Culinary collaboration

Savor Detroit features Top Chef contestants Lin and Rigato
By Elaine Gerou

Former Schoolcraft culinary students Mei Lin and James Rigato pose for a photo during Savor Detroit on October 9, 2015.
Photos by Rena Laverty Former Schoolcraft culinary students Mei Lin and James Rigato pose for a photo during Savor Detroit on October 9, 2015.

Schoolcraft’s Culinary Arts program is one of the most prestigious programs in the country and has produced countless of successful stories. Two former students, Mei Lin and James Rigato, competed against each other on Top Chef (season 12) in 2014, but reunited to cook together for Hour Detroit magazine’s Savor Detroit, held at the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield, Michigan. The event began on Monday, Oct. 5 and went through Friday, Oct. 9, was a five-night dinner series featuring custom menus developed by the city’s most celebrated chefs. Each night, a duo of chefs prepares a one-of-a-kind four-course meal complete with thoughtfully selected wine pairings. Guests also enjoy a cocktail hour, light appetizers, live entertainment, and unique art installations for the ultimate culinary experience.
On Monday night, there was a silent art auction to help the Detroit Heidelberg Project, with starting bets starting anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000.
Top Chef winner Mei Lin prepares one of the featured meals.
Top Chef winner Mei Lin prepares one of the featured meals.

Rigato and Lin whipped together delicious canapés and gougère for the appetizers, and for the main courses, bay scallop crudo, manila clam, celery and pork tongue salad and smoked local pork. To top it off, persimmon cake was served for dessert and from Joe’s Produce Gourmet Market, there were seven wines available for purchase.
Anthony and Ashley Inclima of Waterford came to Southfield to see the chefs and taste their creations.
“We’re big fans,” Anthony Inclima said. “We watched the show [Top Chef] to see Chef James and after he left the show, we were really rooting for Mei the whole time. It’s really great to see them both come together.”
Lin and Rigato didn’t actually know each prior to Top Chef competition even though both attended Schoolcraft. Rigato had just graduated from Schoolcraft’s culinary program as Lin entered it. Lin said they learned that they had several mutual friends and became friends after that.
“Getting to network with a lot of great chefs like Mei Lin, Rebecca LaMofa [was the best part of being on Top Chef]. I made a lot of good friends. Now, when I travel or want to do collaboration dinners, I have a lot more resources,” Rigato said.
Mei Lin and James Rigato discuss strategy before the start of Savor Detroit opening night.

Lin also cooked with Rigato to help with the opening week of his new restaurant, Mabel Gray in Hazel Park. Rigato also operates The Root Bar and Restaurant in White Lake Township since 2011 and has had much success with that business.
“We’ve been going to the Root since it opened. It’s our favorite restaurant; anytime we can get out, that’s where we go,” commented Ashley Inclima regarding Rigatos restaurant.
Although Rigato hasn’t thought about a third place of business yet, he said, “I think if I open a third, it won’t be a conventional restaurant. I like the idea of a crazy bar or an ice shop—diversifying the portfolio.”
Lin has something new in the works as well that she hopes to open by the end of the year in Los Angeles where she lives. She envisions a small neighborhood restaurant that serves small plates, focusing on the ingredients.
“[It’s] just a place where you can come and have fun get a quick bite to eat,” she said.
In the meantime, Lin has been doing collaborations, such as the Savor Detroit with Rigato, and dinner festivals.
The two chefs are some of Schoolcraft’s prime examples of successful students produced from the culinary program. Time will tell what the chefs will bring in the future, as well as other Schoolcraft culinary graduates.