Meet Orion’s Food Curator: Phil Cooley

Apr 2, 2013

Orion is not your average music festival, so it only makes sense to include food and drink options that are as eclectic as the range of rockers hitting Belle Isle in June.

Our on-site food and beverage options will keep you well-fed and hydrated all weekend long, plus we’ll be showcasing the city by bringing highlights of Detroit’s food scene to hungry Orion fans (you!).

How? We’ve enlisted the help of Detroit restaurateur and entrepreneur Phil Cooley (of Slows Bar-B-Q) to fill Orion’s food area, …And Food For All, with some of the region’s great offerings.

We caught up with the philanthropic entrepreneur to talk all things Detroit, and trust us — you won’t want to miss his hit-list of area restaurants and under-the-radar suggestions.

Interested in being a food vendor at Orion? Apply here!

Courtesy of Fabrizio Constantini for the New York Times

From your Clandestine dinners to the innovative workspaces you’ve created at Ponyride – not to mention the blowout success you’ve had with Slows – you epitomize community involvement. You’re now working with Orion to help curate the on-site Festival food experience. Whether fans are from the area or visiting for the first time, what aspects of the local culinary culture are you looking forward to showcasing with the Festival’s food court, “…And Food For All”?

Phil Cooley: When we opened up 7.5 years ago we were a front page story. There was far too little happening in the food scene and that has fortunately changed on every level. Urban agriculture, food production and food and beverage establishments have all been increasing in numbers and quality.

Many of these organizations and individuals are also more than just food and beverage purveyors. They are community builders, mentors and health advocates. We’ll be slightly limited based on being able to feed that many people, but we hope to showcase a cross-section of our burgeoning food scene that will inspire folks to experience more.

I’m equally as excited to showcase some of our existing ethnic cuisines. Detroit has great Polish, Bangladeshi, Arabic, Jamaican and El Salvadorian food — just to name a few. It’s amazing to watch these great, old traditions stand the test of time.

What would you say tops the area’s list of can’t-miss local eats? How would you describe the Detroit food scene?

PC: I’m going to take you off the beaten path here. Everyone knows about Slows, Roast, d’Mongo’s, El Barzon, Supino Pizzeria, Woodbridge Pub, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Bucharest Grill, Russel St. Deli, Centaur, Mercury Burger Bar, Nemo’s, Green Dot Stables, etc. You don’t need me to tell you to go to those places because everyone else will.

I love Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno for their pupusas and light and fluffy tamales. Motz’s is the best slider in town. It’s a higher quality meat than the typical slider, with more substance. Mudgie’s is my favorite deli, barely beating out Russel St. If you like wings, hit up Citywings. The owner is a Detroit firefighter and knows what’s up. He does chicken and waffles with Tawnya from the Batata Shop every once in awhile and you might be lucky enough to be there.

The fish ‘n chips at Scotty Simpson’s is supposed to be the best, but I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t been so I have to recommend The Polish Yacht Club as another wonderful experience. Motor City Brewing Works is great beer and pizza with an awesome atmosphere. Finally, I have to recommend Colors and Sunday Dinner Company because they make great food and they have awesome social missions. I have a bunch of friends that will be pissed I didn’t mention them, but this answer is already ridiculously long.

You are all beautiful!

And what about Slows in particular, any teaser you can give people as to what you might be serving up during the Festival?

PC: We like doing weird stuff at festivals and events. It lets our chefs get creative and flex their muscles a bit. You can always count on the Mac n Cheese, but we’ll probably mix it up from there. We like offering unique ways to try some of our smoked meats. In the past we’ve done it in taco form, sliders, etc. I can only say that it will be worth checking out.

As a champion of  “quintessentially Detroit” spaces, what are you most excited about with Orion taking place on Belle Isle?

Detroit is an amazing city with amazing citizens. As beautiful as Belle Isle is, it’s just an empty lot without the people. Fortunately it’s a year-round jewel that is enjoyed by all ages from every part of our city and region. The festival is yet another reason for all to enjoy such an incredible city and park.

Nothing beats the family reunions and multiple other reasons for folks to get together on the island, but every once in awhile we need something big, like Orion, to remind us how grand we are as an international city with such a rich music history.

Ok, let’s talk your personal Festival Favorites. Which band is your Orion 2013 must-see? What are your festival essentials when it comes to food, drink, tips & tricks…

I actually have a film degree, so I’m really stoked on the film part of the festival. I’ll primarily be watching music, but I love the idea of offering a break. The diversity of the music is great. DEATH and The Dirtbombs will be awesome and that’s not because they are from Detroit and I’m a cheerleader, it’s because they are awesome.

Where do I start? Japandroids, FIDLAR, Foals, Death Grips, FLAG. I’ll stop because I almost listed every restaurant in Detroit earlier. It’s going to be awesome. As far as recommendations on enjoying the day, I’d suggest a picnic blanket with a selection of cheeses and a dry chardonnay. Eat food, drink beer, listen to music, see cool shit and repeat.