Is Your DNA Detroit?

By George Azar | Will Blunt


George Azar
Will Blunt
George Azar behind the counter at his restaurant, Flowers of Vietnam
George Azar behind the counter at his restaurant, Flowers of Vietnam

I sat thinking, with a full ash tray and a blank screen, about how I’d be perceived after this is read. Will I sound bitter, like a hater with a sense of entitlement? Should I just say some corny shit, and get back to work and reply to the email my equipment dude just sent me, arguing that the Grillworks unit I keep pressing for still isn’t practical for the space? Well, I’m having second thoughts, if anyone cares, but I decided to stop being a [candy ass] and just write this shit …

I spent 10 days with Anthony Bourdain filming “Parts Unknown.” One night after we wrapped, he didn’t want to go home. So we were driving around smoking cigarettes (his lung had collapsed two weeks before in Italy, and he told his wife he’d quit), when he screamed, “What the fuck, George! I’ve seen war torn countries in better shape! Fucking Chernobyl looks better! Where’s FEMA? Where’s the National Guard? Detroit is a pillar of American society. Our country completely turned its back on you guys.” 

Since then, what’s happened (and still is) in my city is beautiful. Five years ago, I was dubious. Would Detroit’s rolling boil cool to a simmer? Would the hype prove to be just that? I was wrong to doubt, happily wrong. The once “food desert” city started to get a light drizzle. We’re making history with blight removal (125 structures per week), the population is dramatically increasing, and our chief of police is not playing ANY games. There are fucking bike lanes in my ’hood, like LEGIT PAINTED BIKE LANES that people ride their bikes on and shit!

The New York Times has a hard-on for Detroit. News flash: Cheffy dude forgot he grew up in suburban Detroit, and came back after 23⅛ years to cook where and what his roots gave him! Detroit hustles harder! Nothing stops Detroit!! Detroit v. everybo… 

Please, shut the fuck up.

YOU weren’t with us on the porch as kids, watching people buy crack from the neighbor. Where were YOU during the ’03 blackout when it felt like the apocalypse? Do YOU remember when there was no such thing as calling the police because response times were a day long? Oh, “Lafayette Coney Island is too lit”? Awesome that you’ve now discovered us as your default dining option.

OK, so my “cheffy-news” ticker is a bit negative, but the truth is I want people from other cities, who’ve spent time working for internationally respected chefs to come here and open restaurants. Too many of our residents were born here and never leave. Every week, young cooks sit at my counter—for hours—until service dies down, to ask for a stage. It’s an eye-opener. The next generation of cooks is hungry for a new sound. As flattering as it may be, it would be selfish to accept their help. The “phase” we’re in isn’t ideal for that, yet. Instead, if I can help get these cooks into places outside of Detroit, it helps ALL of us once they return. It’s one way to diversify the pedigrees of chefs in our city. So, here are a few questions to ponder before opening your restaurant in Detroit.

What was the “enlightened” moment like when you decided to open in Detroit? Does it make sense spiritually?

What’s the identity of your restaurant? Are you forcing it? (Don’t pump fake on this one.)

Which neighborhood is your first choice? Does that choice further the progression of our dining culture? (Detroit cannot play in the big boy arena without solid, inspired restaurants in all neighborhoods.)

Will your establishment do more than just serve a good time? Pushing the boundaries of food has almost come to a stalemate. Maybe the next frontier is chefs as the stitching in our social fabric. Our country is more divided than ever, and if that doesn’t bother you, then eat a bag of narcissistic dicks. 

If we have the power to nourish people and help them see that each human is great, again, then we are obligated to that. What better way to fight the negative rhetoric consuming our existence than to provide a platform of consumables that make people feel warm and fuzzy? We are the orthodox chicken soup for the soul.

OG Detroiters have no issue coexisting, but the minute you jack our identity, your ’hood pass will be revoked, no apologies. The unapologetic resiliency is coded deep in our DNA. It’s the only intangible thing we can genuinely hold on to in our changing city. We earned it.

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