you guys have been
doing the podcast, and I was able to listen
to quite a few of them. JAMES RIGATO: [INAUDIBLE] JASON ANDREAS: It
think it’s really cool. Yeah, no problem. They’re actually really
interesting– quick plug. But what I really like is what
you were just talking about. You go into a lot of the
history of things, right? You go into the history of
where certain types of recipes came from or a certain
type of ethnicity behind a food, which I
think is really cool. And you can obviously
tell the passion. It’s cool hearing you
say it now in person, but in those
podcasts, you really go deep into not just
a certain type of food and talk about just something
that’s new or up and coming, but you go into the history
of like very basic stuff as well, like geographies
and things like that, which is really interesting. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. I think for me, food– I don’t know. It’s like purpose, right? I grew up in a Catholic
school, which is ironic, because I grew up
in a trailer park, and my dad would pay
for Catholic school but would like not
pay for other things. I had like one uniform. I was the dirty kid
in Catholic school. But I was the Catholic
kid in the neighborhood. So I was always juxtaposed. I was either like a prissy punk
or like a dirtbag trailer park kid. I couldn’t find– Which actually kind of
fits, because that’s kind of what Mabel Gray
is, honestly, right? We’re the fancy
restaurant in Hazel Park. But if you like
fancy restaurants, we’re like the grungy,
piece-of-shit restaurant that plays Tupac while
you eat a tasting meal. So that’s been my identity. I enjoy that. Now I love it. But then it was like my paradox. But I think it’s very important
to pay attention to food. Food is so much purpose. Like if you look at France– I’ve spent a lot
of time in France. France is kind of a
culture of arrogance. It just is. I’m not mad at France,
but they’re very proud. If you’re in France, you’re
on the Basque border, they don’t cook Spanish food. But go on a train, go 30
minutes, go eat Spanish. You’re French. We eat French food. Whereas us, we’re like,
dude, go to Windsor. Go check out Little Italy. We’ll give you
advice where to eat. Oh, you should go over to the
Western side of the state. Go to [INAUDIBLE]. Go to Chicago. We all love Chicago. Live There it’s
like, Spain is crap. This is the best. But think about it, man. This is a country
that’s– how many wars– look at Champagne, the region. Every single war from France
has trampled through Champagne. And there’s a bloody,
sad, bleak history of that– we all think of
Champagne, pop the cork, party. Go to Champagne. Pay attention to the
history and the culture. It’s flat. There’s no mountains, right? It is the highway of invasion,
from the Vikings to Hitler. Everybody has trampled through
that part of– in the world. So I think of Champagne,
yes, I pop champagne. It’s New Year’s– whatever. But when I drink champagne,
I look at that bottle, fuck, man, like the history– Champagne is so important and
so serious in the world, right? Like they set the bar. If you have great
sparkling wine from Italy, if you have great
Schramsberg from California, they do a champagne method. They label it “Champagne
method” because they let you know they set the standard. So I don’t know. If you’re just like,
let’s order champagne, or they call American sparkling
wine champagne, I’m like– I can talk about Champagne
for fucking days. [LAUGHTER] So with food, it’s important
to remember that, too. American culture, we
barely create much. We kind of just lift it, right. You look at soul food. You look at barbecue. How much bad white-boy
barbecue does Michigan need? [LAUGHTER] JASON ANDREAS: We haven’t
hit the ceiling yet. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, you
haven’t seen nothing yet. There’s probably like 20 more
barbecue restaurants opening up in the next two years. There’s so much bad
barbecue in this state. And even the good
barbecue, they buy the shit at Restaurant Depot,
add sugar and salt in, then smoke it for 24 hours. It’s like candy. Like barbecue is such a
serious cuisine for me. Because, for one, the
real barbecue out there is like a heritage pig, right? You pick your pig, you butcher
it, it’s whole roasted, it’s broken down. Usually the cook is up with it
all night, tending the fire, loving in the process. Next morning, lunchtime, you
break down the whole pig. You serve it till it’s out. Barbecue is done. That’s barbecue. 400 pounds of just
one cut of the– 400 pounds of brisket is
like, whatever, like 20 cows, but just like one
part of 20 cows. So like it’s a
2,000-pound animal. You’re going to take a
10-pound chunk of it and say, who gives a shit about the rest? Rub it down with sugar and
then smoke it, then slice and be like, I’m the man? I don’t get that. Barbecue is like the off cuts,
open flame, or whole animal, local proximity to
farms, nurturing, using vinegar and
sugar and spices to manipulate the
tougher, fattier, not like center-table kind
of cuts and cooking it for people of the Earth,
hand-to-mouth people. So it’s lifted from
the West Indies. It’s lifted from
history of slaves. Barbecue is a very
serious cuisine for me. So I don’t like the, like I
said, strip-mall, shitty, fast, sugar, cheap junk, get the
fat people fatter mentality. It bothers me. So I could talk about
barbecue for days. [LAUGHTER] So that’s what food
had done for me. It’s created this purpose. Food is this living
history, right? I think when robots
take over the world, and there’s robots cooking,
they’re still not going do it– it’s one of the protected arts. Google is an interesting
company because where was it 20 years ago? Where is it going to
be 20 years from now? So many questions–
I think there are more questions
about the tech industry than there are answers. Whereas the food, I feel
like there’s more history than there is future. You want to think about forward,
you’ve got to go backwards. You’ve got to look at
where everything came from. If anything, we’re running
into trouble with food, right? We’re going to run out of it– GMOs, like fishing– oh, my
god, what sushi restaurants have done to the world. So I think we need to think
about food holistically and who we are as a people. Wasn’t it
Brillat-Savarin, show me what you eat, I’ll
show you who you are? JASON ANDREAS: Yeah. JAMES RIGATO: So that’s
what food is to me. Mabel Gray is obviously
just a restaurant in a neighborhood– you
can say whatever you want, gentrifying or
pop redevelopment. But to me, we were
talking about earlier, Mabel Gray is a blank canvas. It’s like a little art
gallery for me and my friends. And maybe I’m passionate
about barbecue. Maybe I’ll get a whole pig and
I want to do barbecue night. And maybe I want to
focus on the West Indies or show my cooks why a certain
technique is important. Or my farmer has 16 rabbits. Well, then we’re going to play
with rabbits for a couple days. It’s a living space. To me it’s like my best attempt
