Acclaimed Chef Andy Hollyday on Struggle and Success in Detroit
A year and a half after opening the doors to his first restaurant, Selden Standard’s Andy Hollyday is a James Beard Award Best Chef Semifinalist. This is the second year in a row he has been nominated for cuisine crafted in a formerly abandoned Detroit dry cleaner.
Both Hollyday and his co-founder, Evan Hanson, are avid gardeners committed to sourcing shared-plate ingredients from local urban farms. Many dishes are cooked in a wood-fired oven and in warmer months, seasonal cocktails are sipped on the patio, adjacent to an herb garden.
With nostalgia for Michigan summers, I reached out to the celebrated chef for insight on planting roots in Detroit.
GC: You attended culinary school in New York and worked in France and the Bay area. Why open your first restaurant in Detroit?
After school I backpacked in Europe and one of my old chefs at school set me up with a (unpaid) job in a French town called Chambery. I spent every penny I had over there. The master plan was to come back to the States and continue to gain experience. I thought about Chicago or either coast, but I was broke. My sister lived just outside of Ann Arbor and offered me a place to stay while I found a job. I started working at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn. It closed a few years back, but in its heyday, it serviced the Ford headquarters.
Eventually, Michael Symon’s Roast opened downtown. Working there, I decided it was a place I could stay for a while. Originally Detroit was a stopover but I fell in love with the people.
GC: Has anything surprised you about the city?
I’m not surprised by it anymore, but the thing that kept me here was friends. When I first moved into Detroit proper I met these amazing, hard-working people. It seemed everyone wanted to do something good for the city. Ten years ago it wasn’t a super-hip place to be, it was struggling, needed a little love. But there was this underground dinner series, people into great food and wine. Now those people are opening bars and restaurants and running businesses.
GC: Your seasonal menus credit dozens of local growers. Is there produce in Detroit during the winter? If not, where do you source fresh ingredients?
The winter is the hardest time for us. Nearly a dozen farms are within a mile of the restaurant but not all have the luxury of a hoop house to farm year-around. Food Field gets us stuff and Rising Pheasant has micro-greens in the winter.
Keep Growing Detroit, a non-profit, also sources from smaller local growers. I can call and ask for twenty pounds of beets– they may have it on site or be able to source it. We are at the local farmers’ market every Saturday and source from a couple of Michigan-based distributors with bigger farms around the state.
GC: What are the best and worst things about this summer season?
Summer is the best. We wait six months a year to be outside. There’s such a buzz, and great music festivals. I love the growing season and seeing the bustle in the farmers’ market.
The worst thing about summer is road construction.
GC: How does your Detroit garden compare to others you have tended?
This is the first community garden we’ve been a part of. It was a muddy parking lot at the end of our alley and now it’s our fifth or sixth year. Growing up, gardens were mostly in-ground work, but this garden is all raised-beds.
We get to meet people from the area that we wouldn’t otherwise bump into. Everyone has their own plot and the diversity of things being grown is cool. There are communal fruit trees, bee hives, and a strawberry patch. We just started seeing plums and apricots and raspberries.
GC: What’s next? Is there a second Hollyday/Hansen venture in the works?
At the moment, no. We have over 70 employees and do a lot of things from scratch. It takes a lot of hands so we are careful not to stretch ourselves too thin. But if we were really passionate about a concept, project, and space…
For more information on local growers in Detroit, check out our story on Detroit Food Field.