Christy McDonald took the stage at the front room of Dino’s Lounge one cold December eve. The excited chatter quickly began to fade as she engaged the crowd with her bewitching personality. She opened the first-ever Motown Macdown with clever introductions and then directed everyone’s attention to the big screen.
The lights dimmed.
The familiar melody of Eminem’s haunting “Lose Yourself” began to play, but it wasn’t Marshall Mathers’ voice that evoked passion in our hearts or silenced the murmur in the room. The stars of the Imported from Detroit commercials, the Selected of God Choir, sang their version of Marshall’s hit single as iconic images of Detroit filled the screen.
You better lose yourself in the moment…
Such perfect words because we were absolutely lost. In the moment. In the song. In their voices.
All of our eyes and attention were directed to the big screen, completely captivated by the powerful video unfolding thereupon. And then, from the corner of the room, a group of people began walking towards the stage.
The choir was here!
The crowd clapped, whistled and cheered. The choir filled the front room of Dino’s with their beautiful, powerful voices as the volume of the video faded.
You only get one shot!
When the song was over, the sound of applause seemed to spread to all corners of Ferndale.
As we collected ourselves, Christy shifted our attention to the reason the event exists: a fundraiser for Justin’s Vision.
21-year-old Michael Hermansen stood on stage, bravely sharing his heart-wrenching story of how this non-profit came to be. The year was 2006. Michael’s 12-year-old brother, Justin, had been diagnosed with brain cancer and wasn’t given much time to live. Having had the chance to meet the family (and because they’re such extreme humanitarians), Jack and Annette Aronson and Dave Zilko of Garden Fresh sent the Hermansens to Give Kids the World in Orlando, Florida, a 70-acre resort where children with life-threatening illnesses, along with their families, can enjoy a carefree vacation experience. It was a magical time for all of them and one Michael will cherish forever.
Shortly upon returning, young Justin passed away.
To this day, that trip is something Michael holds near and dear to his heart. Justin’s Vision took root earlier this year when Michael decided to dedicate his life’s work to sending children with life-threatening illnesses and their families to Give Kids the World.
The Mavens of Mac
From tears of sadness to tears of joy, M-1 Studios‘ clever masterpiece was the perfect segue into the Macdown. The six mavens of mac spoke of their respective dishes, their restaurants, and talked a little smack about the opposition:
As the film rolled, our illustrious volunteers navigated the crowd, dispensing macaroni and cheese in two-ounce cups. Numbers were written on the bottoms, keeping the identity of the chefs unknown.
Ooooo’s and ahhhhh’s filled the room as macs one through six made their way to the masses and our all-star cast of judges:
- Kelly Albert, GM of the Lodge Grill & Bar, Keego Harbor
- Dean Bach, Dino’s Lounge
- Jennifer Hammond, Fox 2 News
- Justin Hiller, Hiller’s Markets
- Jamie Samuelsen, 94.7 WCSX & the Detroit Free Press
- Marc Santia, WDIV Local 4
- Darren McCarty, Red Wings Great
- Bob Wojnowski, Detroit News
Here’s the mac line-up in order of disbursement:
- Mac 1: Brian Polcyn, Forest Grill
- Mac 2: George Vutetakis, Garden Fresh Salsa
- Mac 3: David Benjamin, the Hungry Dudes
- Mac 4: Matthew Baldridge, Cliff Bells
- Mac 5: Chris Franz, the Rattlesnake
- Mac 6: Brian Perrone, Slows Bar BQ
Not a morsel of mac was left uneaten. Everyone had their favorite and all are declared winners in the Big Book of Mac. Brian Polcyn took the trophy for Best Traditional; Chris Franz took Best Specialty; and Matthew Baldridge took People’s Choice.
The talent of each chef was represented in the care they took and the ingredients they chose to prepare our favorite comfort food. Justin’s Vision is forever grateful for their participation and enthusiasm. And of course, for their amazing mac.
Here’s what a couple of the judges had to say:
“Life is good. I got to judge a Mac and Cheese competition at Dino’s in Ferndale. Oh. My. God. Six great chefs and money raised for a great cause.” ~ Bob Wojnowski
“Great time at Dino’s!! Can’t wait until the 2nd Annual Motown Macdown. Garden Fresh is doing great work with Justin’s Vision.” ~ Jennifer Hammond
In the afterglow of this extraordinary event, Team Macdown is ready to start a Supper Club, a chance to enjoy the ambiance and food at Detroit’s finest including Slows Bar BQ, the historical Cliff Bells (like Paris in the thirties!), the Rattlesnake and Forest Grill.
