For longtime chef Paul Grosz, who has owned and operated Cuisine Restaurant in Detroit, for 16 years, and is co-owner of The Stand in Birmingham, food has always been a way to bring people together.
"I grew up in a large family with seven siblings, so dinner was a big thing for us," he said. “My mother is Polish, so I grew up on Polish heritage cooking."
Today, when Grosz gets a chance to cook for himself, he enjoys a simple pasta with garlic, tomato and basil, while he said his four boys will "eat anything."
Grosz first started cooking at about six-years old, baking cookies and cakes. Three years later, he was able to pick up some work at a donut shop owned by a friend's family.
"I would go in and clean, but then I wanted to learn how to make batters. They kind of laughed, but I learned quick. I enjoyed baking, and the science of it," he said. "I was a line cook at 15-years-old. I had to lie about my age – we could do that then. I was working at a diner, cooking breakfast and lunch on the weekends during school, and would come in after school and cook."
It was at the diner that Grosz learned to improve his speed and accuracy, and first got hooked on the adrenaline rush that comes with the pressure of knocking out orders during a dinner rush. After high school, he had hoped to study at the Culinary Institute of America, but wasn't able. Instead, he took a different route, gaining a hands-on education after landing a position with renowned Chef Jean Banchet at Le Francais, in the Chicago area.
While most chefs train in culinary schools before being hired by a prestigious chef, Grosz's progression went a bit backwards. He later left Chicago and worked at the Hyatt-Regency in Dearborn before heading to France and studying pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He then returned to Detroit, where he became the head chef at The Whitney.
In 2001, Grosz decided to leave The Whitney and take his 20-years of experience and follow his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant, Cuisine, which features contemporary French-American cuisine and classic French desserts.
"I found some notes I had written in high school for a restaurant I wanted to open, and the notes were almost exact to what I was doing with Cuisine," he said. "I had always envisioned opening something in an urban setting, and being across from the Fisher, I knew there would be a built in theater crowd.
"The size of the restaurant, the setting and type of food – it was all in those notes. I was astonished that it was all similar to what I was doing."
Without major backing, Grosz put his life savings into launching the restaurant. While such ventures have become more common in today's restaurant scene, starting out on your own in Detroit was rare at the time.
"You didn't see a lot of it in Detroit without the backing of a big corporation. Now it's kind of common. I put my life savings into it," he said. "I was comfortable being the executive chef at The Whitney, and the numbers were going well, but I always wanted to open my own place. I didn't want to wonder, 'what if.' I just didn't think about failing."
Photo: Laurie Tennent