The big fish, smaller pond theory is once again working in Detroit’s favor. Yet another big-name chef is decamping from Chicago and heading east to the Motor City. The Detroit Free Press first-reports that Thomas Lents, the longtime executive chef at the Trump Hotel’s two Michelin-starred Sixteen, has accepted a post at downtown Detroit’s forthcoming Foundation Hotel.
Lents grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, and joined Sixteen in 2012 after working at spots like Michelin star-collector Joël Robuchon’s Las Vegas restaurant. At Sixteen he led the charge to join Michelin list during a time when many Chicago restaurants were scaling back or rethinking fine dining. Lents also became known for elaborately themed tasting menus, one of which was featured in Eater’s 60 Second Tasting Menu video series.
The decision to return to Detroit is highly personal. Lents tells Mark Kurlyandchik, that he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and while he is now in remission, the experience redefined his priorities. Additionally, like other chefs at Trump properties, Lents says “the election has been difficult for everyone involved and frustrating to see all the great product that's been put out by this hotel suffer because of situations that are outside of our control."
Lents will lead the dining program at the Foundation Hotel, beginning in February. The building is currently under renovation with an anticipated spring debut. The flagship hotel restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a style that is “approachable and kind of tells the story of Detroit,” the chef says. Additionally, the developer Aparium’s website teases a prix fixe “Chef’s Table” that will be used as an “incubator” for new culinary talent.
Even better, Lent is married to the equally talented Rebecca LaMalfa of Top Chef fame. LaMalfa has visited Detroit on occasion in the past for pop-ups at Revolver and in Eastern Market. She and Lents will be commuting for now between Chicago and Detroit as she continues to head up the kitchens at Virgin Hotels Chicago.
• Two Michelin-starred Chef Trades Chicago for Detroit [Freep]
• The Foundation Hotel [Aparium]
• Thomas Lents on Sixteen's Rise, Michelin, and Chicago [ECHI]
• Chicago's 2017 Michelin Stars, Mapped [ECHI]
• All Foundation Hotel Coverage [CDET]