Director of Culinary Development, Nino Salvaggio International Marketplaces
Interviewed by Matt Totsky
Photography by Jerry Zolynsky
Meet Pete Loren, a West Bloomfield resident and chef. Throughout his storied career, he has seemingly seen — and done — it all. Now, as director of culinary development for Nino Salvaggio International Marketplaces, he is responsible for overseeing everything culinary that goes on at the company’s three stores in Troy, Clinton Township and St. Clair Shores.
“I wasn’t born to be a chef,” he says. “For me, I gravitated to cooking because I loved pleasing people. When I was young, I was known as a creative child. I liked to make things and work with my hands on art projects. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen watching my mother cook, but I had the eating part down very well.”
How did you first develop an interest in food and cooking? I grew up in Livonia and had a Detroit News paper route. Next to the paper station was a restaurant called the Pizza Inn. I can remember looking through the windows on a cold winter morning when I was 14 and seeing kids my own age working in the kitchen. I knew right away that was what I wanted to do.
I got a job at the Pizza Inn and loved it. I ended up working in similar restaurants throughout high school. My school counselor knew I had an interest in cooking and suggested I enroll in a brand new culinary program. I excelled at it and the experience actually helped improve my grade point average so I could graduate.
Where did you study the culinary arts? After high school, I enrolled in the culinary program at Oakland Community College. It was a great experience, but I moved on after one year to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, which is the most prestigious cooking school in the world. It’s been called the Harvard of cooking and some of the top European chefs train there.
I ended up graduating with honors and was asked to teach there. After one year, I returned to the Detroit area. From there, I continued to teach at three different community colleges: Macomb, Monroe and Schoolcraft. Overall, I spent more than 14 years teaching culinary arts.
Where did your career go from there? There was a golden era in Detroit for restaurants in the 1970s that I was lucky to be a part of. Early on, I worked at the Money Tree and the London Chop House. Later, in 1976, I assisted in opening all the restaurants at the Renaissance Center.
In 1987, I opened Opus One in Detroit, and it was a big success. We were named the Detroit Restaurant of the Year in 1992.
Seven years later, I accepted a position as the corporate chef for the Epoch Restaurant Group, a budding high-end gourmet restaurant corporation. I helped them open Tribute in Farmington Hills, Forte in Birmingham and two other restaurants in Bay Harbor. I also helped oversee Too Chez in Novi and worked at many big events.
What brought you to Nino Salvaggio and how does your current position differ from working in a restaurant? The restaurant business is a fickle one. Nino Salvaggio wanted to improve its gourmet-to-go offerings and make things more upscale. They also wanted artisan breads, fresh pastas and cafes in their stores. After a little research, I learned there would be so many cool things for me to do. It’s been a good fit and I’ve been there for 13 years.
I’d describe my experience at Nino’s like a conductor working with a larger orchestra. I get a chance to work with the freshest produce, meat and fish in town. I can create new items and still teach. I don’t see Nino’s as a mere grocery store; I call it a culinary resource.
What are some of your favorite cuisines? Depends on what I’m in the mood for. Mexican, Asian and Indian are near the top of my list. I also like different regional American foods. Getting exposed to so much great food inspires me to experiment at home and create new things, many of which end up on the shelves at Nino’s. Some of our signature barbecue sauces and salad dressings are great examples.
What are your other interests outside of the kitchen? I’ve always had an interest in art. I create functional sculptures and display pieces, things like furniture, wall hangings and free-standing sculptures. I have an art studio in my home and I’ve created pieces that are in some of the restaurants I’ve worked in. I also enjoy writing restaurant reviews and I do a blog on ninosalvagio.com. NS