Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Q&A with Ali GaRrison

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016


Ali Garrison will be joining us for this years 11th Annual African American dinner, you can reserve your tickets to this event or get more information here!

Q: Can you share the story of your great, great, great grandparents?

With pleasure! It is something my family and I are very proud to share.
In 1830, my three-greats grandfather, Dr. Nathan M. Thomas, a birthright Quaker and ardent Abolitionist, walked all the way from Ohio to settle on Potawatomi Lands in Schoolcraft, Michigan. He became the first white physician serving the entire Western Michigan area. Pamela Brown, my three greats grandmother, had moved from Vermont with her brother, E. Lakin Brown and his wife, and took a job as one of the first schoolteachers in Schoolcraft. She and Nathan met and courted. When he proposed to her, he warned her about his life’s work helping refugees who were fleeing slavery in the South, and told her that if she were to agree to marry him, that this would have to be part of her life also. Pamela said yes, and they married in 1840 and began their family. In 1843 their home became a station on the Underground Railroad and over the next twenty years until the Civil War broke out, they assisted an estimated 1,500 Freedom Seekers to escape and settle in Michigan or keep going North to Canada. Nathan was called the conductor and Pamela was called the hotel keeper. Their house is now lovingly preserved as a museum by the Schoolcraft Historical Society.

Q: What was the Underground Railroad?

The Underground Railroad was a well-organized web of escape routes and safe houses in the early to mid-1800s that gave assistance to enslaved people of Afrikan descent who were fleeing the abominable, dehumanizing conditions of systemic slavery and human trafficking in the Southern US. The Underground Railroad was run by Black Abolitionists (both free and enslaved), White Abolitionists (often Quakers) and Native Peoples, working together for human rights.

Q: Why was Michigan such an important part of it?

Michigan was en route, a border territory/state to Upper Canada, where according to the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery, enslaved people became free persons upon arrival. There were also quite a few passionate Abolitionists who were living in Michigan and wanting to organize, provide aid and encourage Freedom Seekers to settle in the territory/state even though that was a big risk and did not guarantee their immunity from Southern raiders, kidnappers and bounty hunters.

Q: How did you meet Dr. Washington?

In December 2014, I had come from Toronto to Kalamazoo to help work on a social justice theatre project for Humanity for Prisoners. That play deals with one of the worst wrongful conviction cases in Michigan history, telling the story of Maurice Henry Carter, an Afrikan American man who spent twenty-nine years in prison for a crime he never committed. I had told the cast how pleased my ancestors, the Thomas Family, would be with this work and that their home nearby had been a station on the UR. Dr. Washington got very excited and said that he knew all about them and, in fact, had written about them in one of his plays. He told me that he and I were going to have to write a play about them together. The rest is history. LOL.

Q: What’s the name of the play and when will it show here in Ann Arbor?

In the new year, two evenings after your Afrikan American Foodways event, on Thursday, January 28th, Dr. Washington’s play, In Search of Giants: Ghosts of the Underground Railroad will be performed at the Arthur Miller Theatre on Univ. of Michigan’s North Campus, right across the street from where I studied music for five years. Alongside a cast of five others, Von plays himself, a griot in the traditional Afrikan storytelling style, and I sing and play myself and my three greats Gran Pamela.

Q: What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned working on it?

Oh, the countless things I have learned! Just, for example, I never knew about the treasure trove of Michigan archives housed at the Bentley Library on University of Michigan’s North Campus, or that all of Dr. Nathan M. Thomas’ papers and letters are preserved there- four big boxes of them!; By reading those letter and accounts, I learned that if Nathan, a white man, were alive today he would be considered a leader way ahead of his time because he was so actively advocating and lobbying for human rights and trying to change policy and legislation; I also learned that Edwin Stanton, the US Secretary of War under Lincoln, during the Civil War was a second cousin of Nathan’s and they were corresponding secretly; When I started digging, I discovered an intriguing visitor to the Thomas house, who I read about in the family accounts, and by following that little trail, stumbled upon the heart-stopping narrative of the brilliant Henry Bibb, Abolitionist, writer and former enslaved person who became one of our “Giants”; finally, I have immeasurably benefited from going back deep into my roots, learning about the power of exploring our past, how doing so informs our present and inspires our future.

