At home with chef Chris McClendon

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Chris McClendon, the executive chef of the recently opened SavannahBlue restaurant in Detroit, said the first thing he remembers cooking is a pizza made from Jiffy dough when he was 8 years old.

“My buddies brought over the ingredients and I put it together. And while I think I always had an intuition to cook, I have to say this pizza was really awful,” McClendon, 33, said.

While attending Cooley High School, McClendon worked at a banquet hall in Southgate called Crystal Gardens “doing a little bit of everything.” While attending Wayne Community College and simultaneously running a branch of his father’s catering company, he received what would turn out to be sage advice.

“A customer said I needed to meet a guy called Shawn Loving who was the owner of the Loving Spoonful Restaurant in Farmington Hills,” McClendon said. “He can help you get to the next level.”

Soon after that conversation, McClendon became a student at Schoolcraft Culinary College and, by coincidence, Loving turned out to be a substitute instructor for a class he was taking. Loving has since closed the restaurant and is currently the culinary department chair at Schoolcraft.

“I told him I wanted to learn from him and he gave me an opportunity ... I ended up working at every station,” he said.

(At the same time McClendon was working for Loving, I was writing a Taste Panel column for The Detroit News where a group of panelists rated various food items. At the recommendation of Loving, McClendon became a regular panelist from 2004-2006.)

After getting his associate degree from Schoolcraft, McClendon moved to New York to become a personal chef for Eddy Curry, a basketball player for the New York Knicks.

A few years later, he returned to the Detroit area to work as a personal chef for several local athletes and also as a personal consultant for a few local restaurants. He then became involved with SavannahBlue 10 months ago while it was still in the planning stage.

Nowadays, when he has the time, McClendon occasionally cooks for pro football players Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell and Golden Tate.

He is has also written a cookbook called “The Sexy Breakfast” that he hopes to self-publish this summer.

“It’s a cookbook for men about how to pamper your spouse, and it features three or four-ingredient recipes that anyone can follow,” he said.

The chef said he still manages to find time to cook at home for his wife, Jemika, his son, C.J., and his daughter, Chloe.

“I like to make the Smokey Shrimp and Okra recipe because my mother made it probably once a week when I was a boy,” he said.

And he is especially fond of a lemon cake recipe because it is the first thing he ever cooked for Jemika.

“Chris utilized ingredients he found in my kitchen and it was love at first bite,” she said.

Chia Crusted Salmon with Bibb Salad


4 6-ounce salmon filets

1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper


4 heads of bibb lettuce

1 cup tomatoes, diced

1 cup cucumber, diced

1/2 cup green onions, diced fine

Juice of 1 1/2 lemons

1 cup grapeseed oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup Italian parsley

To prepare the salmon: On a side plate, coat the salmon filets with olive oil on both sides. Then sprinkle the chia seeds on the top side of each filet and let set for 10 minutes to allow the chia seeds to stick to the salmon. Then place the salmon, chia side down, in a warm, not hot, nonstick sauté pan. After about 5 minutes, allow the salmon to brown on medium-high heat, being careful not to disturb the salmon. Flip and sear the opposite side for about 5 minutes.

To prepare the salad: Wash and dry bibb lettuce, then chop to desired texture. Wash tomatoes and dice, wash cucumbers and dice. In a large bowl, whisk lemon juice and grapeseed oil with salt and pepper. Once you’ve achieved your desired viscosity, add lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, Italian parsley and shallots and toss. Serves 4.

Per serving: 809 calories; 71 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 79 percent calories from fat); 13 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 80 mg cholesterol; 255 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Sexy Breakfast Lemon Cake with Blackberry Sauce

2 cups melted high quality lemon or vanilla ice cream

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1 1/2 cups self rising flour

Pam no-stick cooking spray with flour

Mix ice cream, flour and lemon zest together until flour is moistened. Place batter in a 4-by-8-inch loaf pan that has been sprayed with the nonstick cooking spray. Place in preheated 350-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes. Check the middle of the cake with a toothpick for doneness. Allow 15 minutes to cool before serving. Serves 4.

For the blackberry sauce

1 cup water

1 cup white sugar

1 quart blackberries

Combine 1 cup water with 1 cup white sugar. Cook until it has a syrup-like consistency. Add blackberries and allow the sauce to simmer for about 3 minutes. Spoon over the lemon cake.

Per serving: 689 calories; 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat; 24 percent calories from fat); 123 g carbohydrates; 80 g sugar; 98 mg cholesterol; 626 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 9 g fiber.

Smokey Shrimp and Okra Over Jasmine Rice

For the shrimp and okra

1 pound thick-cut bacon, diced

1 yellow onion, julienned

3/4 pound of fresh okra, chopped

2 pounds large raw shrimp, diced

2 cups of corn cut from the cob

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

Place diced bacon in hot sauté pan to render fat. Add onions and cook until caramelized. Add okra, shrimp, corn and thyme. Reduce heat to low, add 1/4 cup of water and cook together for about 10 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

For the rice

1 1/2 cups Jasmine rice

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Rinse rice in strainer several times until the water is clear. Place rice in pot, add 2 cups water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover with lid, reduce heat to low and let cook for 15 minutes, then take off flame and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 690 calories; 19 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 25 percent calories from fat); 84 g carbohydrates; 10 g sugar; 258 mg cholesterol; 2,477 mg sodium; 45 g protein; 6 g fiber.

The Sexy Breakfast Strawberry Oatmeal Cobbler

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup water

1/2 pound strawberries, cleaned and stemmed

16 ounce package granola, of your choice

2 cups cooked oatmeal

1/2 pound strawberries, sliced (for garnish)

Put the brown sugar and water in a saucepot and cook until thick and syrupy. Add the 1/2 pound of the whole strawberries and cook until the strawberries become tender. Place prepared oatmeal in the bottom of an oven-safe bowl. Then pour the strawberry syrup over the oatmeal and top with granola. Place in the oven for 5 minutes to lightly toast the granola. Garnish with the sliced strawberries. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 884 calories; 29 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 30 percent calories from fat); 137 g carbohydrates; 82 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 50 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 14 g fiber.