Like many chefs, Phil Jones got his start in food very early on. “I’ve always cooked,” says the chef and GM of the upcoming Colors Detroit restaurant, which is located in Detroit’s Harmonie Park and is slated to open this month. “I have pictures of me when I was 6 at my first food booth.” From those humble beginnings selling Jamaican meat patties to his current gig at the Restaurant Opportunities Center establishment, Phil has been cooking in some capacity for the past 40 years. The self-taught cook’s first job was at a small Christian nightclub on the west side of Detroit where he worked as line cook, server and dishwasher. He moved up the Detroit culinary ranks, with stints at Fishbones and the Rattlesnake as well as catering for the Edsel Ford House and Embassy Suites. Most recently he ran his own catering company, Jones Urban Foods. He took on the GM/chef job at Colors in June after he was getting phone calls from “all over” urging him to take the position. The restaurant will be a training center and restaurant that will serve international food with a focus on local ingredients. “We’ll be playing to the history of ethnic food” in Detroit, Phil says, noting that the Motor City is home to diverse populations such as African-American, Greek, Arabic and Hmong communities. These communities are “growing all over the place … we want to celebrate who’s already here.” The goal is to have 80 percent of the foods at Colors come from local producers, which Phil acknowledges is ambitious “but it can be done.” To demonstrate their commitment to locally sourced ingredients, they will publically track how much Michigan-made food they use at the restaurant online as well as at the restaurant. At Colors, “the goal is to create a worker-owned business,” Phil says. The restaurant will train workers to not only work at Colors but to run their own businesses; for example, Colors will be training workers to become entrepreneurs, with the opportunity to run their own pop-up restaurants. Colors aims for a new model that empowers workers by maintaining high principles that include fair wages and benefits, Phil says. The goal is to work with 100-150 workers a year. Aside from getting Colors off the ground, Phil maintains a high profile in the local food community. He is vice chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council and played an integral role in the discussions to bring Whole Foods to Midtown. While teaching his first Cooking Matters for Adults class at Hannan House, Phil invited the participants to take a tour of Whole Foods, enhancing the education for the women beyond sharing his vast knowledge of food. The class had such an impact that months later, while Phil was at the building that houses his restaurant, one of the women was taking a tour of the art gallery upstairs and spotted him. “She hugged me and said how much the class has changed her life,” he said. “Something as simple as learning how to cut up a whole chicken has stayed with her. “That’s why I do (the Cooking Matters classes),” he said. Phil shared with us the following recipe for Mujuddarah.
Mujuddarah Recipe Serves Four (4)
1 Cup Brown Lentils ¾ Cup Long Grain Rice 2 Cups Diced Onions 2 Tbs. Cumin Seed Toasted 1 Tbs. Sea Salt 4 Tbs. Olive Oil 4 Cups Water ½ Cup Sliced & Sautéed Onions for garnish
1. Slowly caramelize onions in olive oil until, soft, sweet and browned over low heat in a 3 -4 quart pot. 2. Add rice and coat with oil in pot and slightly browned. 3. Add water to pot and bring to a boil. 4. Lower temperature to a vigorous simmer for twenty (20) minutes. 5. Grind cumin seed into fine powder and add to pot. 6. Return pot to heat and continue cooking for ten (10) minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. 7. Garnish with sautéed onions and serve. 8. Serve with yogurt and / or a light salad for a great meal.