to curate the purpose of food in metro Detroit. JASON ANDREAS: Well,
obviously there’s a lot of care that goes into
your menu on a nightly basis. And for those of you who
haven’t been to Mabel Gray yet, the menu changes daily
based on ingredients and I guess whatever you feel
like cooking for the day, maybe barbecue. JAMES RIGATO: Attitude. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, maybe
we’ll get, yeah, attitude. JAMES RIGATO: [INAUDIBLE] JASON ANDREAS:
[LAUGHING] Yeah, exactly. How do you then equate that idea
to what we were talking about, local sourcing things, right? So how do you find
the right types of sources that aren’t
Restaurant Depot that you can pull some of those better
types of foods from and that you can support
the whole local community? And how does that process work? And how did you set that up when
you were getting Mabel Gray? So I guess it’s probably
a never-ending thing. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. That’s like a living thing. It’s like a network. So I did that a lot
before we opened The Root. 2010 I was just
scouring the state, physically visiting
a lot of places, to Chicago, to New York. I went and visited. I want to know where
everything comes from. So I have a big network. So I have people liked
D’Artagnan Foods, which is an online-based
company that FedExes. They deal with a lot of chefs. They’re like a very
high-standard broker of farm animals, mushrooms
across the country. So if I want the best
bison America has to offer, D’Artagnan, they broker it. And they list their farms and
their network of accountability that chefs can contact into. So I met that caliber of
I guess my career, where I can tap into the best
network in America. Locally, I have a
number of farmers, and they all know each other. So Solomon, this dude
out in Brass Lake, raises chickens
and beautiful eggs. Solomon is buddies
with Tom Becker, who runs Sunseed Farms,
which we have a co-op with. I met Tom Becker through a
girl named Rachel Beyer, who was doing an internship
at Tilian Farms because she was going to
MSU’s organic farming program with Thomas, her
instructor, right? So right there id three
degrees of separation to how I get my chickens now. So good develops good. So we do a co-op
up Sunseed Farms. Like just this week, I’m
cutting Tom a $5,000 check because we buy on co-op. I give him $5,000
upfront, and usually bleaker months like
February, when farmers are paying all the expenses,
the crops are docile, there’s some
greenhousing going on, but it’s minimal when it’s 10
degrees outside, so Tom needs money now more than he
does in August, when the CSA shares are– it’s kind of like the
planning and the harvesting in the financial sense. You sure as shit can’t relay
on the banks for anything, especially nowadays. So Tom and I– and I introduced him
to Selden Standard. You go to Selden
Standard, you go to Bacco, you go to Chartreuse, you’ll
find Sunseed farms produce– The Root. And that’s because I met Tom and
introduced him to those guys. I told Tom, these
restaurants, these restaurants are safe to invest in because
the chefs understand farmers, and they will pay you upfront. Like I will pay Tom before– if times were tough, Tom gets
money before I take money. JASON ANDREAS: That’s awesome. JAMES RIGATO: And other
chefs think like that, like Andy and Doug. A lot of restaurants don’t. So that’s how it all happens. We network, I’m
sure probably how you find a replacement
for Calvin when he quits. JASON ANDREAS: [LAUGHING] Right. JAMES RIGATO: Joe is
like, I got a buddy. JASON ANDREAS: You keep
it in the family, right? It’s a true food network. JAMES RIGATO: Very much. There’s a lot of
phonies out there. The conversation in Detroit
lately is about criticism, right? Like our food critics are like– I don’t know– either
uneducated, inexperienced, or scared to take a
stab at a restaurant. If a restaurant sucks,
you don’t write about it. That’s been a rule in Detroit
cuisine for the last 25 years. Why? Because we barely
have any restaurants. If someone writes and says,
oh, Joe’s restaurant sucks and then it closes, and now he’s
got a vacant building for 10 years, you’re the dick that
should have just not written anything. JASON ANDREAS: [LAUGHING] Sure. JAMES RIGATO: But
we’re coming to a point where we need watch dogs. We need to be protected
from the bad restaurants. We need a writer to
kind of discuss, hey, this restaurant is full of shit. They said they source
everything from Michigan. They don’t. Like they said they– or they have wild salmon. Where does wild salmon
come from right now? It doesn’t, right? Salmon is a spring-based
season, right? I don’t know if you
guys know salmon can go from freshwater to saltwater. So basically there’s a
harvest, or there’s like a rush back to the creek beds
where they came from to lay their eggs, freezes over. The mom dies. The babies hatch, eat the
decaying carcass of the mom, swim out to the ocean, dick
around, eat crustaceans, fight. That’s why they’re pink or
orange or yellow in color, because they eat crustaceans. Farm-raised salmon
in the Atlantic Ocean is dull gray in color. They dye the pellets
they feed it. That’s why it turns orange. That’s why when you go to Costco
and you buy your $5 a pound salmon thinking
you’re scoring a deal, and it’s all the same
nuclear-orange-Cheeto kind of color orange, that’s a dye
they ate out in the open ocean when they’re like literally
in a fraternity with barely any wiggle room, just
getting studded up. JASON ANDREAS: Raise
your hand if you knew any of that about salmon. [LAUGHTER] Probably one or two–
yeah, one or two. JAMES RIGATO: It’s just facts. That’s all. JASON ANDREAS: That’s good. We’re learning a lot today– champagne, salmon. This is great. JAMES RIGATO: Food
world is weird. 40% of all the seafood
we eat is farm-raised. But yet, farm-raised has a
stigma of like I just said. But there are very
great farming– like I buy organic farm-raised
salmon from Ireland– it’s $14 a pound–
for the restaurant. Atlantic farm-raised
Costco salmon is probably like $4 to $5 a pound,
so for that perspective. I pay three times the amount. So just basic math
would tell you that if you to Applebee’s
and get an $18 salmon, you should go to Mabel and pay
three times that amount, right? I mean, we don’t charge you
three times– maybe double. But like the margin is slim. Like Applebee’s makes
way more money than I do. One location of Applebee’s make
more money than Mabel Gray. But I can’t feed you
Atlantic farm-raised salmon and look you in the eye. [LAUGHTER] JASON ANDREAS: It’s easier
to get a reservation at Applebee’s as well. JAMES RIGATO: It is. [LAUGHTER] JAMES RIGATO: Food for ten. JASON ANDREAS: Slightly. JAMES RIGATO: $10
apps and whatever. Take a date. JASON ANDREAS: It’s a good
deal for some people as well. There’s a lot of Applebee
lovers out there. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, of course. [LAUGHTER] That’s the thing, is
like I walked this line. When I was younger, 10
years ago, I was like, Applebee’s sucks. And now I’m like, do