Q: When did you work at Zingerman’s? What did you take away from the experience?

My brothers and I inherited our Mother’s passion for the art of food and cooking, and I had worked in some fine food establishments in Toronto. I was also curious about human interactions and the culture around food. So, when I was studying music at the University of Michigan in the mid-late 80s into the early 90s, I discovered the wonder of Zingerman’s, was utterly fascinated and immediately applied for a part-time job. The way that Ari and Paul taught us how to feel and think in an unlimited way about food and service and how to value each individual has stuck with me all these years. Plus the food itself is just incredible. They exemplified an unbridled enthusiasm and pro-activity that rubbed off on me and look!… now here we are, twenty-five years later, still curious and being inspired by our serendipitous meeting to come back into creative collaboration! I love it.

Reserve your tickets to this event or get more information here!

Summer Harvest Dinner Featuring Cornman Farms

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

An Interview with Amanda, Cornman Farms newest farmer

You know when you start working with someone and you can just tell that it is a great fit? That this person was destined to be a part of the team and destined for big things? Well, that is how we all felt when we met Amanda. Her story with Zingerman’s began just last November when she applied to work in the Roadshow as a barista. It was a no-brainer to hire her and she quickly became a favorite of staff and guests – she has such a calm and sweet demeanor, it comes out in every interaction, she truly does make you feel like you have been the best part of her day.

After a few months of working in the Roadshow, Amanda started sharing her passion of farming and love of flowers with Chef Alex. It became clear that it was a natural fit for her to move to the agricultural department of Cornman Farms. She joined long-time farm manager Mark Baerwolf in early Spring, and together the two of them are leading the agricultural department.

Roadhouse: Describe your journey that led you to working at Cornman Farms.

Amanda: I discovered farming while in grad school for environmental education in southwest New Hampshire. I had gotten an internship at a local CSA farm for the summer and was blown away by it. After that summer, my focus quickly changed to agricultural education. So, I come at farming with the mindset of an educator, I love teaching about organic and sustainable agriculture. What I love about coming out to Cornman Farms is how dedicated Chef Alex is to teaching and sharing his passion for farming. It is easy to hop on the bandwagon with him around. Mark too, he lights up when someone asks a question. His energy around farming is incredible to be a part of.

After finishing grad school I worked for a local non-profit organization that taught kids how to farm and manage a farmers market stand. Then, I worked as a garden manager at a working farm/non-profit educational center. I turned it into a year-round CSA and farmers’ market farm, and helped create the year round market in our little town of Keene, NH. After that, it was time to return to Michigan. I grew up in Ann Arbor, my parents are still here and my husband, daughter and I moved back to be closer to family. So here we are, and I am so grateful to have found the farm. This is the perfect fit for me.

Soil is one of the most important aspects of farming. What is the soil like here at Cornman Farms?

The soil here is variable, actually. Being in Michigan, the soil is pretty clay-like and wet, so it requires lots of careful tillage and timely workings. When you work clay soil that is too wet, it compacts and develops a crust, which makes it hard for the plants to get what they need to grow. Mark has developed a really amazing compost system, and over the years he has been adding tons of compost to lighten it up a quite a bit. The compost helps give the soil better water filtration, nutrient availability, and nutrient storage. It is pretty amazing to compare the fields that have received years of compost, and fields that have been opened recently, he and Chef Alex have put a lot of work into the soil fertility of the farm and it shows!

Companion planting is a term familiar to most professional farmers, but for the folks who garden or farm for more of a hobby, it isn’t as well known. What is companion planting and what is the importance of it? How does Cornman put it to use?

