Awaken your autumn appetite

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 9, 2015

 The Rugby Grille’s chef de cuisine, Damian Yopek, favors the flavors of citrus, pear, parmesan and sage in the fall.

The Rugby Grille’s chef de cuisine, Damian Yopek, favors the flavors of citrus, pear, parmesan and sage in the fall.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


METRO DETROIT — Sometimes, as summer slips into autumn, the transition in our cuisine is a little less gradual than the seasonal temperature change. We tend to go from sunny fruit smoothies to pumpkin spice lattes almost overnight.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. According to some local chefs, there are different ways you can ease into cool-weather cuisine and make the loss of summer a little easier to swallow.

The Rugby Grille, tucked inside The Townsend Hotel in downtown Birmingham, recently welcomed a new chef de cuisine just in time for fall. Chef Damian Yopek, originally from South Lyon, has spent time cooking all over the country, including at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., under the great Alain Ducasse.

According to Yopek, he learned from Ducasse that “simplicity is perfection,” and ingredients should shine in their natural form instead of being overpowered.

That’s exactly what Yopek aimed to do when he created his tuna poke dish with citrus thyme vinaigrette and edamame wasabi puree. The fresh ahi tuna is highlighted, not covered, by the light citrus flavor.

But citrus, for fall? Yopek said absolutely.

“Tuna is approachable, and citrus is a big flavor in the winter,” he said. “Oranges are big in the winter.”

To his ahi tuna, Yopek adds citrus along with a few gold beets and candy stripe beets. The addition of the root vegetables, which are plentiful with the fall harvest, make the dish a unique autumn appetizer that’s not too heavy with the Indian summer temperatures.

Lenny Gurevich has a similar strategy. As the executive chef at Fresh Farms Market in Grosse Pointe Park, he’s in charge of creating an array of prepared food items that customers can quickly grab each day. And those menus, Gurevich said, aren’t created until the kitchen staff gets a chance to see what’s been brought in fresh by produce vendors.

Since it’s still a bit steamy outside, Gurevich said he hasn’t turned his menu to thick stews and hearty beef entrées just yet. He’s using the best of both worlds — the beginnings of the fall produce crop with fresh summery ingredients.

“I really like to use fresh herbs, since dry herbs tend to bloom in, say, a soup as it sits,” said Gurevich. “So I use fresh herbs as long as I can (before switching to dry).”

As the weeks go on, Gurevich said, home chefs might want to try preparing risotto for the family as a good summer-into-fall supper. The northern Italian rice dish has a creamy consistency that lends itself to heavier fall fare, but the additions can be inherent to summertime.

“Depending on the vegetables you use, it could taste lighter,” he said. “Or you can jump right in and use pumpkin or squash as they come into season.”

In a few weeks, Yopek will start thinking heavier too. He said he’s looking forward to using cozy flavors like sage, pear and parmesan. In fact, he’s gearing up to prepare a pear and parmesan ravioli with braised fennel and pear brandy. He’ll also use darker meats like braised beef cheeks, as well as duck breast and rabbit, which are popular during hunting season.

There’s no real secret to cooking for the season, other than to do whatever sounds right to your palate at the time.

“This is everyone’s favorite season, and it’s definitely mine, because you get to be completely ignorant to all the diets you’ve been on and indulge,” Yopek said.

For more information on Fresh Farms Market, call (313) 882-5100 or visit

For reservations to The Rugby Grille, call (248) 642-5999 or visit

Rugby Grille’s Tuna Poke
2 oz edamame puree
4 oz ahi tuna, diced in large chunks
1 oz gold beets, diced
1 oz candy stripe beets, diced
1 oz edamame
1 tbsp small diced red onion
6 segments of orange
1 oz frisee
3 oz citrus thyme vinaigrette
1 pinch of red chili flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place puree in center of a bowl and draw it up the side of
    the bowl from the center in a swoosh motion.
2. Place all other ingredients in bowl and mix. Then taste and
    adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
3. Place mixture in center of bowl on top of puree, mounding
    to build height.
4. Garnish with additional sliced beets and radishes.
5. Grate some toasted hazelnut on finished salad.


Citrus thyme vinaigrette
3 tbsp grated orange rind
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
5 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup canola oil

1. Zest and juice oranges to get desired measurements.
2. Add all ingredients except canola oil into a medium bowl
    and slowly whisk together.
3. Slowly drizzle mixture into oil to create an emulsion.
4. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lime juice.


Edamame wasabi puree
3 cups blanched edamame
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp wasabi powder
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Water as needed

1. Blanch edamame in salted water.
2. Add all ingredients up to canola oil to food processor, and
    blend until smooth.
3. Slowly add canola oil to smooth and thicken puree. If puree
    becomes too thick, slowly add water to thin.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.