whatever you want. I see customers that
come in and they’re like $13 for a patty melt? Fuck you. And they leave. And they get in their F-350 with
their boat attached, go home, and watch the NFL Network
on a 70-inch screen– priorities. Like what are your– I don’t follow sports. DeAndre Levy is a buddy of mine. We met last year. He was a dude at the bar. I just thought he
went to the gym a lot. I didn’t know who he was. [LAUGHTER] I’m talking to this
guy, oh, what’s up? You like food? Yeah, cool. We’re just shooting the shit. I go back, I’m cooking. And like, that’s fucking
DeAndre Levy, man. I was like, who? Is he a rapper? [LAUGHTER] Who is he? Like, no, he’s with the Lions. I was like, oh, shit. Great, you know? And now I know who
he is, obviously. And I pay attention to
the Lions this year. But I never watched a football
game in my life before that. JASON ANDREAS: Can you talk
a little bit about that? You segue perfectly into it. So with DeAndre, who’s a
Detroit Lions football player, you’re doing kind of like
a charity dinner series. You’ve done other
things in the community, too, in terms of working
with local schools to teach kids about culinary
arts and cooking and food sourcing and things like that. You’ve also done some
things with technology around local doctors
as well, helping people learn how to cook
healthy food, right? So there’s a lot of
things you’re involved in. You’re very busy, obviously. Can you talk a little bit about
that community interaction, too? JAMES RIGATO: Yes. I do a lot of charity work,
I guess you would call it. But I don’t want to
call it charity work. I just like to make changes. I love change. I hate anything
that stays in place. I get bored very easily. So when I was at
the Root, I would donate my time to local
elementary schools and teach the second
grade, third grade classes how to cook, right? And then I got teamed up
with my friend Michelle, and we did hydroponics. So Eastover Elementary
has hydroponics in their classrooms. So kids are growing their
own vegetables and stuff. And then you want to see
a six-year-old eat kale? Have him grow it. And then they’re all about that. If you chop it up
and put it on a plate they don’t want to
touch that shit. If they like pluck a tomato,
they’ll pop it in their mouth. They’re cleaning green beans. You know what I’m saying? They’ll put a marble
in their mouth. [LAUGHTER] But they are engaged– I have nephews, and I’m
like, this is liver. And they’re like, ew. I’m like, why? I don’t know. It’s not ew. It’s part of the animal. OK. It’s like you can
reason with them. So I do that up at the Root a
lot with elementary schools, doctors, like a
lot of pediatrics. There’s a lot of
overweight kids nowadays, so helping that
from the ground up. But DeAndre and I– I’ve been active
with reaching out to the youth for a long time. DeAndre mentioned that he wants
to some kind of charity event, doesn’t know how. He was terrified of
hosting an event, because he’s like, I don’t
know to host an event. I’ve never worked
in a restaurant. I don’t know what it looks like. Yeah, let’s do a dinner. And we talked. He’ll text me every day at
like 2:00 in the morning with like, well, what about this? I’m like, dude, I got
you, like calm down. So we did Regenerate Detroit. We raised– I don’t remember
what it was. $24,000? I think we raised $24,000,
which is [INAUDIBLE] Schoolcraft scholarship. So we picked one young
man who wrote an essay, a beautiful essay–
it really moved me– Brandon Johnson. And we picked him, and we bought
him a fill-ride scholarship to Schoolcraft. JASON ANDREAS: That’s awesome. JAMES RIGATO: And
he wrote an essay. He basically dropped
out of high school and then kind of thought
about, went back, got his GED, had three different jobs in the
culinary field and was like, this is my purpose. So he’s going to
Schoolcraft now. And we did another
one, at Chartreuse. We hosted another one, raised
a similar amount of money. And that went the
Detroit Food Academy, almost like in a trust of
like, let’s see what the next– maybe we do smaller
scholarships or more. So we’re building a
trust now with our events to impact the
Detroit foods scene. Basically the
conversation came from, there’s a lot of restaurants
opening up in Detroit. We got Shake Shack coming. Wahlburgers is there, Marcus
Samuelson is snooping around. Andrew Carmellini is
looking at the Sinola Hotel. There’s some serious
ongoings happening right now. Sounds really, really corporate. A lot of it’s
pretty white-bread. So my issue was like, here
we have a people, Detroit resident, whoever you are– Middle Eastern, black, white. I don’t care who you are. If you have survive
the Detroit ups and and downs of the last 10,
15 years, in the food scene especially, you have
something to say. So I want more of that narrative
involved in the food scene. So I want more of
the youths in Detroit to have access to
the education that I went to and then to
actually contribute back to the food scene. I think we’re going to have
way better restaurants, we’re going to have
better food writers, we’re going to gave better
everything, better markets, if we have a narrative. And that’s been my
conversation nationally. We have a cuisine in
Michigan, very much an indigenous cuisine. We’re actually really honing it
in in the metro Detroit area. And I want to develop
the infrastructure with the actual
body of workforce that we have with the youth
and the existing chefs. But I also want to
see it be indigenous. I’m not interested in what– no
offense to Andrew Carmellini. I’m not interested
in what the fuck he has to say
about Detroit food. I’m very excited
to have him here. He’s a very intelligent
chef, and if he’s watching, I’m like, much love. You’re badass. But just like he’s
not interested in what my point of view on the
New York food scene is– I’m not going to open a
restaurant in New York and be like, yo, this
is New York food. And I doubt he’s going to
do that in Detroit, either. But I think we have
so much to say here. It’s almost like–
think about New Orleans. Think about Creole cuisine. Think about Boston and
New England cuisine. Think about Pacific Northwest
and Portland, Oregon. They have something going on. They have something to say. So when you go to
Portland, Oregon, you want to eat at a
Portland, Oregon restaurant. You don’t want to go track
down Mitchell’s fish market and just eat some salmon
out of the Columbia River because you’re there. I want to know what a
Portland chef has to say. And Detroit right now
is teetering on that. We have about 100
restaurants open up 2016. Real talk– two were good. We don’t need more
macaroni and cheese, man. We need like real
food, real chefs. So that alienates me a little
bit, Because I say that shit. And if you’re one of
those restaurateurs, you’re like, OK, well,
I know he likes Kotoi. I know he’s cool
with Grey Ghost. Well, fuck. That means those are the
two that he’s talking about. [LAUGHTER] And I’m running one that he’s
