Acclaimed Canadian chef and Iron Chef America winner Chuck Hughes is known for his restaurant Garde Manger in Montreal, and for his Cooking Channel television shows, including Chuck's Day Off and Chuck Eats the Street. He traveled to Detroit this past summer to film a Michigan Avenue episode of Chuck Eats The Street, which airs tonight, October 3rd, at 10:00 p.m. EST on the Cooking Channel. Eater recently spoke with Chuck about his impressions of the city, its food, and what he hopes viewers take from watching the episode.
Had you ever been to Detroit before filming for Chuck Eats the Street?
Chuck Hughes: It was my first time in Detroit. Detroit played a big part in my childhood, my biological father, who died when I was ten, actually played for the Detroit Tigers [Farm Team]. I had an iconic picture of him and I tweeted it at a Detroit Tigers game while I was in town. That connection to Detroit had always been in the back of my mind my whole life.
I went to Detroit the week they declared bankruptcy. It was one of the most real and eye-opening experiences I've had in a long time. The visuals of a city like that stay with you, and the whole adventure was life changing. I was only there for a week but the people I met ?that's the reality of food, it's that ultimate connector to everybody, because you all need to eat to survive. It was truly a unique experience.
What surprised you most about the city of Detroit?
CH: I knew what everyone who hasn't been knows, but I discovered something completely different. I had a sense that they'd hit rock bottom and were on the way up and the way back. There's a fighting spirit in Detroit like nowhere else, a spirit of not just rejuvenation, but something completely new in music, art, food... with all this empty usable space in the city all you need is a lot of hard work and passion to make something. Neighborhoods once thriving are forgotten, but on the way back up. It feels like a time of change and there's a lot of hope and people trying to make a difference. We have that in the neighborhood where my restaurant is in Montreal. Twenty years ago people were getting robbed, and it was falling apart, but now it's the neighborhood to be in. I feel like there's an opportunity in Detroit. In food right now there's a movement to go back to older times, and those overgrown neighborhoods, maybe it's a chance for urban farming and canning and preserving where people could feed themselves and survive.
How would you describe Detroit's culinary reputation?
CH: I believe in being honest and giving people an authentic experience. The places I went to in Detroit were more blue collar than anything else. In the auto days it was probably jam packed with guys going in for a sandwich, no compromise for taste or flavor, but very simple. It's the kind of food I like to eat, and the kind of meal I was expecting and wanted to have in Detroit. In a certain environment you're not looking for the next food trend, you're looking for what's been the same for 60 years. There's a lot of new and old, a cross section of what Detroit has to offer, and the show stayed with the theme of working man's food, like diners and delis.
What was the best thing you ate during your time here?
CH: That's a tough question. I went to Hygrade Deli, and I had the Reuben there. I'm from Montreal, smoked meat is kind of our call to fame, but I thought the Reuben I had there was one of the best. It was authentic, and it was fantastic.
What do you hope viewers take away from your show about Detroit?
CH: I want it to be honest and truthful. In one part I'm going through an area that's pretty rough; I'm on a vegetable truck called Peaches and Greens. It's a pretty honest portrayal of what's going on in Detroit, it's people changing and bettering their neighborhoods. It's the story of a way of life that's been altered but is coming back. It's a 22-minute show, but hopefully it's a really authentic view.
Montreal is known for poutine, and you're known for your version with lobster. Detroit has coney dogs, did you have a coney while you were in Detroit?
CH: No I didn't! It's the one thing I missed, but it's a good opportunity to come back! I'm looking forward to going back, hopefully in the near future, it's hard to travel as much as I'd like, but I'm definitely hoping to get back and do a trip with the guys from the restaurant, maybe we'll all come in town for a weekend.
· Chuck's Eat The Street To Feature Detroit [-ED-]
· Chuck Hughes at La Pita [-ED-]
[Chuck Hughes at Hygrade Deli: Photo Courtesy of Cooking Channel]