Chef Reva Constantine on Her Love of Cooking and Detroit’s Foodie Explosion
You might say Reva Constantine is a bit of a Renaissance chef. In addition to hosting her own pop-up supper clubs and serving as executive chef at Southfield, MI's Great Lakes Culinary Center, she’s appeared multiple times on the Food Network, wowing judges by whipping up dishes like breakfast tacos with charred salsa and herbed grilled lamb chops with sautéed kale and bacon. With on-the-fly creativity like that, it’s no wonder the Detroit native won top honors in the food category of our first annual Taste of Groupon Awards.
Below, Chef Constantine dishes on growing up, discovering cooking, and the joys of her profession.
On Detroit’s booming food scene
"You know, before when I was growing up there were not a lot of restaurants and places that you could say, 'Oh my God, Detroit is this food mecca.' It wasn’t like that. You had to go outside of Detroit.
"And the food scene right now is just ... it’s outrageous. I wanna be the best that I can be, because people never thought that Detroit was anything. And now that Detroit is becoming this mecca of restaurants and places to go to eat—a destination place—it makes you proud to be a part of it and proud to be a Detroiter. It just makes you feel like you can make a change. You can make a difference. Because you see what happened to our city. It did a total 360."
Above: Reva's savory goat-cheese ice-cream sandwich
On learning to love cooking at a young age
"My mom. She’s a great cook. When I was in high school, in 9th and 10th grade, I never thought that I want to be a chef at all. And I fooled around and I got kicked out of the school that I was in because my grades weren't up to par. And so then I had to go to a different high school, and with that high school you could go to vocational school also. And so I did that and went to vocational school for culinary arts, and this whole world opened up to me.
"I always cooked at home, I always had cookbooks, I always played restaurant with my sisters and my brother, but it never connected until I went to high school. And I always say the best thing that ever happened to me was that ... I had too much fun in 9th and 10th grade.
"Years later I felt like, 'Wait a minute, I've been playing with food and playing restaurant and cooking my whole entire life and it never dawned on me.' I mean, I watched every single chef show that was on Channel 56 ever. All the time. And it never dawned on me that that's what I wanted to be, was a chef."
On appearing on Guy’s Grocery Games on the Food Network
"It was great. You know. Being a chef, going out to California, just being picked out of all these thousands of people that apply is amazing. And then when you get on set, it’s surreal. Like, 'Wow, I watched every single episode, and now I’m here in this grocery store.'
"When I was on there [the first time], I hit the dust. I fell right on my face. And, you know, they showed that scene at least five times. At least. I mean literally it was on every commercial they showed that day. Like really? We were counting like, OK, this is getting to be ridiculous."
Above: Reva's crispy smoked pork
On the locavore movement
"I learned that a lot of people don't know where their food comes from, ... they don’t know what’s in their food, and our garden [at the Great Lakes Culinary Center] is completely organic. It also taught me that I have to do better as a parent to make sure that my children are getting organic foods and sustainable foods. And not wasting food and utilizing everything that we have. And growing your own things. Because then if you grow it, you know where it comes from, you know what you're putting on there, you know what you're putting in your body.
"[At the center] we do do youth classes in the summertime. So last year we had a [vocational-technical] class that had summer school. So they came in and we have a garden in the summer, this big huge garden, so they came in, worked with the gardener, and learned about the vegetables and fruits and things. And then they came inside and we had a class on how to utilize all those garden ingredients."
Above: Reva's Japanese green-tea soufflé
On why she loves her job
"Working at Great Lakes Culinary Center is totally different than a restaurant because it’s an event space. And I prefer working in events because I know everything that’s going to happen. There are no surprises. I might have one vegetarian or somebody's gluten-free, but there's no big surprises like when you're in a restaurant and 25 people decide to show up at 7 o’clock.
"When I have my own pop-up, I always use brown butcher paper as a tablecloth, and then I put markers and stuff on the table and I go around and take pictures. I'll tell people, 'Make sure you write on the table and tell me what you think.' And going around that table reading all the comments—that makes me so happy. That part right there is like, 'I did my job. I created something really cool. They really loved it.'"
Before joining our editors, Charles Austin was a Daily Show intern. Charles eats Iams® ProActive Health™ Adult Original cat food to maintain his active lifestyle.