Metro Detroit Food Entrepreneurs Turn to Video During the Pandemic
W.ait, are you a tv personality now? I looked down from a pole My dining room to find this text from a friend in early May. At that moment I was waiting in the virtual green room for a morning segment on WXYZ TV live via zoom. Otherwise, that week as a hermit, I’d shared on social media photos of four new recipes I’d developed on Instagram, hosted two segments of Happy Hour, Hour Detroit’s weekly virtual cocktail series, and made two television appearances to make for the series to advertise. I chuckled at the news and muted my phone just in time for the producers to test my audio.
Prior to the pandemic, my role as the magazine’s restaurant editor required less time with the outside world. Every month I criticized meals in restaurants under the guise of anonymity. But with the dine-in services temporarily suspended, my role has taken on a new form, catapulting me into a spotlight I didn’t see coming – though I can’t say I mind. Happy Hour doubled in size to connect with Hour Detroit followers and encourage viewers to support a bar scene battling the aftermath of the crisis. It also gave me something to look forward to in an otherwise monotonous time. Pretty quickly, wiping with red lipstick in front of our streams at 5 p.m. freed me from the doldrums of stretchy pants and ponytails.
Regina Gaines, owner of the Haus des pure Vin (top left), welcomes the guests to the weekly program on the wine dealer’s IGTV.
The crisis has pushed all of us to make virtual adjustments to our past lives. In particular, our attraction to video formats underscores the human need for visual connection and interaction. Phone calls became FaceTimes and conference calls became Google video chats.
Video has become a particularly useful crutch in the food and beverage space. An industry focused on togetherness struggles to coexist with social distancing regulations, but video sharing platforms have become great unifying agents. “Because we are a retail business, we are technically classified as an essential business,” says Regina Gaines, owner of House of Pure Vin. For the entire duration of the lockdown, the downtown Detroit wine store opened three times a week with limited business hours. “But we’re an experiential space, so we can’t do a lot of the things we would normally do to sell wine.” Among other things, the shop’s On-Demand Wine Tastings, a series of events that guide guests through various types of wine. Meanwhile, Gaines reached out to Zoom to host weekly virtual wine tastings led by sommelier Shelley Bynum. “It was about empowering people to understand the basics of tasting,” says Gaines. Even if they can’t come to us, during this time our customers can go to the grocery store and know how to choose a great bottle of wine. “
For some, like Gaines, the transition to video is hardly motivated by financial gains. All virtual events in the House of Pure Vin are free for the participants. “My customers have remained loyal to me. I wanted to create something, even for an hour, that could distract her from what we were going through. “
James Rigato, head chef at Mabel Gray, will give a lesson on how to make the most of a whole duck for almost 90 people in early May.
In other cases, the revenues from virtual events have helped support businesses during this time. At Mabel Gray, Chef James Rigato has adapted traditional personal cooking classes to virtual lessons that take place live on Zoom. “When I took cooking lessons in the past, it was usually like a side business,” he says. For the past few years, Rigato has taught classes at Schoolcraft College as well as in private homes. “Now the cooking classes are 100 percent in the bottom line. I plan for them to be an integral part of the business model in the future. “
For $ 150, participants can take part in an interactive experience with Rigato, an award-winning, James Beard-nominated, top chef-recognized chef whose primary motivation is to provide food system education. “When we heard about food shortages, I pushed people into entertaining the idea of various proteins they wouldn’t cook at home,” he says, promoting an upcoming class on whole duck butchering. “With all the restaurants closed, duck production is very high and the farmers are practically asking people to buy them. This gives me the opportunity to teach people how to cook ducks and to support my vendors and farmers in the food system. ”
The day before the lesson, guests arrange for Mabel Gray to collect a complete meal set from the roadside without contact. On the day of the lesson, they will receive a zoom link through which Rigato will provide a live step-by-step tutorial on how to prepare the food, as well as information on where to find a corresponding playlist for the event, compiled by the chef himself. “It’s as much Mabel Gray as we can pack into a virtual home experience,” he says.
Pastry chef Lena Sareini carries over her bubbly personality and easy-to-follow recipes in a new YouTube series.
For Lena Sareini, pastry chef at Selden Standard, it was simply a year-long wish that inspired the launch of Cooking at Home with Lena Sareini, a YouTube channel where she broadcasts cooking lessons like a pro from the comfort of her own kitchen. “I’ve always wanted to start a YouTube channel, but I never really had the time,” she says and now collects more than 1,000 views per video. “The pandemic gave me nothing but time.”
With Selden Standard temporarily closed to meet social distancing mandates (at press time it was preparing to reopen in late June), Sareini says her channel allows her to stay connected with guests who are getting their fresh bread and love their rotating desserts. “Even when I’m not doing anything in the kitchen, I don’t want people to forget the things that are going on in my life,” she says. “I’m still trying to stay current and fresh.”
Video projects can take hours between filming, editing, and publishing, and often require extra hands. Behind the scenes, the stars of the show rely on a supportive cast of siblings and spouses, children and partners. For Gaines, it’s her college-aged daughter that she considers her glamorous team. Sam, Rigato’s girlfriend and sous chef, films each lesson and helps make the Q&A part of the live recording easier. Sareini relies on her fiancé for assistance with the processing.
Zingerman’s head chef at Cornman Farms, Kieron Hales, makes fresh pasta at home with his 7-year-old son, Henry.
And Zingerman’s head chef at Cornman Farms, Kieron Hales, greets a heartwarming sous chef on his Instagram Live series, Kieron’s Kitchen – his 7-year-old son, Henry, who inspired the series.
“One of the things I became a little obsessed about over the years was cooking with kids,” says Hales. “We were so busy in our business that we didn’t have bandwidth for it, but now we are.”
In keeping with the familiar thread, the native Englishman Hales shows recipes in his series “British Classics” that were passed on from his mother. “I try to do things that I really love and share with people what my mother did to make our family happy.” Ironically, even in socially distant times, Detroit’s culinary industry is nothing if not collaborative.