not, so like fuck that guy. I sell mac and cheese. Fuck that guy. [LAUGHTER] So like seriously, do we
need more mac and cheese in this town? Every time you serve
macaroni and cheese, a culinary idea in Detroit dies. JASON ANDREAS: My
four-year-old daughter would say yes, more
mac and cheese. And there couldn’t be enough
mac and cheese in the city. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. JASON ANDREAS: I
feel like Detroit, though, based on the history
of folks who have lived here for more than just
a few years, they have this sense of
authenticity, too, though. When there’s
unauthentic– I mean, there’s space for any
new restaurant, sure, and some will do well, and
some won’t, depending on– JAMES RIGATO: You can open. There’s no guarantee
you’re gonna stay. JASON ANDREAS: But I
feel like the reason a restaurant like
Mabel Gray or Katoi or some of these
other restaurants have done so well recently,
or Selden Standard, some of the top of
the top, is there’s an authenticity to them. There’s a local-ness to them
that people who live in Detroit and live downtown or go downtown
to visit these restaurants, they feel that, right? And I don’t know
exactly what it is. But I think it’s mostly not a
New York chef coming in and not a Chicago chef coming in. Even if they have
those influence, it’s a lot of local
folks really kind of have the feel of the city behind it. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah,
I totally agree. That’s the thing, too, is like
I walk that line, because I get called out all
the time because I went on “Top Chef,”
James from Detroit. Well, as you all
heard, I’m from Howell. My restaurant is in Hazel Park. So I don’t walk around
like, yo, I’m so Detroit. My restaurant’s so Detroit. But be real. Like Michigan is what
I represent, for one. Because I buy so much of
the state’s resources. I also hang out in the west side
of the state with those chefs. And I go to Traverse
City with [INAUDIBLE]. Michigan to me is our
strength nationally from a cuisines standpoint. Food kind of buries
all politics. Everybody eats. So when I talk about
food, it’s like it’s food. Michigan is very much
what I represent. Detroit happens to just be
our real capital, politically and culinarily. That’s our real
capital of Michigan. So Detroit is definitely
like the center. That’s the bullseye. My restaurant is not
downtown Detroit. And that’s not because
I don’t want it to be. But I don’t know if
you’ve hung out Eight to Ten Mile on
[INAUDIBLE] last 10 years, but there hasn’t
been shit going on. And Hazel Park is like a
town that’s seen better days. And now it’s kind
of on the upswing. But I take a town
like Hazel Park, and all boats need to
rise with that tide. I think that Hazel Park needs
love and attention, too. So that’s why I
went to Hazel Park. But there is an authenticity. And I think because
if you stayed here and you cooked here, and
it’s like, how many macaroni and cheeses have I
had to fucking serve to get to where I
don’t have to anymore? And if you walk in the back
door, and you’re like, yo, I’m at the party,
it’s like, yeah, but you didn’t
wait in line, man. Like we waited in line. It’s like you walk into a
concert and have VIP tickets. They’re all comfortable. They got a cocktail. It’s like, I’ve been
outside in a tent. So I think that’s
the difference. When you go to a restaurant
like Mabel, you feel that shit. You’re also seeing
me behind the stove. Like if you don’t like
Mabel, you don’t like me. And that’s OK. But that’s what it is. That’s the realest– like you go
to New York, like a restaurant, the chef’s got four locations. You’ve never even seen him. You can go to a
restaurant [INAUDIBLE] and never even know who owns it. But if you go to
Mabel and you’re like, I hate that, there’s a
good chance I made that. So if you don’t–
like you hate me. That’s kind of like– [LAUGHTER] That’s Detroit to me. That’s like the realest shit. I don’t know. Like if you’re mad at
the Lions, like I said, you might run into DeAndre Levy. Like you can hide. You can Instagram. Your can bullshit. You can Yelp. But Detroit is a
pretty upfront town. Like I’m out. You mad at me? You ate in my restaurant. I’m right here. Let’s talk about it. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, sure. JAMES RIGATO: Also, do you
guys partner with Yelp? JASON ANDREAS:
Nothing direct, no. JAMES RIGATO: Good. [LAUGHTER] JASON ANDREAS: I do have
a question here about– we mentioned it ahead of time. So obviously we’re at Google. We talk about
technology when we can. And there’s obviously
unwanted or wanted connection between restaurants
and technology that’s grown a lot in
the past few years. We talk about this all
the time, so social media, Twitter, OpenTable. I mean, some of these are
good, right, I’m sure. OpenTable helps. There’s companies like
[INAUDIBLE], which was started by a few
former Googlers that helps with some of the
larger-scale restaurants doing ticketing, right? But then you’ve got
something like Yelp, where it’s either
100%, like you had the best experience of
your life or the worst experience of your life, and
there’s nothing in between. So how do you deal with that? Because it’s the faceless,
either good or bad feedback. So it sounds like you’ve
got your feelings on Yelp. But I’m just curious with
like technology in general. Like what does that
look like for you? JAMES RIGATO: Well, to
me, obviously social media is great, right? I mean, you obviously
can reach an audience. I can post like, yo, I’m doing
a dinner with Matt Millar. Boop! Sold out. So it has its impact, obviously
from a business standpoint. Yelp, though,
places like Yelp, I don’t think the world
needs more platforms for the under-informed
to communicate. I always said Yelp is like
passing the microphone on a Trump rally. God knows what you’re gonna get. And it’s really what it is. It’s just the
Yahtzee of feedback. And people– I got so many
one-star reviews for Mabel on Yelp from people
that didn’t eat there, like literally,
tried to get in, hour wait. Even though the website, when
you’re making a reservation, we’re like, hey, just so you
know, peak-time reservations run up to 30 minutes late,
sometimes even longer. We have local bars
that we send you to. We’re happy to
provide free fucking champagne, true champagne,
as a matter of fact. JASON ANDREAS: Real champagne? JAMES RIGATO: So we
let you know, like, yo, this is what Mabel’s about. We’re tiny. Sometimes diners
leave in an hour. Sometimes it’s an hour and half. So there will be some wait. Reservation is not a guaranteed
seat waiting for you. And still I’ll get one star. We waited a half hour. Who does this guy think he is? Fuck James Rigato. Top Chef? More like Bomb Chef, Pizza Chef. [LAUGHTER] And so, what do I do with this? Is that constructive? No. If somebody says like, five
stars, had a great time, music was a little
loud, I prefer to have more fish on
the menu, I’ll read that and say, oh, shit, OK, like
let’s do another fish dish. Like that’s like constructive. So one out of 20
is like somebody that’s mildly educated
