See what’s cooking with these culinary artists.
By Michael Haggerty
Photographed by Jerry Zolynsky and Brett Mountain
Metro Detroit has no shortage of world-class chefs. Here we introduce you to four.
Luciano Del Signore, chef and proprietor of Bacco Ristorante and Bigalora: Wood Fired Cucina
Chef Luciano’s home kitchen is outfitted better than many established restaurant kitchens. For example, he has four separate cooking stations so he can have four chefs preparing food at the same time. He also has a Diva stove from France taking up an entire wall that he says “is given from father to son so it stays in the family.” The opposite wall is taken up by a commercial refrigerator-freezer.
Chef Luciano started his culinary experience at age 14 as a dishwasher in the family restaurant. Over the next 20 years, he honed his skills and became the executive chef and business partner with his father.
Luciano opened Bacco on Northwestern Highway in Southfield in 2002. While Bacco has lasted for more than a decade as a white-tablecloth restaurant, Luciano realized the Detroit restaurant scene was moving toward a more casual market. He developed a concept of casual Italian dining and opened three Bigalora: Wood Fired Cucina restaurants in Royal Oak, Southfield and Ann Arbor. For catering, he can send a food truck, complete with a pizza oven.
In addition, has recently opened a grab-and-go popup at the Shinola headquarters in Detroit. Additional expansion plans include the new Bigalora in the McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metro Airport and the first-quarter opening of a continental restaurant in the Detroit Medical Center featuring “fast casual, chef-driven foods,” including his fire-baked pizzas. He also has plans in place for a first-quarter Bigalora opening in Rochester Hills.
Bacco, 29410 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield, baccoristorante.com, (248) 356-6600
Patrick Roettele, corporate executive chef, Roberts Restaurant Group
Patrick Roettele started his culinary profession as a line cook and jack-of-all-trades in various country clubs and hotel kitchens around Florida.
After tiring of that scene, he came to Michigan and started working in the kitchen for Bill Roberts at Beverly Hills Grill. It wasn’t long before this hard-working “kid” was named executive chef for the Roberts Restaurant Group.
With the success of Beverly Hills Grill and Street Side Seafood in downtown Birmingham, as well as the Town Tavern in Royal Oak, Roberts and Chef Patrick knew their idea for “branded restaurants with individual personalities and identities” was the answer.
Since then, they expanded with the addition of three more restaurants: Roadside B&G on Telegraph in Bloomfield, Cafe ML on Maple and Lahser in Birmingham and, most recently, Bill’s on Woodward and Long Lake in Bloomfield Hills.
As an executive chef, he also spends countless hours on the Internet reviewing the culinary trends and changes throughout the country. He feels the growth in the Southeast Michigan restaurant scene is great, but he wants to see what happens with the opening of so many startups. He dines out often, always at independently owned restaurants. “I want to know what the competition is doing,” he says.
“Success and survival for restaurants depends on being able to change with the times,” he says. “Anyone can start a restaurant and be popular for a while; it’s critical to find out what guests want and give it to them. In Michigan, the food should follow the seasons so people are excited about what they are eating.”
His advice for aspiring chefs is to “develop skills from within and adapt standards from chefs and people you work for … Bill Roberts, for example, creates a vibe that’s good for everyone around him.”
Robert Restaurant Group, www.Robertsrestaurantgroup.com, (248) 646-6395
Chef Kate Williams, former chef at Republic and Parks & Rec restaurants
Chef Kate Williams grew up in a large Irish family in Northville. She became interested in cooking while attending Ladywood High School in Livonia and practiced her basic high school cooking skills on her three brothers.
The kitchen in her Corktown home is small but full of professional culinary tools. The bookshelves in her spacious living room contain several volumes of cookbooks from the original Betty Crocker Cookbook to Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes by her mentor, Executive Chef Laura Frankel.
Chef Kate attended Michigan State University, majoring in the food service program. She left after three years and enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York City in 2007. She worked in several New York City restaurants prior to relocating to Chicago for a sous chef position at the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant, where she met her mentor Frankel.
She returned to Detroit in 2012 and started a program to train underprivileged women at the nonprofit organization Alternatives For Girls. Her mission was to teach them how to prepare healthy meals at fast food prices.
In 2013, she was a finalist in the Detroit Top Chef challenge. The next year she was hired as executive chef of the new Republic Restaurant.
Chef Kate recently left Republic to concentrate on her next venture, a small 40-seat dinner venue in Corktown. She is not ready to make a formal announcement — but stay tuned.
She recently returned from a trip to Spain where she spent time studying the foods and new concepts in that region. This is not the first time she traveled the globe to uncover new concepts and preparations for unique presentations of her foods.
Her three favorite places to dine out are Mudgie’s Deli on Porter Street for casual dining, Selden Standard for the rabbit pasta and Gold Cash Gold for the scrumptious fried chicken.
We can’t wait to see what she has planned for Corktown!
James Rigato, Mabel Gray & Root restaurants
Chef James Rigato, executive chef and co-owner of Mabel Gray in Hazel Park, was preparing squash on a habachi grill when we met. Mable Gray is his newest venture with Ed Mamou, who owned the well-recognized Root Restaurant in White Lake.
He originally met Mamou working as his personal chef at Royal Oak Recycling. Soon they started discussing a new chef-driven restaurant and, at 26, he became executive chef for the new Root Restaurant and Bar. His contemporary American cuisine with a Michigan twist gained him national recognition, including a stint competing on Bravo’s Top Chef. He went on to earn the Great Lakes nomination for Best New Chef in 2013 and 2014.
This top chef started his career as a dishwasher at age 14 and his formal culinary education at Schoolcraft College three years later. He worked and trained in some of Detroit’s best restaurants including Morels, the Townsend’s Rugby Grill and with Chef Luciano Del Signore at Bacco Ristorante.
“Becoming a good chef is an industry accomplishment,” he says. “You don’t become a real chef until you work in a restaurant and learn from the best.”
Earlier this year, he opened Mable Gray, a 47-seat diner venue in Hazel Park that starts dinner at 4 p.m., but you need serious reservations after 6. Unlike most restaurants, the menu changes every day according to what fresh product is available and the whims of the chef. There’s also an eight-course “tasting menu” for $65 with an accompanying “drinking course” for another $35. He continues his role as a consultant for Root, which hasn’t lost a beat.
Rigato helped establish a culinary program at Lakeland Prison, where he trained prisoners how to prepare and serve healthy meals. He has also established a culinary program at Eastover Elementary in Bloomfield Hills. The students learn how to cook, but they also learn farm-to-table concepts by planting and caring for an outdoor garden.
Mable Gray, 23835 John R, Hazel Park, (248) 398-4300 NS