When popular Detroit food blogger Quiana Broden opens her new premises in New Center this year, one of the first things she will do is host students.
Entertaining children might seem like a surprising audience choice for the energetic figure behind Cooking with Que
, but she is brimming with ideas of how to involve young people in healthy eating programs. Broden was recently awarded a $60,000 Motor City Match grant to establish a brick-and-mortar kitchen at Woodward Avenue just south of Grand Boulevard, and she is busy launching a new foundation called Eat To Live, which will work with Detroit Public Schools to host students for free courses.
The new culinary hub, simply called The Kitchen, will open this summer and form a space for her fans to visit and learn about food. A 16-foot live-demonstration kitchen at the front will host classes and meals, while the back portion of the building will be a shared-space kitchen for Broden and other chefs interested in catering or events.
Her enthusiasm really shines, though, when she explains the school project she's organizing. Already a founder of The Brown Bag Movement
, an initiative to feed the homeless in metro Detroit, Broden's new foundation officially launched on April 6 and will work with 10 pilot schools to provide free courses on food purchasing, cooking, and kitchen skills.
"When I was small we didn't get to go to the places in downtown Detroit, and hang out in the fancy-shmancy places, so I want to bring the kids to the kitchen," Broden explains. "They need to see what it's like, and learn how to eat better, and teach them while they are young because if you start them while they are young they will keep doing it forever."
In a nutshell, Broden wants people—especially youth—to get smarter about the way they eat. Her vegan blog encourages plant-based cooking, although she openly declares that her domain is a place where "vegans and meat-lovers can co-exist."
"I feel like we get so stuck on what the titles are going to be. 'I'm a vegan, you're a meat-eater,'" Broden says. "My mission is to teach people to have a more plant-based lifestyle—just eat more plant-based foods. I'm not saying you have to give up every piece of meat."
Broden in The Kitchen, opening this summer in Midtown - photo courtesy of Quiana Broden
Broden encourages her audiences to live on "70/30," which means eating 70 percent fruits and vegetables, and 30 percent everything else. When her fans do want to include meat in their diet, she encourages some tips for that too, such as knowing where it's coming from and pairing it with helpful herbs and spices.
"If you want to eat beef or steak, I'm rubbing it down with ginger because it's going to help your body digest it better," she says. "If I'm feeding you chicken, I'm going to get Amish chicken. It's ok for [vegans and meat-eaters] to get along, we just have to figure out what you like, what I like, and how we make it work together."
Broden's drive comes from her own personal experiences. After being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis and dairy allergies, she searched for holistic methods and recipes as an alternative to taking steroids. The busy mother of three said she was shocked to find about what was going into her family's food.
"You start researching things and once you do you find out so much stuff that you don't know, it's crazy, you don't want to give it to your kids," Broden explains. "Everything I researched pushed me towards plant-based. I literally had to cold-turkey everything—I don't push that on anybody but I didn't have a choice."
Broden changed her entire diet and became a vegan, but she didn't stop there. When people started asking her about what she was doing, and why, she decided to share what she had found. "I needed to create a place where people could learn this stuff together," she says.
Establishing a permanent kitchen is a natural next step in Broden's multi-platform approach to sharing her philosophy, in which she aims to "meet people where they eat."
Broden wants her contribution to the foodie movement in Detroit to help shape a new identity for the city. "For so long we were known for just cars: auto, auto, auto," she says "And my brain says, why can't we be known to be a health spot, too?"
"We have to get out of our culture of instant gratification, which has taught us to go grab a $2 sandwich, go grab a burger. … Why can't we have a fresh food market on every corner, as opposed to a liquor store?"
Broden argues that the variety of food movements in Detroit that have flourished in just the last few years is an indication of people trying to recreate and reinvent the city, and that food has been at the center of changes.
"That's why I didn't necessarily want to do a restaurant—I wanted to make it like a food museum," says Broden.
The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) facilitates the Motor City Match grant, and they are thrilled to be supporting Broden's plans to activate the vacant retail block in New Center.
"[Broden] has an excellent vision," says Kyla Carlsen, DEGC Small Business manager. "We know there is a need for more access to fresh and healthy foods across the city, and Cooking with Que will provide substantial community benefit."
Broden agrees it's serendipitous that her kitchen will be at the end of the QLine streetcar route ("Que in front of the Q") and the interest from the community certainly suggests she is on the right track.
"I have people who are booking it already for events, it's awesome," she beams. "It's gone so far. I just thought I was making a blog!"
This article is part of "Detroit Innovation," a series highlighting community-led projects that are improving the vitality of neighborhoods in Detroit, while recognizing the potential of residents to work with partners to solve the most pressing challenges facing their communities.
The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.
Photo by Nick Hagen.