Flint Social Club chefs bring fresh ingredients and 'Flint hustle' to Hazel Park dinner

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Flint chef Tony Vu is all about breaking down barriers to get aspiring chefs on their feet and give them the tools necessary to succeed. 

Part of the Flint community for about 25 years, Vu founded the Flint Social Club a few years ago. The nonprofit group operates a food stall and learning kitchen in the Flint Farmers' Market, and also has a food trailer, hosts pop-up events around town and, in the future, will run a food hall.

Chef Tony Vu of the Flint Social Club, a nonprofit that helps food entrepreneurs get their business up and running.

Vu and Flint Social Club's executive chef Nate Shaw, along with some of their mentees, will visit Metro Detroit next month to present two upscale, multicourse dinners at Frame in Hazel Park on Aug. 14.

"Ultimately we were trying to create different opportunities for people to be able to do pop-ups and kind of get their start in the food industry," said Vu of their mission at the Flint Social Club.

"People do a lot of really awesome, passionate, really creative things with food here," he said, adding that people don't always know how to "legitimatize their hustle." He and Shaw can help them with that. 

"So that's what we kind of do, we step in and provide pathways so they can (do this) without having to quit their day job or anything like that. We offer tiered entry points to be able to serve your food, do it in a licensed way and offer mentorship so you can actually learn the ropes and take our experience and give you best practices in order to do it all ... all in the sense of being able to build community around it, too."

The tiers start off with one-off pop-ups around town, like the Flint Social Club's monthly night markets, which are the first Friday of every month. From there, a food entrepreneur can start collaborating at Heartwood, the Flint Social Club's food stall at the impressive, indoor and outdoor Flint Farmers' Market. 

"Heartwood operates as two things. On one half it’s a teaching kitchen where we directly employ people who are curious about getting in the food industry, wanting to run their own stall and everything. We have a crew there now and every single person that works for us knows each aspect of the business from the books to prep to managing it and everything," said Vu, calling it a "very hands-on experience."

The other side of the stall is "the cohort," where they add other chef's creations to Heartwood's menu of Egyptian flatbreads and give them a chance to showcase their own recipes. 

"It started with different partnerships around town ... to doing pop ups at the farmers market where we were taking on chefs and doing like five-course meals with them," said Vu, who is also a musician. "They had never cooked for more than 10 people before and now they’re cooking for 40 at a sold out kind of thing." 

The final tier for the mentees — before opening their own brick-and-mortar restaurant — is still being created. It is a food hall that Vu and his team are working to open in the Flint area. 

Vu said other valuable things they teach mentees is how to talk to banks, get grants, and create partnerships with local farmers. 

"The food is much more nutrient dense, it's delicious as well," he said. "We do farm visits with our partners ... they understand the value of being connected to the local food ecosystem." 

Flint Social Club's executive chef Nate Shaw.

That Michigan-grown produce will be highlighted with Vu, Shaw and their mentees come to Hazel Park's Frame on Aug. 14 for two five-course seatings. 

"It’s a collaborative dinner between the two of us kind of bridging both of our experiences," said Vu. "With my food, everything comes from a Southeast Asian, Vietnamese kind of bent, so it’s a fun little mash up of sorts, very technique driven. We’re utilizing it as a platform for our mentees to be able to execute the dinner along with us and have that experience of cooking in that really awesome, higher-end Frame environment. They're so excited." 

Shaw, who has worked in popular Detroit restaurants as well as kitchens across the country, stressed the importance of cooking with locally grown food.

"Basically what we're going to be doing is looking at Flint comfort food, but like elevated with the sense of local, summer ingredients," he said. "We're going to be utilizing a lot of the farms from up here for the produce that we bring down there." 

Shaw also talked about the "Flint hustle."

"I'm not a Flint native, but I've come to adore this city for what it is," he said, adding that the community has been affected by so much lately, from the water crisis to the pandemic. "Flint has always just gotten beat down and brought back up. All the turmoil that happens here in Flint ... they band together, we all just band together and just keep on moving forward."

For the Frame dinner, the chefs will start with a smoked mussel toast using their own bread, followed by a burrata with heirloom tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, basil and olive oil. Another highlight is the "summer kebabs" with marinated shrimp and steak paired with watermelon, red onion and summer squash. 

The Aug. 14 dinners are at 4 and 7 p.m. and tickets are on sale now for indoor or patio dining. The meal is $60 per person, plus tax and fees, and beverages are extra. Choose to add on a hand-selected drink paring from Frame's experts, or order other drinks, beers, wine or nonalcoholic cocktails a la carte.

Frame is at 23839 John R in Hazel Park. Visit framehazelpark.com/experience/traverse-city-chef-tony-vus-flint-social-club-dinner for tickets. 

Learn more about the Flint Social Club at facebook.com/Flintsocialclub or on Instagram, @flintsocialclub. 


Twitter: @melodybaetens