and appropriate. So like I’m like,
yeah, that’s nice. Thank you. And I mean educated like in a
restaurant service industry. I don’t mean like life. You can have a Master’s
degree and still be a dick. [LAUGHTER] But the thing about
service industry, though, is like
there’s an education. And you can tell. Service people are so
specific the way they dine. Like I don’t even
like to tip 20%. I tip like 40%. Like I watch somebody work
for me for, whatever, an hour, two hours that I’m at a table,
and to like leave them like– if I happen to nosh and we got a
cheap bottle of wine and chill, or if I ball out and get
a bottle of champagne at at tasting menu, I feel like
if you visit my table 10 times, and you generally care,
you’re pouring water and you’re asking how I
feel and you take my coat, like, fuck, man. How could I not give you $50? Like Jesus Christ,
like here you go, man. Like industry people take
care of industry people. It’s a subculture in America. I think that luckily we
get a lot of that at Mabel. We get a lot of industry people. And they’re wonderful. Every now and then you get some
assholes who throw shade or are mad or they disagree. I’m in the industry,
and you shouldn’t talk to guests that way. There’s a certain–
turn the music down! We get that a lot. Which, for the record, I like
the music loud at Mabel Gray, because it creates privacy. This is one thing I feel
like people don’t understand. Mabel is in a tin can. It’s 43 seats. It’s a 1,600-square-foot
building, including half of it
being kitchen and dish. So it’s a tiny
little dining space. And when you’re sitting
this close to another guest, and if you’re telling somebody,
like, I’m getting divorced, my wife slept with another man– [LAUGHTER] I think that should be private. [LAUGHTER] JASON ANDREAS: I agree. JAMES RIGATO: Like if
you hear, like whatever, like a loud song playing and
you can get away with that, I’m gay! Like you can get away like
no one else hearing that, I think that’s important. So that’s why the
music is a pinch louder than the average restaurant. JASON ANDREAS: Understood, Yeah. JAMES RIGATO: I’m not forcing my
favorite song down your throat. [LAUGHTER] It literally becomes
a wall of privacy. And ever now and then,
the music will go out, the Wi-Fi will go out, and it
will be silent for a couple minutes, and it sucks. Because you can literally– I can hear table 27, like,
I have athlete’s foot. [LAUGHTER] Oh, my god, like, turn
the music back on! JASON ANDREAS: Turn
the knob a little bit. Crank it up a little bit more. JAMES RIGATO: With technology,
back to your question, yeah, some parts of it are
good, like social media good, Yelp sucks, Google great. JASON ANDREAS: Thank you. [LAUGHTER] JAMES RIGATO: No, legit. How many times a day
do I say, Google it? I swear to God. Someone’s like, Chef, where
does this crab come from? I’m like, Google it! Like I like to
answer questions, but like if you have like a really– like Tellicherry peppercorns,
where are they from? You walked from the back. You could have found
it faster on Google. So I literally say “Google
it” like every day. But then honestly, Wi-Fi
Bluetooth speakers sucks, man. I hate that shit. Because like, oh,
Wi-Fi is acting up. Well, then you have no music. I get annoyed with
some of the modern– like Helios isn’t synced
up with Spotify today. Well, great. That shit drives me crazy. JASON ANDREAS: Technology
is good when it works. JAMES RIGATO: Exactly. I think we did a little
too much too fast. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, absolutely. JAMES RIGATO: My iPod Classic
burned out a couple years ago, and I had it forever. JASON ANDREAS: Nice. JAMES RIGATO: Man, I still had
like 32 gigs of space on that. And I’m like, ugh. Some of the modern
technology drives me crazy. JASON ANDREAS: Absolutely. On the tipping point, I’m a
good tipper in my own eyes. [LAUGHTER] But my wife used to
work in a restaurant. She was a waitress when
she was in high school. And I feel like every
time I sign a bill, she always kind of glances
over just to make sure that I tipped enough. JAMES RIGATO: Make sure
you’re not an asshole. JASON ANDREAS: [LAUGHING] I
think that’s her full-time job. JAMES RIGATO: I mean,
honestly, to met, the ballingest servers
that I know in Detroit area like maybe 60 grand a year. That’s people that grind. That’s like career service. Don’t you think
if you are really good at something for 10, 15
years, you could break $60K? You know what I’m saying? So tipping– I don’t know. To me, look at it
like a service. You go get a pedicure. It’s maybe 25 minutes. It’s like $36. And they’re not really
spending any money on you, a little water,
a little bit of soap. It’s a service, right? So to me, if somebody scrubs
your toes for a half hour, you give them like $30. So if someone waits
on you for two hours and you give them
like $15, it’s like– I don’t know, man. I don’t dig it. Oh, like boo-hoo of our servers
start making $100 grand a year. Like they’re fucking scarping
plates, sweeping floors. You know, if you puke in
your plate they clean it up. You know what I’m saying? Your kid smashes crumbs into
the carpet, they vacuum it. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, sure. I agree. JAMES RIGATO: You ralph
in the bathroom man, they’re– you know
what I’m saying? And the service industry is
like a special group of people. We are like second
to like nurses. You know what I’m saying? And like janitors. The other day in some
New York Magazine, I don’t know who it was, called
me at the Root, four years ago or something. You know, Sean, you’ve
got a phone call. I was literally in the bathroom,
mopping up the bathroom, because I was there early
and the night before, they didn’t do a good job. Yeah, hey, what’s up? Hey, this is so-and-so
from so-and-so magazine. Cool, what’s up? What’s it like being the
best chef in Michigan? I was like what the
fuck question is that? I was like, dude I’m
mopping up piss right now. That’s how it feels. I’m like, I’m a janitor. I was like what are you talking
about best chef in Michigan? Don’t give me that bull. So you can like sneak
a quote out of me about being the best chef? Get the fuck out of here. I’m mopping piss, print that. JASON ANDREAS: I was going to
ask you about the James Beard nomination, but I feel like
that’s a terrible segue. So I got to put this
question aside now. They’re kind of out. Because there was two on that. JAMES RIGATO: That’s
an honor, man. James Beard Foundation
is a real governing body. You know, I feel like it’s
an uncontaminated source of accolades. You know? JASON ANDREAS: Certainly. JAMES RIGATO: I don’t know
many chefs that I don’t respect that have– I don’t see anybody that’s
like James Beard award winner and they suck. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s really a
legit industry accolade. So if you see James Beard
you can trust that blindly. You know, I think even over
Michelin, to be honest. Michelin is a pinch elitist. You know? They have some interesting–
