Meet 6 top chefs in Detroit Harmonie coney contest

Meet the chefs who are taking the Detroit coney dog to new dimensions in Detroit Harmonie’s $10,000 International Experience on March 23.

These are the six finalists from a field of 20 and what they prepared for the semi-finals. We expect to see them tweaking and fine-tuning their coneys for the finals. As a co-author of “Coney Detroit,” I was asked to judge the semifinals and will be judging the finals.

These chefs made it to the finals with a variety of ethnically inspired dogs. Five are French or Asian inspired and one has a South American flavor.

They are:

* Lynne Savino
* Will Branch
* Andy Hollyday
* Derik Watson
* Jesse Knott
* Kate Williams

Come on down to the Virgil Carr Center at 311 E. Grand River Ave. Doors open at 9 p.m. You can get all the information and register on Detroit Harmonie’s Facebook page.

Here, on Coney Detroit, you can meet the finalists, the coneys they concocted to make it to the finals and a little bit about them.

Come on out, taste their variations on Detroit’s signature food, support the city and meet some amazing people.

You can also see all 20 semi-finalists and their coney creations.

—Joe Grimm

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Will Branch


For the Detroit Harmonie semifinals, Branch offered a Vietnamese-inspired Bahn MI Coney Dog.

Branch and Zachary Klein founded Detroit’s Corridor Sausage Co. in 2009 to bring handcrafted and artisan meats to the Detroit market. Branch says they are committed to using all-natural, hormone- and antibiotic-free proteins as well as only fresh herbs and spices, never any dry or pre-made mixes. They blend old world cooking technique with their own unique twists.

In June of 2012, the pair completed their move from a rental kitchen to full-time production space in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Andy Hollyday


Hollyday’s French-inspired L’Haute Duck was ducky, not haughty.

Hollyday said he started cooking in a small family run restaurant in his hometown of Toledo. He pursued training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and after graduation took a job working under Chef Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute in Farmington Hills. Hollyday wrote that he has cooked from coast to coast in the United States and spent a summer cooking in France. He is executive chef at Michael Symon’s Roast in the Book-Cadillac Hotel downtown.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Derik Watson


Watson cooked a Japanese/Southeast Asian fusion dog for Detroit Harmonie’s International Experience semifinals.

A native of Franklin, Mich., Watson discovered his passion for food early. By 13, Watson was working at a local grocery store where he was inspired by the possibilities that surrounded him. Watson worked in area restaurants throughout high school, finally settling on culinary school at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale. After only a year of courses, Watson joined the line with award-winning Chef Peter Boulukos. Watson intended to keep his focus in the kitchen, and at 19 was a sous chef at the eclectic Himmarshee Bar and Grill.

Watson also served as tournant in two of Boulukos’ nearby restaurants. Working long hours six to seven days a week, Watson’s experience varied from high-volume to fine-dining.

In 2002, Watson returned to his home state to work at the Rugby Grill in Birmingham alongside Chef Colin Brown. From there he moved to Tribute in Farmington Hills, where he served as tournant under Executive Chef Takashi Yagihashi and later as sous chef under Executive Chef Don Yamauchi. Watson’s experience includes executive chef of Peabody’s in Birmingham, a tenure at David Burke’s Modern American Restaurant at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and Yagihashi’s Chicago namesake Takashi and most recently back home in Michigan as Chef de Cuisine at Iridescence of Motor City Casino.

Watson, a Berkley, Mich. resident, uses French techniques to craft modern American inspired dishes.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Jesse Knott


For the International Experience semifinals, Knott offered an Incan/Peruvian Machu Picchu coney dog.

A 2008 graduate of Schoolcraft College’s culinary school, Knott cooked at the American Harvest restaurant during the ’07-’08 school year. He was a catering chef on various film sets ’09-’10 and was a chef at downtown’s Mudgie’s in 2010 and 2011.

He has been doing pop-up style dinners for the past year — as well as blowing glass.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Kate Williams

Williams used French country cooking as the inspiration for her coney in the Detroit Harmonie coney semifinals.

She is executive chef and managing partner of Rodin Detroit. In her application, she wrote that she has been back in Detroit for a couple years after studying and working in New York and Chicago.

She started a cooking program a year and a half ago with Alternatives for Girls in Southwest Detroit that teaches life and cooking skills to girls transitioning to independent living.

Detroit Harmonie’s coney challenge | “Coney Detroit” book

Detroit Harmonie seeks new coney island hot dog recipes

Detroit chefs and foodies are turning the city’s signature food inside out in the $10,000 Top Chef Coney Detroit Challenge sponsored by Detroit Harmonie.

The group’s third International Experience challenged competitors to reimagine the coney dog with an international twist. The finals will be at 8 p.m. March 23 at the Carr Center, 311 E. Grand River Ave., and tickets are available online for $20.

To see the 20 semi-finalists at work, click on any photo you like. Use “next” and “previous” to flip through them, use your + or – keys to resize them. View their creations on a coney dog concoctions page.

All photos by Joe Grimm, co-author of “Coney Detroit,” who felt called to judge the semi-finalists and, on March 23, the finalists.

Coney dog recipes strain the imagination — and the belt

Twenty competitors in Detroit Harmonie’s Top Chef Detroit Challenge threw everything they had at Detroit’s classic coney island. I and the other semifinal judges ate beef, pork, lamb, rabbit, veal, corned beef hash and seitan dressed with onions, garlic, chili peppers, coriander, cumin, cilantro, jalepenos, cukes, daikon, purple onion and chocolate mustard served on brochen, naan, plain old hot dog buns, johnnycake and hallah.

To see the 20 creations, click on any photo you like. Use “next” and “previous” to flip through them, use your + or – keys to resize them. You can meet all 20 coney challenge semi-finalists here.

—Joe Grimm, “Coney Detroit

Bolivian hot dog in coney country

Michael Martinez, business and finance intern at The Detroit News, has a handful with this Bolivian hot dog.

I had my first encounter with a Bolivian hot dog last night.

The occasion for this baptism was a party for the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It was held at Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy on Griswald in downtown Detroit.

The D’Mongo’s variation of what some South Americans call a “completo” was built on a skinless all-beef hot dog and (at least) mashed potatoes, french fried potato sticks, sauce, peas and corn. It was accompanied by little condiment packets so that I could dress it further. Others toss on mayo, ketchup, mustard, tomatoes, onions, Parmesan and fries. And maybe chicken, cream cheese, ground meat and olives.

I never would have been able to pick the thing up if it had all of that.

One must appreciate D’Mongo’s and the Brazillians for their enterprising ways.

National Coney Island serves up Greek fries

After a delightful evening talking about “Coney Detroit” at the Harper Woods Public Library on Oct. 3, Katherine Yung and I stopped off for — coneys. Talking about them always makes us hungry.

We went to the National Coney Island at Harper and Eight Mile Road and, with our coneys, checked out a new menu item, Greek fries.

They come with lemon juice, oregano and feta cheese.

Our waitress told us they have been on the menu since the summer’s Greek festival.

We support innovation. Another new item we have seen in recent months has been a Skyline Chili style spaghetti and chili dish at the Leo’s franchise in Royal Oak.

– Joe Grimm