He'll cook in Hazel Park for four nights the week before Christmas
For a spell there between 2012 and 2014, Craig Lieckfelt was the "it" chef of Detroit.
Having come home after a stint as sous chef at the world-famous Jean-Georges restaurant in New York, Lieckfelt ran the popular Guns & Butter pop-up and helped launch the city's now robust pop-up dining scene, garnering attention from the likes of the Wall Street Journal and Anthony Bourdain while sparking major interest in a planned brick-and-mortar restaurant downtown.
"If it wasn't for Craig, we wouldn't really be in the position that we are right now," said local food photographer Joe Vaughn, who is also the proprietor of Frame and Joebar in Hazel Park. "And maybe that's a lot on one person, but I think every town needs someone taking some chances, and I think he was building something before anyone else saw it."
But things change fast in the restaurant world, and overnight success can sometimes complicate things. In the end, it was decided that Guns & Butter was better left as an ephemeral experience instead of a permanent fixture, so plans for the restaurant at 1301 Broadway were scrapped. (That project instead morphed into Standby, with Brendon Edwards replacing Lieckfelt as the opening chef-partner.)
Then Lieckfelt seemingly went dark. In truth, he said, he was presented with an opportunity he couldn't refuse: the chance to cook and live in Tokyo.
"I just thought that it would be a wonderful learning experience," Lieckfelt, 33, said during a recent phone interview. "It's always been a city that I've had a tremendous admiration for from a distance."
Instead of opening Guns & Butter with the audacious goal of drawing the prestigious Michelin guide to Detroit, Lieckfelt found himself more than 6,000 miles away from home, cooking California cuisine in Japan.
"I was the only American in the kitchen," he said of his time at Tokyo's Farmshop restaurant. "Everything was different, and that was why it was really cool. It was great to be working with Japanese cooks, and it was overall just a really wonderful experience."
But as of last week, Lieckfelt is back home — again — and hatching plans for re-entry into a local dining scene that has evolved at light speed in the two years he has been gone.
"It's so wonderful to see the city just booming, to see it thrive the way it is," he said. "I've been admiring the culinary scene from a distance."
That culinary scene now includes a former two-star Michelin chef cooking downtown daily and permanent pop-up dining spaces like Revolver in Hamtramck and Frame in Hazel Park that offer multi-course tasting menus on a regular basis. In addition, the city has a slew of new restaurants that have elevated the profile of a traditionally meat-and-potatoes town.
But it's also a town of pierogi with kielbasa and baby Greek salads — two dishes that influenced Lieckfelt while he was growing up in Macomb County. Upscale interpretations of both were staples of early Guns & Butter pop-ups, and they'll be back on the menu when the chef embarks on his second act in the metro Detroit dining scene next month.
Lieckfelt will cook locally again for the first time on Dec. 18, when he takes over the kitchen at 2017 Detroit Free Press Restaurant of the Year Mabel Gray. Reservations for the one-off dinner are extremely limited and can be made by calling 248-398-4300. Tickets are $100 and include a six-course meal and beverage pairing. (Tax and gratuity not included.)
Lieckfelt will then serve a similar menu — designed as a culinary love letter to home — with optional beverage pairing for three days at Frame, two doors down from Mabel Gray, on Dec. 20-22. Tickets are $60 for food only and go on sale at noon Thursday at framehazelpark.com.
Lieckfelt wouldn't say whether he had any more permanent plans beyond the pop-up dinners — dubbed this time around as Like Felt — but it's safe to say a chef of his caliber won't be home without more stable work for long.
Frame and Joebar are hosting 12 dining events throughout the month of December that proprietor Joe Vaughn is calling the "12 Days of Christmas." (Photo: Joe Vaughn, Joe Vaughn)
12 Days of Christmas in Hazel Park
In addition to the three Craig Lieckfelt dinners, Frame and Joebar are hosting nine other dining events throughout the month of December. Proprietor Joe Vaughn has dubbed the month of special offerings the 12 Days of Christmas.
From Dec. 1 to Dec. 3, James Beard Award winner Alex Young will preview his upcoming Ann Arbor-area restaurant, Standard Bistro and Larder.
Standby Chef Rebecca LaMalfa will cook a Dickens-inspired dinner Dec. 8 with wine pairings by Ping Ho of the Royce.
On Dec. 9, Frame will host an event dubbed "Nightmare Before Burlesque," featuring tiki cocktails by Shane Bang of Standby and a burlesque performance by Lushes Lamoan. A dinner menu by Apparatus Room Chef Tom Lents will be prepared by his wife, Rebecca LaMalfa, and Joebar chef Courtney Witter.
Santa will be on hand for a Santa brunch at Joebar from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 10. (Open seating, non-ticketed event.)
On Dec. 15, the fourth night of Hanukkah, Joebar will transform into Jewbar from 6 p.m. to midnight with latkes, vodka cocktails and other a la carte Jewish food. (Open seating, non-ticketed event.)
Frame's popular Sunday at Nonna's themed dinners go American for Sunday at Grandma's on Dec. 17, with a special meal prepared by Chartreuse chef Doug Hewitt and the Root chef Nick Rodgers. Dishes and decor will be inspired by the chef's grandmothers.
Rebecca LaMalfa will cook a special New Years Eve dinner at Frame on Dec. 31.
Tickets will be available at noon Thursday at framehazelpark.com. More info: 248-291-5711.
Contact Mark Kurlyandchik: 313-222-5026 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mkurlyandchik and Instagram: mkurlyandchik.
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