and I don’t want to say blindly, I shouldn’t say that blindly. Michelin targets a lot
of the upper crust. You know, and they’re
changing that internationally through the Singapore Food cart. You know what I’m saying? They’re changing it. But Michelin often has– the restaurant changes
with Michelin, right? The kind of, like, two
stars wants to be three. And in order to get
three the China changes, the reservation changes. It just feels rigid. Michelin’s like you
want to stab somebody. James Beard is
like I’ve got fear. It’s like I want to cry. It’s like, oh my god, my life’s
work has meaned something. Michelin feels like–
it makes you crazy. It’s like coke or something. You just want more. Like it’s dangerous. All the chefs that I know that
have Michelin literally they’re all fucking skittish. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, they
don’t want to lose it, right? JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, it’s
like it’s terrifying. JASON ANDREAS: It’s
all they focus on. JAMES RIGATO: It’s like
if you get two stars it’s a pat on the back, right? Then next year you
go down to one. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah JAMES RIGATO: You
fucking blew it. JASON ANDREAS: It’s a disaster. Even though you’re
still a one star. JAMES RIGATO: Even
though you’re one star. James Beard you get an award,
if you never get it again no one’s mad at you. It’s like an Oscar. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah,
put it on your mantel and it’s good to go. JAMES RIGATO: Like you were
an Oscar award winning actor. Who cares it was in 1976,
you’re still an actor. So Michelin scares me. I don’t want Michelin
to come to Detroit. It just scares me. JASON ANDREAS: We’ve
got some time probably before that happens. JAMES RIGATO: We very much do. But James Beard
that’s a little more– that’s more, like, feels. I just went to the
James Beard dinner at the James Beard
House in New York. And I teamed up my buddy Ryan
Burke who is a cider maker. And he was actually at Virtue in
Michigan when Virtue was good, sorry. But you know this wild
fermentation, crazy, cool like give me original
American style cider. It’s funky, tart. Makes cider, like cider
for the wine drinker. You know, dynamic cider. Angry Orchard scooped his up. I don’t know if
you guys to know, Angry Orchard is the
largest cider producer in the United States, right? They’re like crisp apple,
the generic sweet version that all- the cougar
juice I like to call it. Moms just go to
Buffalo Wild Wings and get smashed on cougar juice. Like, that stuff is
fine, but it’s sweet and it’s for the
American pallet. It’s kind of like new Mike’s
Hard Lemonade, to be honest. Better made but it’s
Mike’s Hard Lemonade. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah. JAMES RIGATO: Smirnoff Ice,
Zima you know what I’m saying? JASON ANDREAS: Sure, yeah. JAMES RIGATO:
Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers they’re always in
a slot for cougar juice. This is the current
cougar juice. But it’s owned by Sam
Adams Boston Beer Company. And Jim Coke being
the billionaire owner of that, basically approached
Ryan, plucked him out of Virtue, and was like,
come make Angry Orchard. I want to do what you do under
our umbrella, make it cool, build a cider house. Like made Angry Orchard cool. And the best example I can give
you guys, and I’ve told people. I now wearing Angry
Orchard shirts. I did a collaboration you
know, at the beard house. I’m going, yo, Angry
Orchard’s sweet. 90 percent of the
population thinks I’m talking about cougar juice. I’m like, no, I have a
whole new like the vision coming out that’s going
to blow your mind. It’s the best cider
I’ve ever tasted. But it’s kind of
like if NIckelback dropped the most metal album. You know? And even like Zakk
Wylde was like, this is the greatest
metal album. It’s like that’s what
would happen, right? Nickelback really is about
to drop the best metal album in history. And every metal head is
like, yes, like this– Like, all the cider
makers in America are like, yes, Ryan is the
best cider maker in America. JASON ANDREAS: That might
be the best endorsement I’ve ever heard of anything. JAMES RIGATO: I mean it. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah, well done. JAMES RIGATO: Swear
to God, look it up. JASON ANDREAS:
That’s impressive. JAMES RIGATO: Their line
of ciders coming out is an American Revolution
of cider making. JASON ANDREAS: That’s awesome. JAMES RIGATO: Sam Adams is,
like, changing the game. Angry Orchard is, you know,
because that’s Sam Adams, is changing the game of cider. I mean, you’re about to
get your minds blown. JASON ANDREAS: Nice. JAMES RIGATO: But it’s
very fun trying to endorse them publicly right now. I’m jumping the
shark, essentially. JASON ANDREAS: Yeah. JAMES RIGATO: People then they
go like, oh Angry Orchard, oh, what are you talking about? This isn’t the best
cider in the world. JASON ANDREAS: Well, you
talked about when you cooked for the James Beard Foundation. I think I read you named it
high society, the meal itself. Like, was that
kind of a kick on– JAMES RIGATO: No,
you’re mistaken. That was the DAC. The Trans Atlantic Club cooked,
like, a couple weeks before. JASON ANDREAS: Gotcha. JAMES RIGATO: They
called it high society. JASON ANDREAS: Was that
their naming or your naming, because I was curious if you
were tying that back to like some of your roots? JAMES RIGATO: No, I
mean that was really– I think that was just– DAC kind of has that like– we’re actually doing
a collaboration dinner with the DAC, me,
Andy, Doug, and Anthony Lamar, and [INAUDIBLE]. JASON ANDREAS: Oh, very cool. JAMES RIGATO: And, you know, I
kept telling him, I was like, this is like Game
of Thrones shit. The king is inviting
the vikings. You know, I almost
feel like it’s like we should Trojan
horse them or something. JASON ANDREAS: Sure. JAMES RIGATO: Take them
to DAC, jeans everywhere. But, like, Chef Kevin
is a really great guy. The DAC is just obviously
a 100 year old institution. So they were kind of like
the DAC going to New York was kind of like too
high societies meeting. That was kind of their– JASON ANDREAS: Got you. JAMES RIGATO: We
were, like I said, I was just doing a
cider dinner throwdown. I’m like, this is us. Everyone was like,
oh are you nervous? I’m like, not really. I don’t know, it’s
like we’re doing it. I gave it all I had. I mean, I left it on the floor. If you don’t like it,
it’s kind of like what I say at Mabel, if you don’t
like it, you don’t want me, that’s OK. JASON ANDREAS: Sure. JAMES RIGATO: So,
no, I don’t think. Like I said, Mabel is the high
society of Hazel Park, right? That’s like the $65 tasting
menu, which in New York City is like a burger. You know? So like $65 is really
very under-priced. For an eight course tasting
menu of a restaurant that’s James Beard, you know,
nominated, blah, blah, it’s probably $110 I’d say
is the average nationally. So we’re very much
on, we’re almost half. But I think that because
