We caught up with Chef E ahead of the relaunch of the Paradise Valley Salad to get the dirt on her earliest memories of food, what's on the table when she hosts a dinner party, and more. Read on to get familiar with one of our favorite chefs of all time.
We know you've been cooking forever - what is your earliest memory of food?
My earliest food memories involve being in the garden with my grandfather. He and my grandmother lived across the street from us growing up and I was always in the garden with him. I learned how to shuck corn and snap peas right in his yard.
You grew up in South Louisiana, what do you miss most about living there?
The people, food, and music.
What would you miss most about Detroit if you ever left?
The unapologetic Blackness that is Detroit! And the fresh, delicious Detroit-grown produce.
Where is the first place you take someone who is visiting you from out of town?
Belle Isle - it reminds me of the Lakefront in New Orleans - and most people get a kick out of being able to see Canada. Lol!
Describe your perfect day off in Detroit.
Breakfast at The Clique, bike ride through the Dequindre Cut to Eastern Market where I purchase my produce and other products from some of my favorite Detroit farmers and food makers, then swing by Mr. Fish for a fried catfish sandwich on the ride back. Then I'm going home to take a nap! Lastly, head up to Spot Lite to listen to DJ Skeez spin.
What is your favorite restaurant in Detroit? What do you love most about it?
Baobab Fare - The food is exceptionally good; everyone there treats every customer like family and the owners, Nadia and Mamba ARE friends that have become family.
What is your favorite restaurant anywhere other than Detroit?
There's a cafe by the name of Fee-Fo-Lay Cafe in my hometown of Wallace, Louisiana that serves some of the best tea cakes and beignets. I love sitting outside under the trees just enjoying the peacefulness of rural life in South Louisiana.
What is your current go-to ingredient when you cook at home? What do you like most about it? What is a dish you made with it that you really loved?
I'm currently digging Momofuku spicy soy noodles. They're filling, versatile, and high in protein which is a major plus for me! For even more protein, I made spicy Korean peanut butter (with Germack natural peanut butter) short ribs (Ronnie's Meats in Gratiot Central Market) with the Momofuku soy noodles and wilted Planted Detroit Lafayette St Mix folded in with the noodles and finished with Baobab Fare's Pili (hot sauce). I love using as many local ingredients as possible!
At a dinner party, what food and topics are on your table?
I'm a sucker for a good charcuterie board and anything handheld (sandwiches, tacos, empanadas, hand pies, pierogies)! Also great bourbon. Topics on the table: What everyone is reading (I'm always looking for my next good book to read), what podcasts are everyone listening to, and where is everyone eating (places you've gotten a good meal lately).
What are three things you always have in your fridge?
Pili from Baobab Fare, the "Holy Trinity" - diced onions, bell peppers, and celery, something pickled (beets, cauliflower, cucumbers, okra).
Why are you excited to bring back the Paradise Valley Salad?
So many people have been asking for it! It was such a great experience creating this salad with the Planted Detroit team last year. Anytime I get an opportunity to pay homage to my upbringing in Louisiana and my current home, Detroit, is a good day. What we've created with the Paradise Valley Salad does a good job of that.
You reworked the PV recipe a bit for this go around. Tell us about your approach to the changes.
The star of the show (besides the delicious greens grown by Planted Detroit, of course) really is the tabasco vinaigrette. The rework was just making sure the ingredients and toppings complimented the sweet and spiciness of the dressing so that it could really shine as it should.
If you didn't work with food, what would you want to do for work?
I actually wanted to be a therapist before I fell in love with food. About 10 years ago, I actually started working on my Master's degree in Therapy but stopped halfway through the program because I could no longer balance working in corporate America full time and going to school. I think I may have found a way to marry my two loves though so stay tuned ;)