Chefs complete Radisson restaurant remake
One chef is on her way from Seattle. Another came via Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s culinary arts program.
The chef in charge of it all was born into and raised in the Greenleaf Hospitality Group kitchen over the past two decades. He never left it, but together they have reimagined it as the replacement for two of Radisson Plaza Hotel’s higher-end dining options.
Opening Jan. 20, Brick and Brine has taken more than two years of work to define a new concept, look, and menu for the former Zazios space — at a time when the COVID economy shook a thriving restaurant scene in downtown.
Alec Durocher, executive chef of restaurants for Greenleaf Hospitality Group, which operates the Radisson, heads a team that includes sous chefs Andrew Carpenter and Lindsey Stillian, chef de cuisine Dan Piotrowicz, and chef de partie Will Fraser.
They created opening signature dishes like the brined fried chicken, the 32-ounce tomahawk ribeye for two, and the seafood platter doused in a Callabrian pepper butter sauce, steaks, chops, and oysters on the half shell — raw or charred.
The former Zazios space was head-to-toe renovated into a modern chophouse feel, with leather club chairs and dark blue banquette seating, and fireplaces. It brings to Kalamazoo an aesthetic that has for years been a fixture in bigger city dining.
The area that was once a large outdoor patio has been enclosed, though the wall of accordion windows along the outer edges will be opened in fair weather, when live music will pour onto the Kalamazoo Mall, said Tim Rayman, CEO of Greenleaf Hospitality Group.
The bar, once buried at the back of the restaurant, is now a feature up front, just after the entryway and fully-viewable wine cellar. The former Zazios bar space has been chopped up into a private bar and two private dining rooms seating 45 and 14 people, respectively.
The former chef’s table is now a kitchen table seating up to 20 people, enclosed in glass with a direct view and door into the kitchen for private parties, special menus, and interaction with Brick and Brine’s chefs and mixologists.
“People can stand at the window and watch the entire line, and everything that goes into the beautiful chaos that is a high volume kitchen on a Friday night,” Carpenter said.
Fraser and Carpenter have previously worked for Greenleaf restaurants in the Radisson, while Piotrowicz trained in Grand Rapids and moved to Kalamazoo to join Brick and Brine. Stillian is moving here from Seattle and will become one of the only female sous chefs in the area.
Fraser, who retains the title of “pasta guru” from the Zazios days, is crafting pasta dishes that include a mushroom agnolotti, tagliatelle with house-made lemon ricotta, and a homemade Bolognese sauce.
The chefs say they want to bring new techniques to the Kalamazoo dining scene, not just new dishes. Those include wet and dry brining, which will be used on steaks and the restaurant’s signature fried chicken, which will be cooked in a pressure fryer; cooking en sous vide, a French technique in which food is vacuum sealed and cooked at a precise temperature in water; and focusing on seasonal ingredients that take advantage of local vendors and the farmers market.
“Starting a new restaurant is exciting, with unlimited possibilities for greatness through planning, orchestration and refinement,” said Stillian, which is why she is moving from Seattle. She said food has long been a passion that ignites her imagination, and coming to a new restaurant with a new concept is the perfect spot to grow and evolve as a chef.
Bringing Brick and Brine to Life
As executive chef, Durocher oversees all of the Greenleaf dining experiences. It’s a career that he never planned on. It started as a college gig, when he was earning his bachelor’s degree in organizational communication at Western Michigan University. He was hired at Zazios when John Korycki was the head chef.
He’s worked in Kalamazoo for his entire career — except for a few years that he moved to the east side of Michigan to launch a second Zazios.
“I cut my teeth on Italian cuisine, and a little French technique,” Durocher said. “Zazios was open for 19 years. I grew up in that restaurant, with that concept. Being able to do something outside of that realm is very exciting.”
At Brick and Brine, Carpenter brings a special feel for Midwest comfort food, Fraser contributing some more classical skills culled from studying at KVCC’s Culinary Arts program, and Piotrowicz adding a specialty in seafood and southern cuisine developed in his years working in North Carolina.
Stillian will bring classical training and an eye for West Coast cooking and healthy dining spun out of a Johnson and Wales culinary degree.
“I grew up in Boulder, Colo., a community which is heavily influenced by natural healing, nutrition, and wellness, which early on heavily shaped my food perspective,” Stillian said.
Durocher said Stillian will help the carnivore-friendly restaurant develop for more vegetarian and vegan Kalamazoo diners.
While waiting for Stillian to join the team, the chefs drew on their cooking experience and travels, perused cookbooks, researched on the internet, and spent hours of trial and error in the kitchen.
The best example of their creative process might have been the development of the restaurant’s fried chicken recipe, which will be one of the restaurant’s featured dishes.
“It’s been the toughest recipe to develop,” Durocher said. “You can easily make bad fried chicken.”
He said the team started out knowing they were going to pressure fry the chicken to ensure the juiciest meat. Then they began experimenting with four or five recipes. The brine was the simplest element to develop, because anyone who has cooked a Thanksgiving turkey knows how it can enhance a bird’s flavor. They did try a pickle juice brine, and while they enjoyed the flavor, they weren’t sure it was right for a Kalamazoo audience.
The trickiest part of the recipe was coming up with the breading. They tried tempura style batters, cornstarch-coatings, and using binders to help the wet and dry batters stick together. But ultimately, they relied on Piotrowicz’s southern experiences to develop a traditional seasoned flour for the fried chicken. Also as a nod to the south and hot chicken trends, the restaurant created its own hot sauce and will serve that and honey on the side with the fried chicken.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Durocher said. “Basically, you fry a bunch of different chicken and figure out which part of each dish you like, then you mold it all into one recipe.”
The planning to replace Zazios – as well as Webster’s Prime, which closed a few weeks back – began just before the pandemic.
The team kept going, making all development decisions in-house, Rayman said.
Over the past 22 months, they saw a number of restaurants close in Kalamazoo.
“And we saw a lot of people leave the industry altogether,” Durocher said. “Before the pandemic the Kalamazoo restaurant scene had really taken off. But restaurant people are resilient people. A lot of those people are picking themselves up and getting back to it.”
Brick and Brine, like other restaurants, need more of them to do so. They are offering a $1,000 signing bonus for chefs – plus $300 for every chef referral they bring to the kitchen.
But those challenges aside, all four chefs say they’re looking forward to opening day and seeing their two years of planning come to life for customers.
“This is all of our baby,” Carpenter said. “We took this space and concept and everybody’s contributions and made Brick and Brine. That’s honestly the thing I’m most excited about.”
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