they have low rent, you know, they can afford it. I’m not going to– I keep the restaurant. You know, I’m not trying to get
rich, you know what I’m saying? I want to be authentic,
you know, like you said. JASON ANDREAS: Very cool. JAMES RIGATO: That’s a
cool thing about the trade right now. JASON ANDREAS:
Authenticity for sure. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. So, no, I’m not really
interested in like going high society type. JASON ANDREAS: Want open
it up to maybe a couple audience questions. Like I said, we’ve got a mic
over there or pass it around. But we have to capture it
for the video capture, which is why we need the mic. So any one? [INAUDIBLE] you want to
run the mic if anyone has any questions? JAMES RIGATO: Don’t be scared. JASON ANDREAS: Don’t be scared. JAMES RIGATO: It’s
need reservations while Chef Rigato is here? A lot of hands raised. JAMES RIGATO: Get to the mic. Yeah, pass it around. JASON ANDREAS: OK. Sorry, mic, go ahead. AUDIENCE: Just a quick question. You mentioned Hazel Park. Do you have ties to Hazel
Park or was it just, hey, this is a cool area,
you know, rising tide? JAMES RIGATO: Yeah. AUDIENCE: Obviously not
Birmingham, Bloomfield, crap like that. But Hazel Park is
interesting, old park. I mean there’s a lot
of cool other areas that are up and coming. Just curious? JASON ANDREAS: Not midtown
either where a lot of folks are flushing as well
So, yeah, very cool. JAMES RIGATO: I mean, why
Hazel Park is a great question. So I lived in [INAUDIBLE]
for seven years I think. So I kind of used to
actually go down to the BMX all around Hazel Park. You know honestly that
town resonates with me. It’s kind of like I grew
up kind of in a paradise. It was either, like, the dumpy
Catholic school kid trailer park. I was either like the
prissy Catholic school kid in the trailer park,
or the dumpy trailer park kid in the Catholic school. Hazel Park kind of
has that mentality. You know what I’m saying? It’s like next to
Ferndale, right? Hazel Park is like
constantly not Ferndale. That’s like, oh, it’s
the next Ferndale. And I always say,
like, bullshit. Why? Who wants to be
the next Ferndale? Ferndale’s is
Ferndale, let them be. I like Ferndale, like, cool. But, like, Hazel Park
is very much Hazel Park. You know and like,
honestly, real talk, Hazel Park before Mabel Gray
has better food than Ferndale. Louie’s Pizza, Pi’s Thai, like
you can’t mess with those guys. Man, Pi’s has the
best Thai food around, and Louie’s Pizza is the
OG of like Detroit square. And we’re buddies. I don’t care. So like Hazel Park
has that going for it. For one it’s naturally cool,
like it’s got it’s grit. But it’s like a forged grit. It’s not like it’s dangerous
therefore it’s like cool. It’s not even dangerous, it’s
just like people stuck it out, 16,000 residents in a
very small little radius. You know it’s the two
bedroom houses, tiny yard. You know, it’s just got the
natural disposition of always being an underdog suburb. And I like that, man. I feel that. And it also has these little
shotgun, cinder-block buildings all over. Old tool and dye
shops, old diners. So like I opened it
for $550,000 all in. You know, I own the
building we opened up. You can’t do that. That’s like, shit,
that’s a couple of months rent in Birmingham. You can’t do that in
a lot of other cities. And the city themselves,
how I opened up– I cold called the City. So I told them I’m
opening up a restaurant. Went down to the city hall,
sat at a table with a city manager, city planner,
city attorney. I told them what I wanted to do. We got in one of
their cars, they drove around and showed me
every vacant building that fit what I was talking about. I said I like that one. They mediated the real
estate agent, made an offer, bought the building. You know, what city does that? I’ve never, you know, Root in
White Lake is like whatever. You know, that city
is not progressive. They don’t give a shit. They want to get you
in because it’s like, yeah, come on in, buy
a building, pay taxes. Hazel Park’s like–
they’re [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: So that’s awesome. So then on, like,
following up to that, did you have any concerns at
all about people finding you? I mean, because you’re not
going to get foot traffic, there’s certain aspects
to your business that probably were
a bit concerning. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, very much. I mean, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have the
anchor tent, right, I’m not next to the theatre. I’m not in [INAUDIBLE]. But the thing about Mabel was
it’s an offshoot essentially of the Root. So I have a following
at the Root. It’s 43 seats. The cool thing about Mabel
is we can dial it back. Worst case scenario it could be
like me and my girlfriend Sam, you know, and like 10 customers. We can dial it as far
back as we need to go. You know, so I think that made
me feel comfortable that it’s a low overhead. So I’m taking a risk. But also I think
Detroit responds to something authentic. That’s the cool thing about this
market is that if you like– if you care and you curate
something and you do it well, people will respond. You know. And that’s really
what it is, it’s like a little art
gallery where– I mean, I had like 20
guest chefs last year. We did Spanglish, a
taqueria for three weeks. That was like a stint
where a chef took over with a different menu. And then we had a
couple random nights just with chefs around Detroit. We did one night
with Andy and Doug came down and just banged
out beer food on plates. And people chug beer and there
there’s like a 80 person line out the door. We mess around. So I think, like,
that helps, too. If it was one menu,
you know, like rigid I don’t think
it would be the same. I think I would
worry about sales. But the way we do
it’s kind of exciting. You know, it’s like
a concert venue. You know, it’s like, OK,
sure, G-Love is playing. You don’t like
G-Love, wait next week and it will be someone you like. JASON ANDREAS: Very cool. Any questions? AUDIENCE: Hi. Is there any other
restaurants, brewery, meatery, whatever food, artisan
person you think is like knocking it out of the
park that nobody knows about? You’re like why do people
not know about this? JAMES RIGATO: Right. It’s a good question. And Detroit is pretty well
publicized at this point. It’s hard to find the underdog. You know, Matt Millar
on the west side of state at a restaurant
called the Southerner. He’s like in his mid 40s. He was at Reserve, then he was
at the Journeyman before that. He’s a very lowkey guy. He came over to Mabel,
the dinner sold out. But that’s somebody that I
was telling go to [INAUDIBLE], go to the Southerner. That’s very much
a Michigan chef. He’s all Michigan cuisine. So the guys like that I think
I’m more excited about some of the dudes in the outskirts. You know, because that’s
really the guys that don’t get the attention, and girls. You know, you go
to Trattoria Stella in Traverse City, Alliance. You know, the chef up there
just got in the New York Times. You know, there’s some kind of