The RJ Spangler Trio and Friends polished off the evening with their uniquely soulful blend of jazz standards and originals. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing they are!! When I close my eyes at night, I can still hear the deep double bass beckoning me towards musical nirvana.
Play it again, RJ!
A Very Special Thanks
The Motown Macdown was a magical event and it couldn’t have been possible without the contributions of some truly exceptional people, extreme humanitarians, as we call them here at Garden Fresh. A thousand thanks are extended to the following heroes for their role in making this event extraordinary (this is why they don’t invite me to the Emmy’s):
- Davey Bihl, Garden Fresh volunteer & RN at Beaumont, for his love, charm, compassion and support.
- Carol Bahri, Suzie Phillips, Jo Perry and Michelle Perry, Garden Fresh’s own, for lending their time, energy and enthusiasm.
- Kim Russell, Steve Couchman, Carrie Wilpula, Margie Loskill, Bronwyn Stone & Sidi Henderson for volunteering their time & zing, zip & zazz!
- Taya Rowe for tweeting live at the event; she’s an old soul and a lovely woman.
- Erika Patterson of Plume, Inc for her enthusiasm and talent in event planning.
- Blumz for their exquisite flower arrangements, accessories, gift certificate and moxie.
- Scott Guy of D-PAN for his creativity, ideas and connections.
- The Selected of God Choir for their good grace and powerful voices. Ahhhhhh-mazing!
- M-1 Studios…where do I begin? The video was extraordinary. M-1 = a team of extreme and talented humanitarians!
- RJ Spangler Trio & Friends for their show-stopping tunes.
- Mike Griffin, Creative Genius for Garden Fresh, for a one-of-a-kind logo and event poster.
- Dave Zilko, co-Founder of Justin’s Vision, for his role in the non-profit and rescheduling his trip to New York to attend the event.
- Marc Santia of WDIV for being such a sweetheart and deploying remarkable judging skills.
- Jennifer Hammond of Fox 2 Detroit for her spunk and zest. Thank you sharing the story on the Fox 2!
- Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News for his spirit and humor and well crafted tweets.
- Jamie Samuelsen for lending his tastebuds and charm for the big event.
- Kelly Albert, General Manager of the Lodge in Keego Harbor for her amiable company.
- Darren McCarty of the Red Wings for his spirited speech about Give Kids the World.
- Justin Hiller of Hiller’s Market for his honored presence. We love the Hillers!
- Brian Polcyn for his clever wit and incredible mac.
- David Benjamin of The Hungry Dudes for his spicy personality and spicy mac.
- Chef Matthew Baldridge & Event Coordinator Ashleigh of Cliff Bells, a dynamic duo. Thanks for helping, Ashleigh!
- Chef Christopher Franz & Alexandria of the Rattlesnake for their delectable dish and panache.
- Brian Perrone of Slows Bar BQ for his love of slow food and culinary mastery. The hints of garlic in the mac were oh so fine.
- George Vutetakis of Garden Fresh for his Jedi Master skills.
- Jack Aronson, our hero and a great role model with a big, big heart.
- Scott Moloney of Treat Dreams for his originality and energy.
- Pam, Todd and Jamie of Just Baked for their sweet philosophy that everyone deserves a cupcake.
- Linda and Donna of Panini Press for their tasty sammies, the perfect complement to the cheesy mac.
- Emcee Christy McDonald who is as clever as she is sweet!
- Dino & Staff for the lounge, the fun macaroni necklaces and fun personalities.
- Mallory of World Clothes Line who manned the coat check. Have you checked out her awesome clothing line?
- Carolyn and Lauren of CKC Public Relations (and Carolyn’s adorable mom) for their unmatched PR prowess. We love you guys!
- Jackie Kallen, the First Lady of Boxing, for her part in making the room sparkle.
- Thanks to our friends at Fox 2 News, the Ferndale Patch, WDIV Local 4, and Kyle Davis of After 5 Detroit for their coverage of the Macdown.
- All of our friends and family for attending and filling the room with joy and laughter.