Culture

At Saartj in Detroit, Your Menu Is Based on Your Privilege

Chef Tunde Wey's ‘discomfort food' pop-up heads to Motor City
Detroit Restaurant Decides Menu on Privilege
Photo: Michael Lichtfield

Back in March, Tunde Wey made headlines for his New Orleans pop-up, Saartj, where white customers were asked to pay two and a half times more than people of color for the same meal. And now, the activist chef is introducing his idea of "discomfort food" to Detroit, when he's taking over Bank Suey community center in Hamtramck this week. 

It's not guaranteed diners will be served items like plantains stuffed with goat, confit fowl with African honey beans or the coconut flakes that have been soaked in brandy. Instead, guests who visit the pop-up will fill out a form that asks questions about their race, gender, education and income—their answers will then be used to tailor their menus.

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"We want to present to you, in essence, what your privilege represents," Wey tells the Detroit Free Press. "If you go to a restaurant right now—any nice, high-end restaurant—as much as possible folks try to tailor the experience to you. . . . I want to tailor the experience to them [guests] and I want to predicate that experience on their privilege."

Detroit was chosen due to its significance in the race riots of 1967: "The sort of blatant racism that characterized the 60s is barely relegated to history and institutional racism remains vibrant, as evidenced by the widening racial disparity," Saartj's website reads.

Both Wey and his original New Orleans food stall attracted both praise and criticism, with some arguing his concept was essentially reverse racism. But Wey points out having a white person engage with him and being given a choice to pay more is just an "inconvenience" versus racism. "Nobody's wealth was affected. Nobody's health was affected. Nobody's education was impacted. . . . For people who are willing to listen to that, when you explain it that way and you define what racism really is, then you understand that all these accusations are just frivolous."

He adds, "I want people to enter into the space and then be arrested in a particular way and then have that lead into a conversation."

Read more of Tunde Wey's interview with the Detroit Free Press.

What do you think about Wey's pop-up? Let us know in the comments.

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