Successful companion planting means seeing the bigger picture, knowing the likes and dislikes of each of your crops, and having a wide diversity of crops. It can be done with a very specific plan, for example, we alternate beds of cabbage with beds of leeks. Why? Well, as you are aware, the veggies in the onion family (garlic, shallots, leeks, and…onions) have a very strong smell. Cabbage, on the other hand, is very attractive to a lot of pests, like the cabbage moth worm. By interspersing cabbage with onions, the onions act like a natural insecticide and help deter many of the cabbage pests. The big win is that we won’t have to use any chemicals to help control the pests, and therefore we keep the bees, butterflies, dragonflies, toads, and snakes happy. Companion planting can also be a more casual practice, like planting corn next to the flowers because the flowers need a windbreak, and the corn gets very tall and is very sturdy and can help block the wind. By seeing the bigger picture, and planting a diversity of crops, you can create a cropping system that works for you, and benefits the wildlife of the farm. We are encouraging insects, toads, birds, bugs, and wildlife to be a part of the ecosystem of the farm to create an environment where all things benefit from each other. These things wouldn’t be around, and we would not be benefiting from them, if we were a conventional farm using chemicals.

This is the first season Cornman Farms has been growing flowers and selling them. Amanda’s flower bouquets are available at the Roadhouse or you can contact her for custom arrangements, or bulk flowers.

Tell us about the flowers around the farm. Do you have a favorite?

That’s like naming a favorite child! I’ve been thinking about it, though. I have a few favorites, zinnias, which are a total classic summer favorite, sunflowers are AMAZING, and black-eyed susans. They are a simple flower but so beautiful in that way. Sometimes the simple ones are the most beautiful.

How many different varieties of flowers did you plant this year?

We’ve planted lots of perennials around the property that will keep coming back year after year, and on top of that we planted about 30 different kinds of annual flowers. But, within those 30 there are many different varieties (colors) of each. Snap dragons, zinnias, statice, cosmos, sunflowers. So many sizes, colors, and textures, the farm is really beautiful right now.

The first harvest dinner of the season is on August 18th, we’ll be highlighting the best of the fields at Cornman Farms. What are you most excited about on the menu?

Oh, what am I not excited about?! The potatoes and cucumbers are coming in beautifully this year, and the first tomatoes are starting to come in, and they are delicious! The Roadhouse’s fried green tomatoes are simply one of my favorites. And I saw on the menu the porchetta carving station, that sounds fantastic.

Amanda, Mark and many members of the Cornman Farms team will be at the dinner on August 18th. Hope you will be able to join us and say hello to the farmers caring for your food!


America’s Best Chefs Answer The Call To Serve Their Nation

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

by Melissa Goh
the salt, NPR’s Food Blog

The State Department is deploying a new, elite force onto the precarious stage of international diplomacy. More than 80 top chefs from across the nation were inducted into the first-ever American Chef Corps on Friday.

How will these culinary soldiers serve their country? The Associated Press says:

“These food experts could help the State Department prepare meals for visiting dignitaries, travel to U.S. embassies abroad for educational programs with foreign audiences or host culinary experts from around the world in their U.S. kitchens.”

The list of chefs is enough to make most Americans salivate: Jose Andres, Top Chef competitors Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio, Ming Tsai, Art Smith, Vikram Sunderam, Rick Bayless and Alex Young, to name a few.

click here to read the full article

Farm & Food Cool People Series

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Learn about gardening, urban farming, harvesting, canning, freezing, pickling, drying, creative food storage, cooking and eating from some of the best and most creative minds in this community!

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
Chef Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse
a lively discussion with the James Beard Award-winning chef

The event is FREE at the Dawn Farm Community Barn.

RSVP to the event at 734.485.8725 or at

Roadhouse Chef Alex Young Cooks Up a Better American Diet

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Dexter, MI‚—Although his “day job” as chef and managing partner of Zingerman’s Roadhouse restaurant keeps him plenty busy, Alex Young has always found time to pursue new passions. In 2006, after experiencing the thrill of serving his restaurant guests vegetables that he grew in his home garden, Alex launched into farming with Zingerman’s Cornman Farms. Today, Cornman produces much of the produce served at the Roadhouse and raises livestock for much of the meat that reaches guests plates as well. These days, Alex has a new passion that he is working into his daily schedule: introducing schoolkids to new and different foods that are full-flavored, and sustainably grown and raised, and helping them learn the value and fun and of healthy eating.

