student cutting vegetables in a classroom
Sanaa Henry, 16, helps cook a ramen and seafood boil dish at the Eastern Market kitchen April 18, 2023. The University Preparatory High School student is part of the Advanced Leadership Program for the Detroit Food Academy. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

For members of a youth cooking program, the clock is winding down to perfect the dishes they’ve spent months practicing. 

On Tuesday, Detroit Food Academy classroom facilitator Le’Genevieve Squires stressed to the group of high schoolers how important the upcoming “big day” is as  they stood around stainless steel service carts inside a kitchen at Eastern Market, eating cornbread and drinking cups of cran-watermelon juice. 

“It is now 4:23 p.m.,” she said. “You have all of your ingredients that you need for your dish in front of you. You’re going to be doing the dish one time with your recipe book. I would start with whatever takes the longest first. 

“Can we please be plating by 5:45 p.m. the latest?,” Squires added. 

The teens then set into motion and began moving around the expansive kitchen. The group is part of the academy’s Advanced Leadership Program and the dishes they were preparing are for their upcoming pop-up dinner, “DetroiTokyo,” which takes place Sunday at Frame in Hazel Park. The anime-inspired event takes Japanese food and gives it a Detroit flair. That’s evident in dishes like the Coney Bao, which consist of a Dearborn beef hot dog, chili, collard kimchi (fermented vegetables) and green onion on a bao bun. 

student cooking
University Prep art and design student, Eliannah Goudia, places shrimp in a hot pan on April 18, 2023, during a test run for the academy’s weekend pop-up event. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

The teens came up with the majority of the menu, thinking of their favorite Japanese dishes and foods that represent Detroit. 

“From there, we started to combine all of the different things that they talked about into a cohesive menu,” Squires said. “And since December, we’ve been testing all of the different dishes to make sure they felt good about it, it tastes good and that it was something they actually wanted to present.”

The nonprofit, which teaches culinary arts and food entrepreneurship to kids and young adults in Detroit, even created an anime character for the pop-up event. Clad in a black, white and green outfit, the purple-haired boy’s name is Tomo, which means “friend” in Japanese. 

Ninth grader Justin Graves wore a t-shirt of Tomo while he washed some dishes in the back of the kitchen. The 15-year-old University Preparatory High School student is a big fan of anime, citing the show “Mob Psycho 100” as one of his favorites. 

For the dinner, Graves is making the Dough Ponyo, a Japanese soufflé with Faygo peach-flavored Whipped Cream and matcha pocky crumble. 

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I do feel like it’s unique,” he said. 

Kids in the kitchen

Squires and Jermond Booze are co-facilitators of the Advanced Leadership Program, which offers an accelerated culinary experience for students who have been with the organization for at least a year. Booze, who is also co-founder of mutual food aid agency Taste the Diaspora, said the two develop a curriculum for the school year, which includes projects like the pop-up dinner. The program also consists of workshops and field trips, added Squires. Recent workshops have focused on topics like food safety, financial literacy, communication and professionalism, she said. 

Detroit Food Academy classroom facilitator Jermond Booze helps a student with a dish at a class in the Eastern Market kitchen April 18, 2023. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

In addition, participants are paid for their time in the program, earning between $20 and $40 each week, Squires said. 

“A lot of these classes are deep into culinary, but also offer workforce development and getting them ready for the work world after high school,” said Squires, who is also the co-founder of catering service Relish. 

The “DetroiTokyo” dinner was inspired by the teens’ love of anime and Japanese culture, Booze said. 

“A lot of their favorite food is ramen, so it was definitely one of those things we were looking to do as a collective that everybody could participate in,” he said. 

Kaylyn Dailey, a production facilitator for career development organization Small Batch Detroit, created the design of Tomo, which was used to market the pop-up event. While tickets for “DetroiTokyo” are sold out, people can still support the program by donating at 

Booze said while all of the kids enjoy cooking, the program has become more than that. 

“One thing about this program is that it’s a community,” he said. “As much as it is about cooking, it’s also about an environment where you can make friends.”

student cutting an onion on a cutting board
Tatiana Johnson, 15, cooks a ramen and seafood boil for Detroit Food Academy’s pop-up dinner, “DetroiTokoyo” one of the several activities the Advanced Leadership Program take part in. (Photo by Quinn Banks)

Friends Sanaa Henry, 16, and Tatiana Johnson, 15, were busy cutting up vegetables for a seafood boil and ramen dish called “It’s Ramen…Boil.” Henry, a junior at University Preparatory, said she has been in DFA since seventh grade and has learned valuable life skills. Henry said she is looking forward to seeing guests’ reactions to the food at the dinner. 

“I just want to see people happy,” Henry said. 

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