On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history as they work to create its future.
For this episode, which you can listen to via the player above, we visited Slows Bar B-Q to talk with its chef, Mike Metevia. Prior to coming to Slows a decade ago, Metevia had worked in other sectors of the restaurant industry and with other cuisines, but he’d always been a barbecue guy in his private life. “I just like starting fires,” he tells us.
When the restaurant first opened, he served as a sous chef. Initially, the restaurant’s menu and concept were built out of the vision of another chef, though Metevia contributed items to the menu from the start. Over time, he built up “sweat equity” in the business until he reached the point where he was running the kitchen himself. Today, his responsibilities are varied, but they come down to one thing: “Just stay worried about the place. That’s the root of the job.”
Much of that still means fretting about what goes on in the kitchen, of course. While some of the dishes on Metevia’s menu today require multiple steps, he says, “It’s usually in an effort to serve a really simple dish. We’re not here to rethink barbecue.” He’s still fond of some items in particular, including an especially decadent pork belly sandwich—ancho rubbed, smoked for hours, and then broiled—that he calls the Nature Boy.
While Metevia’s thoughtful approach to barbecue is evident in the food (the Nature Boy really is excellent, as is the brisket, the mac and cheese, and everything else we tried during our time in Detroit), you can also feel it in the space itself. He claims that he tries to run a calm kitchen and that you can only get to that point as a chef if you’re calm yourself. It’s also, as he acknowledges, apt for barbecue, which is—as the restaurant’s name reminds us—literally a slow food, one in which some dishes might take a full day to prepare from start to finish.
As is true in many professions, though, rising into a managerial role has frustrations for Metevia, one of which is that it sometimes takes him away from the kitchen and the smoker. “When you come up in kitchens, you’re not really trained to do the public relations end of things,” he says. “You work for years trying to become a good cook, and the more you move up the ladder, the further you move away from the cooking.”
In this episode, Metevia also discusses a variety of other topics, including how he sources ingredients (locally, where possible) and how Slows fits into Detroit’s burgeoning food scene. “Even though we’re only 10 years old, you feel like the old man at this point,” he says. “I’m just proud to still be a part of it. I love watching the restaurant scene grow.”
Then in a Slate Plus extra, Metevia shares some tips for home barbecue chefs. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.