“My dream is to get all processed food out of our school lunches,” says Alex. “There are lots ways we can improve our kids’ diets in schools.” Alex first saw the impact he could have on kids’ diets when he joined his son for “bring your parent to lunch” day at school. “I thought we could do more to get fresh, seasonal food on the menu,” he remembers. “As someone who grows food and raises livestock, the key for me is building relationships with the people in my community to help get the word out that there’s a better way to do this and then to help make that happen.” Getting the kids to try different foods can be a challenge too. Often they will walk right past the healthier choices in the cafeteria and choose something that their parents would rather they didn’t. “It’s all about educating the kids to stop and think about what they are putting into their bodies,” says Alex.

Timing can be a problem too. Schools often schedule lunch right before a recess. Rather than take the time to relax over nourishing food, kids rush through their meals so they can go play. “Perfectly natural reaction,” notes Alex. “But, let’s work on altering schedules so lunch doesn’t have to be rushed.”

In recent years, Alex has embarked on an ambitious plan to make a change in his community. He works with the Farm to School program in Ann Arbor giving talks on the health and environmental benefits of fresh vegetables; the importance of organic and non-genetically-modified foods; and the effect of “food miles” and the impact of time from harvest to consumption on nutrition.

He also works in the kitchens at the Chelsea and Dexter schools with the cafeteria staff preparing lunches for the students and bringing traditional but new (to the students) flavors for them to try. “Taste,” Alex points out, “is the most important thing to change kids’ habits. They really do enjoy preparing the food and learning its history, but getting them to experience the fuller flavor of truly grass-fed beef or the huge taste in a just-picked tomato—that’s when the light bulb goes off and you know there’s some progress in changing the way they approach food.”

Alex uses his Roadhouse restaurant as well to get the message out. He hosts dinners there and at local schools to raise money to build gardening programs in the Dexter/Chelsea schools, and his annual fundraiser dinner for the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation raises money for farm field trips in local schools. Alex hosts many such field trips himself at his own Cornman Farms in Dexter.

Currently Alex sits on the board of the Wellness Committee for the Dexter/Chelsea public schools. “This is where I can really develop the partnerships necessary to change our approach to eating in our community.”

Though he’s devoted to his family, farm, and restaurant, Alex doesn’t have any plans to slow down his education mission. “Right now the calendar has 10 school or library events through December. And, I’m sure it’ll pick right up after the school break.”

Roadhouse Chef Alex Young Wins Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region from the James Beard Foundation!

Monday, May 9th, 2011

We just got news (a text actually) from Alex’s family at the awards that Alex took home the prize tonight in New York City at the James Beard Awards Foundation. Congrats Alex! Here’s a candid taken right after the award. I doubt you’ll ever see him in a tux again!

Roadhouse Mac & Cheese is the Best Comfort Food in America

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The Food Network’s Alton Brown explores the nation’s best comfort food in a show called America’s Best. He’s traveled all over the country in a search for the top 10 comfort foods around, including a stop at Zingerman’s Roadhouse for the best: a creamy dish of Mac & Cheese.

Wear our mac-n-cheese home with you! Show your friends and family where your comfort food loyalty lies. Available at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, $20 each. Live out of town? Give us a call and we would love to mail one to you! 734.663.3663

Best Burger in Town? Vote for Yourself!

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Ann‘s Jessica Webster recently scoured the town in search of the best burger.  Here are her mouth-watering top picks.

Ann Pays Homage to Mac & Cheese

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Jessica Webster of Ann confesses a weakness for macaroni and cheese in her post about the Roadhouse’s Monterey Jack & Smoked Chicken Macaroni, among others.

Camp Bacon Makes Headlines

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Camp Bacon, an all-day bacon learning summit, hosted on Saturday by Zingerman’s, was covered by the Washington Post.  Check it out.