Friendship and creativity make the Fried Chicken and Caviar pop-up really sing
Catch the hot pop up Tuesdays at EastEats in Detroit and at Detroit's Oakland Avenue Urban Farm for a Juneteenth event June 19
Two Detroit chefs and friends are having fun in the kitchen creating dishes together and doing things on their own terms.
Nik Cole and Chi Walker are the inventive chefs behind Fried Chicken and Caviar, one of the busiest and most collaborative pop-ups currently popping in the Motor City. Like you may guess from name, the women like to present simply made food that is the right mix of "quirky, all things rachet and bourgeois" as they say on their website.
"It's really about the lifestyle," said Cole. "We are two Black girls from Detroit and we feel like we deserve it all so we want to be able to tell as many people as we can that we are selling the gear, we're selling the food. We're really living this champagne lifestyle on a beer budget."
The pop-up has roots that date back to 2018, and later, the Cass Tech alumnae began hosting a weekly underground dinner party for their friends so they could test recipes and just have fun.
"It was just one of these very organic things were we could get together, we would try things out, invite people over, people who would have a random Tuesday afternoons available to eat," said Walker. She said once the pandemic and lockdown started, they began to miss each other, so they reunited for a Valentine's Day pop-up in early 2021.
"We said let's bring back Fried Chicken and Caviar and make it a thing," said Cole. "We did Valentine's Day and then things just kind of snowballed and ... we're booked."
I was able to catch them at their one-day April pop-up at EastEats during Detroit Black Restaurant Week. The two chefs served some of the fluffiest tater tots I've ever had — with caviar, of course, that added fun texture and a punch of salt — and a collard green Caesar salad with cornbread croutons, a fantastic way to elevate that old classic. They also served short rib sandwiches, curried salmon burgers and a dessert of bread pudding with graham cracker streusel and Cognac crème that I still think about months later.
Now, Fried Chicken and Caviar has a weekly residency at EastEats, a buzzy, outdoor dining experience created at an empty lot on Detroit's east side. The chefs will be there Tuesdays through July 27.
On June 15 they transition from a spring menu — which showcased a beer-braised chicken made with Colt 45 malt liquor instead of beer — to a summer menu featuring dishes like cumin lamb noodles and a blueberry and lemon coriander cake.
The latter is something that Walker has been working on with her mother, a baker who has her own shop, Pinky's Shuga Shack in Detroit.
The family bakery is part of Walker's culinary history, but her career as a chef is what she calls a "second act." She started out in the community development field and became passionate about the culinary world because of her relationship with small businesses. In addition to that, she says she loves eating, food history and hospitality.
"I love to have dinner parties and have my friends over. Community is a very, very big word in my life," said Walker, who has worked at local restaurants including the now-closed Lady of the House. "So with Nik and I, it's just one of those things where she is kind of the same way. It's the joy of feeding people that you care about and the expression and all that, and that's what I'm addicted to. That's my high, when somebody tastes food that I make and they absolutely love it."
Cole went to culinary school but didn't take to it in the traditional ways many aspiring chefs do.
"I've been in the industry for a while," said Cole, who says she's had every kind of job you can have in a restaurant, and for a while considered making mixology or bartending her main focus. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to cook. "I wanted to have a different kind of career. I didn't want to be just a restaurant chef.
"In culinary school everybody wants to own a restaurant. Everybody is trying to impress each other. They want to cook with 15,000 ingredients and I was so confused because I don't cook like that. We cook really simple things and really focus on the ingredients."
Having their pop-up, the chefs are able to create a work-life balance that doesn't tether them to one location, one menu or a staff that is dependent on them. Just as importantly, they get to do it as friends.
"We love each other," said Cole. "We have some good chemistry. I think Chi and I are like, especially when we're creative, we're like a song. The perfect beat, the perfect rhyme, we just go together."
In addition to the Tuesday night pop-ups at EastEats, Fried Chicken and Caviar will collaborate with Detroit's Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, chef Elle Simone Scott (who you see on PBS's "America's Test Kitchen") and others in the food and farming community for a "Fast Auntie" cookout on June 19 in celebration of Juneteenth.
Next month, look for a Fried Chicken and Caviar collaboration with Foot Locker on July 24 to celebrate Detroit's 320th birthday.
"It's going to be, of course, a coney island-inspired menu and we're taking things and kind of twisting them, like we do," said Walker. "It's going to feature some real Detroiters and people who may not necessarily be from Detroit but who came to Detroit and made their dreams come true. It's going to be a whole thing, a whole vibe."
To book a Tuesday night Fried Chicken and Caviar dinner at EastEats (for dine-in outdoors or to-go), visit easteats.us. For details on the chefs' June 19 and July 24 pop-ups, follow them on social media or check back to their website, friedchickenandcaviar.com.