I was heading to the Henry Ford Museum strictly as a tourist until I chatted with Kate Lawson, Food Writer for The Detroit News. She suggested that I reach out to Jesse Eisenhuth, the Director of food and catering for the museum. When I got to the museum Jesse sat down and shared the vision he and Head Chef Mike Trombley have for the culinary program.
The museum is committed to its “Local Roots” program which has them working with neighboring Michigan farms and communities to procure their food products. Their commitment goes beyond just trying to find the best ingredients, they are dedicated to working locally to help support and stimulate the local economy. When I asked Jesse what “Local” meant to him he said they focus on purchasing products that are grown in their natural state, take chickens as an example, they only purchase free range chickens raised in the way that they were intended. You can look around the food venues and see local everywhere, they even moved to local coffee and bottled water.
This commitment to food has taken pre-packed and pre-made foods or “freezer pleasers” off of their menu and replaced them with food made from scratch as often as possible. The food has gone from canned and boxed foods to soups made from homemade stock and mac n’ cheese made with real Michigan milk and cheese. There are always healthier options offered but even the more caloric meals are still made with the best ingredients possible, while not making it necessarily healthy it definitely is a benefit to consume real cheese vs. a powdered cheese substitute.
Both Jesse and Chef Mike have their work cut out for them. They are providing food not only for the guests of the museum but they are also responsible for feeding high schoolers at the onsite college prep charter school the Henry Ford Academy as well as employees of the museum. They both believe that it is important to provide all on their grounds access to quality healthy food.
We hopped on a four wheeler to tour Greenfield Village, the 80 acres that are set behind the main museum. What started as Henry Ford’s personal collection has turned into a small town where you can step into the past and tour unique buildings like Thomas Edison’s Shop. The commitment to Local Roots and quality food continues on the streets of this village. Just outside of one of the high school buildings there is a herb garden that is harvested by volunteers for use in the food program at the museum, additionally there is a working farm in the village that produces even more food.
Jesse and I stepped into the Eagle Tavern, the actual original tavern from back in the 1800’s which was purchased by Ford, taken apart and rebuilt within the village. The year was 1850, we were greeted by staff wearing period clothing and were presented with a menu filled with meals created with ingredients found in Michigan during that time. I am not one for LARP (Live Action Role Play) but this was done quite well, and let’s be honest I am a child of the 80’s, I have forever dreamed of taking a stroll through the small town of Walnut Grove, the location of the books and television show “Little House on the Prairie” as Laura Ingalls Wilder or “Half-Pint” as some of you know her. We sat down to a table lit with a candle and were handed an extensive menu. We dined on chicken corn chowder and pan seared trout, and finished our meal with a strawberry shortcake, it was all absolutely amazing! Perhaps this is why “Losing Weight Off the Interstate” has proven to be so difficult.
Jesse told me that The Eagle Tavern has consistently been chosen as one of the top restaurants in the area which is an even bigger feat when you realize that you must pay the entrance fee to the museum to dine there.
One of the most interesting things to me was that while the costs to prepare high quality food were higher than the other canned variety the museum was serving previously the costs weren’t necessarily passed on to the consumer. The price point for a warm lunch at the Michigan Cafe hovered right around $7.00, to me this was an incredible deal. Jesse indicated that they weren’t looking to make money off the food program, they wanted to keep the price points low enough that the visiting families could afford to eat onsite. Remembering a $25 meal the last time I ate a cold burger and fries at Disney World I was shocked, and pleased.
It is really refreshing to meet people who are really passionate about providing quality food and economic opportunity to their customers and community.