It’s been more than two decades since any Detroit chef has been nominated for the coveted James Beard Award, an annual award for excellence in cuisine presented by the New York-based James Beard Foundation. This year, not one, but two Detroit chefs, Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard and Marc Djozlija of Wright & Company, are among 20 top chefs in the running for the prestigious honor. The James Beard Foundation Awards, the highest honor for food and beverage professionals in America, are considered the “Oscars of food” in the United States.
“It’s really an honor to be on that list and see my name up there with amazing chefs,” said Hollyday. He learned about the nomination February 15 while he was celebrating his birthday. “It’s always been a dream of mine. I did not expect [the nomination] because [Selden Standard] is so new.”
Hollyday opened Selden Standard in November. It was quickly named 2015 Restaurant of the Year by the Detroit Free Press. For the last four months, business has been booming at the upscale, warm, friendly neighborhood restaurant, which features seasonal, high-quality farm-to-table cuisine and cocktails.
Hollyday says he chose the Midtown location to be part of the growth and resurgence of the city and the unmatched business opportunities.
“Our location is pretty unique, and it’s exciting to be a little off the path and push the growth a little bit and bring some life back to this corner and this building,” Hollyday said of their 2nd Avenue spot. “It’s nice to be a part of all that is happening in Detroit. It’s a small pond, and the community embraces anything that you are doing well.”
Also nominated for the award is Andy’s best friend and fellow chef Marc Djozlija of Wright & Company at 1500 Woodward Avenue. The chic lounge, which serves small plates and craft cocktails, opened last July.
“The goal was never to get nominated for an award. The goal was to just build a place with great food, great cocktails and a great atmosphere, so this is just the icing on the cake,” said Djozlija. “It’s just really great to see the word ‘Detroit’ twice on that list!”
According to Djozlija, when you visit Wright & Company, “You can get a great cocktail, not spend over $18 on any one menu item, and you can come here a lot, not just for special occasions.”
“We are a bar, a restaurant, and a lounge. We’re multidimensional and that’s part of the success,” he explains. “The main goal is to create the kind of place we would seek out if we went to another city. We set out to create the kind of place that would stand a test of time in an urban environment.”
Both chefs grew up in the Midwest and started cooking at an early age. Djozlija attended a vocational school for high school, where he was able to bypass traditional high school electives and learn a trade.
“I thought cooking would be fun. You got to eat, and meet girls, but it actually turned out I had a knack for it,” Djozlija laughed. “Math was my strongest academic subject, and you need those kinds of skills in the restaurant business with costs, budgets and recipes. The hands-on aspect of cooking, combined with the math skills, was the perfect [recipe] for me.”
Hollyday grew up in Toledo, OH, where he started working for an Italian restaurant as a dishwasher at age 14.
“I did a lot of prep work, making salads, pizzas and lasagnas, and got hooked on the kitchen,” Hollyday said. “Inky’s was a great family-run place. I learned a lot of skills and values there, such as work ethic and pride.”
Both chefs attended the Culinary School of America in New York City and then worked in restaurants around the country before ending up Detroit. Djozlija worked for Wolfgang Puck Steak at MGM Grand Detroit, and Hollyday ran the kitchen at Michael Symon’s Roast before they decided to pursue their own ventures. Both chefs love the momentum and positive energy in the city. As for future plans, both Djozlija and Hollyday say they’re just getting started.
“Eventually, we want to open more restaurants,” Djozlija said. “We have new concepts and offers on the table, but we’re in no hurry. We’re not on a time frame – we’re on a ‘feel frame.’”
“We’re still just getting settled in. We’ve only been here for four months,” said Hollyday. “We’d like to start doing some special events and collaboration dinners with local wine producers, breweries, other chefs and farmers. We’ll just continue to do what we do: make good, honest food.” Selden Standard also plans to begin working on the installation of an outdoor patio once the snow melts.
No one knows yet which chef will take home the James Beard Award. A gala will be held in Chicago on May 4. But one thing’s for sure: With the city’s new restaurants and some of the finest chefs in the country cooking up fresh, inspired menus, the city of Detroit wins either way.