Chef gets creative with guest and events in Southfield

The banquet hall and training center offers dining events and cooking classes for the public, including a “Sunday at Grandma’s” dining series

Melody Baetens

At the Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield, it’s not all cooking classes, catering and corporate outings. Executive chef Reva Constantine and her staff are having fun and using the increased interest in food and cooking to let their creativity shine.

“We have a really unique space,” she said from just outside an open kitchen that overlooks a banquet area big enough for 150 people and a dance floor. The kitchen line has cameras placed above it that, during appropriate events, broadcast on two large televisions facing the dining room, showing off the chefs’ skilled hands as they work.

The center regularly hosts cooking classes, ticketed theme dinners, and corporate team-building events that mirror television culinary challenges like “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Chopped.”

Constantine, an award-winning chef who studied culinary arts at the Breithaupt Career and Technical Center and Schoolcraft College Culinary Arts Program, says that while the Great Lakes Culinary Center is a banquet center, it’s not the typical meat-and-potatoes fare.

“If you’re looking for mostaccioli and roast beef and roasted chicken, you’re at the wrong place, because that’s not what we do,” she said, adding that they strive to have quality wine, craft beer and spirits, and many of their herbs and vegetables — including enough bounty to make 600 salads a year — are harvested from an organic garden just outside the event space.

The center, opened in 2012, hosts at least 30 weddings a year, plus birthday parties bar and bat mitzvahs. Chef says she likes it when clients ask for customization because, realistically, she says “I get bored.”

“We have a wedding coming up that is breakfast for dinner, so we’re doing breakfast appetizers and thinking outside of the box,” she said. “Instead of just a signature cocktails, we’ll do a signature ice cream for you and your guests so it can be more personalized.”

Another thing that keeps Constantine’s wheels turning are themed dining events and classes at the center. Thursday she’ll host a “Girls Night Out” dinner that explores how to make a variety of healthy dishes in a relax atmosphere (relaxed meaning you get two glasses of beer or wine with the class).

In February Constantine launched a “Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s” dining series. The center’s president, Marc Israel, was inspired by a similar event he saw in New York, and asked his executive chef to host a local version featuring grandmothers from all ethnic backgrounds. Constantine and her team do all the prep work and heavy lifting, but the featured grandma develops the menu and makes sure everything is seasoned and cooked properly.

“We started in February, which was Black History Month, and I said, you know, my mom should do this ... she was all happy and giddy,” said Constantine.

Initially she told her mother, Charlotte Bell, that there may be 50-60 people at the dinner, but word spread it ended up selling out with more than 150 guests.

In March, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of five Amelia Chan’s dinner also sold out. Constantine says cooking with grandmas from all backgrounds gives her new skills and techniques.

“We learned so much,” she said. “The best part for me to be able to work with these grandmas is to learn about these ingredients that maybe I haven’t used, or new ways to make this authentic fried rice that she’s been making forever, that her mother taught her, you know, those are the fun parts for me ... it’s like the best thing ever.”

The next “Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s” meal is April 30 featuring German food with oma (grandmother) Liane Wachner Egger. She’ll work with the Culinary Center’s team to create chicken soup, German potato salad, sauerkraut and sausage, rouladen, schnitzel and more.

The dinner, which has communal seating and a cash bar, costs $30 per person and is 5-7 p.m. After next week’s event, the Sunday Grandma series will take a break for the summer and return in August, possibly with a featured grandpa, says Constantine.

Also next week, GLCC will host Savor Detroit Monday through Friday. Many of those in the food scene — chefs and diners alike, myself included — have visited the GLCC during this bi-annual fine dining showcase. As far as chef-driven, pop-up events go, I find this is one of the most lavish.

This yearly dining event, produced by Hour Detroit, pairs two hot chefs together and they prepare a multicourse meal with wine pairings, plus socializing and charity element. This year’s benefactor is Eastern Market.

This year chef Reva is paired with Grey Ghost chef John Vermiglio. Theirs was the first of the five dinners to sell out.

“I really like John, he’s really awesome,” said Constantine. “I think our food and our personalities will just vibe really well together.”

While there’s a wait list for that dinner, tickets are still available for a five-course dinner on April 26 with chefs Matt Baldridge from Ferndale’s Conserva restaurant and Chris Cason of Chapman House in Rochester. Tickets, $125 per person, include wine pairings.

To purchase tickets or add your name to the wait list for a Savor Detroit event, visit

For information on the Great Lakes Culinary Center events and classes, check out

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens