Essential Cooking: Accessing Michigan’s agricultural diversity with Abby Olitzky

Ann Delisi and Chef James Rigato talk with Abby Olitzky, operator of Spencer in Ann Arbor, about engaging with the farming communities in Michigan, sourcing fresh produce year-round and more.

Abby Olitzky

In this episode

  • Abby Olitzky on seasonal cooking in Michigan.
  • What does it mean to have a prix fixe menu?
  • Accessing the diverse produce grown in the Ann Arbor area.

In 2012, six months after meeting her future husband Steve over wine and cheese in San Francisco, Abby Olitzky made plans to move to Detroit and start a restaurant together.

“It’s now been like ten years so it’s fine, but honestly when I think about it, this is not something that I would maybe recommend to my daughter,” says Abby.

Olitzky ended up in Ann Arbor, where Steve’s parents live. The couple started Spencer, a restaurant and wine shop that aims to provide a relaxing space and dining experience for customers to enjoy.

“I want to feel relaxed like you’re at my dinner table and this is how I want to feed you,” Olitzky said. “We still have our wine patio. You can sit down and order a bunch of wine snacks and wine and it’s a little bit more relaxed.”

While the wine patio remains the same, Spencer has introduced a prix fixe menu that changes every two weeks.

“We noticed that everyone was just ordering the whole menu anyway,” said Olitzky. “It helps because every two weeks I have to remind myself of the direction I want to be in, and what I want it to feel like.”

One of the resources that helps Olitzky keep the menu at Spencer fresh is the abundant produce available in Michigan.

“There is such an amazing farming community right around Ann Arbor,” said Olitzky. “All of them that come to the farmer’s market. And I can then go to their farms and interact with them. I never got to do that in San Francisco.”

Olitzky hopes to use her restaurant and her food to get diners to think more about the seasonality of their produce, and to pay more attention to the subtle changes within a growing season.

“We are really out of touch with seasons, and what actually comes in those seasons,” said Olitzky. “Every week there is kind of something new that comes out and something else that goes away. What is in a grocery store is not necessarily what grows around you.”

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