pockets all across the state. Even up in the UP I’ve got
a couple of my favorite, like Stein House, you
know, up in Marquette. There’s kind of cool
spots like that. But you know, real talk, Trizest
in Sterling Heights at 14 and Dequindre. It’s a Sichuan restaurant,
a little dumpy Chinese joint in a strip mall. Very, very off
the grid, but they are banging out some
of the best plates. You know, now you’ve got
places like Katoi and Peterboro doing, like, moderations modern
Asian, but it’s all delicious. But these guys you know
it’s some old Chinese dude back there just banging. And that’s some of the
most exciting Sichuan food I’ve ever ha din my life. I think that’s like
internationally good. So, like, places
like that are kind of the off-the-radar places
that will just blow your [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: And you said
Southerners in Saugatuck? JAMES RIGATO: Southerner
is in Saugatuck, yeah. And it’s– I’m telling you,
Matt Millar’s food is profound. He’s a twice James
Beard nominee. I mean, I’m telling you he’s one
of the best chefs in Michigan. If Matt was wanting
to move over– if Matt wanted to move
over to Hazel Park and, like, be aggressive I would
be both excited and nervous. AUDIENCE: One more question. JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, please. AUDIENCE: Nastiest burn
you’ve ever gotten? I see you got one on
your arm right there. Is that it? Is that the one? JAMES RIGATO: No, I
was at Schoolcraft. I was in class. And I was young and
dumb, and the over were brand new because
I was the first class in the new facility. And I think it was
Jade or Viking ovens. If you didn’t open
it all the way, it would like close
back really fast. I had a pan, a Monte Cristo,
a pan-fried sandwich. And I like just opened the oven,
kind of like a swift movement. And the oven, like, I
slammed my hand in the oven and it spilled the
hot oil on my hand. And it was like really bad. I mean, it just chewed me up. Because it was like an impact. It was like a bruise, scraping
of the skin, and a burn. And I think it was my left hand. I mean, it was like
[INAUDIBLE], it was angry. AUDIENCE: That’s
what I expected. Thanks. JAMES RIGATO: I was like 19. That’s when you do– AUDIENCE: Live and learn, right? Now it’s like open
the oven, wait, make sure it doesn’t do anything. JASON ANDREAS:
Dangerous out there? JAMES RIGATO: Yeah, exactly. I actually don’t
mind– burns I think are more traumatic to the
flesh, but like cuts like really drive me crazy. I got 8 stitches
in my thumb once. And I have a long
beautiful slicing knife and I cut the top
of my finger once. And it’s like that’s
the kind of– you cut yourself like
that you’re just blah. It’s like it’s deeper, right? Like is like surface
and that sucks and it hurts, but it’s more
like you deal like scabby skin. a cut. A cut is like– it
feels traumatic. Like it throbs the next day. You know, you can’t
bend your finger. I hate cuts. I’m way more careful you know
cutting than am sauteing. Every cook it’s
the pop, you know. Duck skin will always pop
and get you in the face. Those aren’t bad
burns, like but like if you get a pop of
grease on your eyelid– AUDIENCE: It’s your face, yeah. JAMES RIGATO: Oh my god. Or like an Alto-Shaam,
if you open it up and the steam hits you
it burns your eyelids, because it’s like the
thinnest skin on your face. You know? I burnt my eyelids a few times. Pisses me off. AUDIENCE: So I’m going to
shift to violence here, you talked about AJ
getting choked up. I know that kitchens
are intense, right, an intense place. And you have to really,
as a chef, rule the place or it can fall apart. Like, do you have a management
style that you stick to? Is it like Gordon
Ramsay, you know, I’m going to cut your head
off if you don’t do it my way or is it different? JAMES RIGATO: No, I mean I was
a lot angrier and more interest ridden before I got a dog. The dog really changed
my life 100%, get a dog. When I was younger
and terrifying, when I opened the group I
was absolutely terrified. It was like $1.6 million
bailout from Ed, my partner, who was like, it’s just cash. Here, I trust you. Getting that kind of
investment, coming from a very poor background. I mean, I was terrified.
so, like, that manifest in intensity. You’re in a strip mall White
Lake in 2011, the worst economy, throwing a Hail
Mary that Michigan wants farm to table food in the burbs. I mean, not in
burbs, it’s country, White Lake’s like
the agriculture. It’s country. So, yeah, I threatened
to chainsaw people in half and stuff. Now it’s different. Like, I’m very
much professional. To me it’s business. You know what I’m saying? I’m not emotionally attached
to people’s problems anymore. I used to, like, work hard for
their success than they would. Now I’m more like I’d like to
create a path for your success and assist, But you have
to do the heavy lifting. So I have a standard of
cooking that I don’t go below. Whether you are cutting
the vegetable or I am, this is the standard
we operate at. If you’re below
it I let you know. If you remain below it, you
know, I sound the alarm. If that is where you
will always remain, then you find a new way
to go about your life. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t yell. I really don’t think
I ever yell at Mabel. But I do swear and I’m stern. You know, I think
intense is probably the word that gets used more
than insane or aggressive, or like too much is
probably something that would have been said eight
years ago, seven years ago. I think now intense
is just the word. Which I’m fine with that. I do have a very strict rule
that I’m the only asshole allowed at Mabel Gray. That’s it. Customer, staff
member, that’s it. If I see someone else taking on
that, hey, man what the fuck. No. Stop. You know, we’re all
ladies and gentleman. I’m the asshole. I to I look at it
like Wonder Years. I’m Kevin Arnold’s dad. Jack Arnold is very
much a dick, you know, but he loved his family. You know? He wanted Wayne to stop
being a mean [INAUDIBLE]. Like he let Paul eat dinner. You know what I’m saying? Like he always seemed intense
but I think it gave him luck. That’s kind of
how I am at Mabel. I want everyone to succeed. And my real staff that’s
been with me for a long time knows that. And they feel when I go
over there, this is wrong. Is this the kind– I always say, wait until you
opened your own restaurant to cook food this bad. You know? Go open John’s Shitty Bistro
and do food like this. Everyone’s in a rush
to make bad food here. Why? Those are the things I say. Slow down, do it
right, make it count. JASON ANDREAS: Awesome. Chef Rigato, thank you
so much for coming in. We appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your story. I think most of us
knew a lot of it, but thanks for adding
some color to it. We appreciate it. Best of luck with everything,
and one more round of applause. Thank you for visiting
us in New York. [APPLAUSE] Thanks, that was awesome. JAMES RIGATO: My
pleasure, thank you.