Chef Mariya Russell — who in 2020 walked away from the Chicago restaurant where months prior she had made history when she was named the first Black woman chef to lead a Michelin-starred establishment — is making her return to cooking in metro Detroit with upcoming pop-ups.
Following that monumental recognition, she and husband Garrett Russell (formerly a sous chef at Kikko’s sister bar and restaurant Kumiko) needed a break to process the significance of the win so they quit their jobs at the dual business, and found refuge in Hawai’i where they spent the next two years healing and plotting their next steps. The pair returned to the Midwest in November 2022 — this time in metro Detroit, where Garrett’s family is from — to enjoy the holidays and to once again flex their culinary muscles in the restaurant world.
Over the next several weeks, the Russells will host a trio of pop-ups in the region, starting with a sold-out dinner this Sunday, January 29 at Freya in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood, where they will collaborate with the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Phoebe Zimmerman, whom the couple met during their time in Hawai’i. Then on Saturday, March 4 and Sunday, March 5, they’ll be at Frame for a pair of multi-course dinners.
“I thought that putting down some roots here and creating some community here would be a good idea for us because we’re always going to come back,” Russell tells Eater.
In the coming months, the couple will again relocate, this time to Tennessee, where they are contemplating a space of their own. Mariya says she’s spent the last two-plus years reflecting on her own experiences in fine dining — the long hours, the pressures she’s placed on herself throughout her decades-spanning career to achieve excellence, and the often chaotic environment that restaurant kitchens foster — to imagine the kind of place that she and Garrett want to create.
“Our vision is more of a destination place where you come in, we cook for you, and we teach you about the food that you’re eating, where it’s coming from — all of those things. It’s more of an experience,” she says.
Mariya says she and Garrett have not yet solidified their plans for Tennessee. However, she says the menu will likely be informed by the many kitchens the couple has worked in over the years. She says that many years ago, she created a document that serves as a running tally of the meals and recipes that she’s worked on and regularly updates the list so that when the time comes, she will have a lot of ideas to draw from.
In the months leading up to and following the Michelin announcement, Mariya was inundated, not just with accolades, but questions about her future. In May 2019, Food & Wine named Kumiko to its Best New Restaurants list (Mariya was the chef de cuisine of both Kumiko and Kikko), and in December of that year, she was recognized as an Eater Young Gun. During that period, she talked about the immense pressure that all of this recognition — and being the first Black woman to have achieved it — was having on her. In June 2020, she told the Chicago Tribune that her mental and physical health was depleted and she was walking away from Kikko.
Prior to her time at Kikko and Kumiko, Russell had already established herself in Chicago’s dining scene, with stints at the now-shuttered spot Nellcote, vegetarian restaurant Green Zebra (where she and Garrett met), and eventually Senza, owned by restaurateur Noah Sandoval, who also runs Kumiko and Kikko, along with the critically-lauded Oriole.
Mariya says she’s in a much better place these days.
“I’m feeling wonderful now, honestly. I feel like I’m ready to share everything that I’ve been working on. I’m at a place where I know my limits and so if there are things that I need, I know when to stop and I know when to get them for myself,” she says. “I’m in a much better headspace and heart space to be able to give everything that I want to give to the world.”