Omar Anani, a two-time nominee for the acclaimed James Beard Awards, was crowned ‘King of the North’ after winning an episode of Chopped. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

The head chef and owner of Detroit’s east side Moroccan bistro Saffron De Twah was crowned ‘King of the North’ Tuesday as the winner of Food Network’s Chopped. 

Omar Anani will go on to compete against the winners from the other regions of the country – South, East and West – for the final $50,000 prize in the “Chopped: All American Showdown.”

“It was a lot of fun and I’m very happy to represent the North in the finale,” Anani said during a Tuesday night viewing party at Mack Market where local chefs, family, and community members gathered to cheer Anani on to victory. 

On the show, four participants were given a basket of random items to make a meal and impress the judges or risk getting “chopped” from the competition. Anani’s victory comes after Detroit’s Baobab Fare won the competition in March.

Anani’s winning dishes were an appetizer of fried lake perch with sauteed corn salad and ground goat meatballs for the entree. It got dicey in the entree round as Anani was behind and his potatoes were undercooked. But by the end of the entree judging it was obvious everyone’s potatoes were undercooked and Anani impressed the judges, moving on to the dessert round where he made a pudding called mahalabia, with a root beer and cherry sauce on top. 

The two-time nominee for the acclaimed James Beard Awards offers fried catfish and chicken sandwiches at his restaurant located at 7636 Gratiot, which offers an assortment of appetizers flavored with traditional North African spices and sauces. Harissa, a vibrant red chili paste ubiquitous in North African food, makes an appearance in more than half of Anani’s dishes, from the carrot dip to potatoes to the sandwiches. 

Chef Omar Anani cooking in his kitchen at Saffron De Twah, the celebrated modern Moroccan restaurant on the city’s east side. Anani and his crew prepared a series of special iftar menus in observance of Ramadan, including an Ode to Mexico City meal on April 22, 2022. (Gabriel Guzmán photo)

Another defining staple at Saffron De Twah is community. Just before the show aired at 8 p.m., Anani was at Mack Market with his food truck, the Twisted Mitten, offering free meals to residents in partnership with nonprofit Eastside Community Network. 

The finale, where winners from each region battle for the top prize, has not been announced yet. If Anani does win, he said he would use the $50,000 toward his community kitchen that provides free food to people in need in the community. 

The chef just launched the first fundraiser for the restaurant’s community kitchen. First started in 2020, it provided meals to Detroiters in response to rising food insecurity rates during COVID-19. The restaurant has provided more than 110,000 free meals since it launched, according to the fundraising page. 

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to a sufficient amount of food to live a healthy life. During the pandemic, food insecurity rates in Detroit rose by 7%, with 69% of Detroit households now facing insecurity, according to a Detroit Food Policy Council 2022 report

“It started out with us doing 30 meals a day and before I knew it, word of mouth spread, and we were doing 1,400 meals a day,” Anani recently told BridgeDetroit. “So we shut down the restaurant and we just fed people.” 

The restaurant reopened in October 2021 for dine-in service and Anani said high rates of food insecurity were still there, but that the funding to provide free meals at the same level wasn’t. 

The goal of the fundraiser is to bring in enough money for 935 meals that the restaurant has already begun distributing.The funds will also help launch the community fridge again after a hiatus. The fridge will be stocked with free meals for anyone who needs one, and there will be a microwave available, to warm it up. 

Currently, those in need can come into the restaurant and request a meal for free, but the fridge aims to increase privacy for community members. 

“The goal is just to feed people,” Anani said. “There was a time where I was working on tipped wages and I didn’t have meals to eat and I was sitting here eating ramen noodles, wondering where my next meal is gonna come from. I don’t want people to live like that,” he said

“Community is one of the core values of our restaurant and it’s something that’s really important to me,” said Anani. 

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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