From the April 2019 issue

Chef Chad Barrett Balances Fatherhood and Food

Chef Chad Barrett is forging a food career that's earned him a top nod on the Food Network – and this Ferndale dad has harnessed a profound loss to get there.

Metro Detroit chef Chad Barrett at work in a kitchen
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Chef Chad Barrett is known in a few circles. For one, the Ferndale dad won a top prize on the Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games in 2017. Before that, the tattooed dude drummed for Detroit hardcore band Tides of War.

But the title the local chef savors most? It’s the one only his little daughter Lily can call him: “Dada!”

“I just want my mom and daughter to be proud of me,” says Barrett, who balances co-parenting with gigs as sous chef for the Toasted Oak Grill & Market in Novi and a restaurant consultant. He also has another Food Network show in the works, tentatively due out at some point in 2019, and makes TV cameos locally too.

All along, this 31-year-old’s career as chef has been entwined with his family life – from his formative experiences as a kid to his own fledgling journey as a dad, which has included both loss and fulfillment.

Kitchen connection

Food has always been a part of Chef Chad Barrett’s life. He credits his mom for introducing him to his first professional kitchen at the age of 14, when she took him to work with her at a country club in Florida.

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Here, she was the head server – and, under her watch, young Barrett washed dishes and did some prep work. As soon as he got into that kitchen, he says, he never looked back.

Even when his mom had to take over her family’s hardware store and move him to Michigan, Barrett looked for kitchen jobs. He landed one at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the famed Detroit jazz joint, when he was 16.

“I knew it was my passion, so during high school I tried to get into as many kitchens as possible to further my career,” he says. “I knew I had to work my way up the culinary ladder.”

A difficult climb

There’s a running joke in the culinary world that being a chef means being slightly masochistic. It’s rare to walk off the line at the end of the night without grease burns, knife nicks, aching feet and bruised egos from customers who can’t be pleased. Yet you return every day to a place you know will hurt you because you love it too much to stop.

That was certainly the case for Barrett. In addition to battling an often-brutal work environment, though, Barrett faced a tragedy that unexpectedly struck his family.

In 2016, Barrett’s son, Logan, was stillborn. The devastating loss of a child shook Barrett so much that he almost gave up on his budding career.

It was a turning point. And Barrett decided to dedicate his work and his future to the memory of his son.

“After that, I motivated myself to use my emotions to further my career,” he says. “It propels me forward. Everything I do in life reminds me of him, and he reminds me to keep pushing forward. I think he is proud of me.”

Focused on the prize

Only months after losing Logan, Barrett channeled his pain by applying to every Food Network show that was seeking guest chefs. He was accepted to be on season 12, episode 8 of Guy’s Grocery Games.

In celeb chef Guy Fieri’s series, four chefs must shop for, cook and plate a three-course meal with four portion a pop. And they get just 30 minutes per course. Barrett flew to California, met his competition – and went on to win $16,000.

The first thing he did with his prize? Went to the hotel restaurant he’d had breakfast at every morning during the three days of filming. Barrett ordered his usual – the continental with a side of bacon – and left the waitress a $300 tip.

“Anything anyone does for me, I appreciate,” he says. “I’m going to make sure everyone around me benefits from my success.”

Next, he traveled the country to work in some of the best-rated restaurants he could find, including fine-dining establishments with Michelin stars. Finally, he bought his puppy – a black Lab he named Bob Barker.

Chef Chad becomes dad

Amid the chaos of Chef Chad Barrett’s newfound celebrity status and the stress of getting back to work and a routine, little Lily arrived in the world in September 2017.

While she’s only a year old, her dad can tell they’re going to have a lot in common (although she’s hands-down the bigger Paw Patrol fan of the two).

“She’s so into food, it’s incredible,” he says. “She loves food. She has a passion for pretty much anything she can eat with her little teeth.” Barrett says cooking is still a pastime Lily’s grandma enjoys, so the family can usually be found in the kitchen.

“My mom loves being a grandma. She tries to teach Lily Polish traditions and dishes so that she can stir back up the roots of what she knew when she was a kid.”

The family of foodies also loves to jam together. Barrett drummed for local metal bands for years, so, naturally, Lily’s first birthday gift was a small drum kit.

But when grandma’s around, Lily rocks out to ‘NSync. “My mom was always playing boy bands in the car – and I can’t deny that I like boy bands at all,” he laughs.

Barrett hopes that his daughter also picks up his love for traveling and hockey.

She might inherit dad’s knack for trying new things, too. Every year, Barrett dedicates himself to learning a new type of cuisine and collecting cookbooks particular to that style. Last year it was pastries; the year before, Japanese food.

He also recently took up kayaking and enjoys fishing a couple times a year – even if seafood isn’t his favorite cuisine. “I’ve always been fascinated with water,” he says. “When you’re out on a boat, you’re off the beaten path, alone with nature and able to recharge your batteries.”

No matter how busy life gets, though, he always has time to dance around the kitchen to boy bands while making meatloaf with his mom and daughter.

Favorite foods

Just for fun, we asked Chef Chad Barrett to share some of his favorite foods (and a choice or two form Lily). Here’s what he said.

  1. Meatloaf. Barrett can’t wait for his daughter to try this family favorite. “My mom is a huge meatloaf advocate, for some reason.”
  2. A good, dry-aged rib-eye steak, medium-rare.This is what the chef orders when he goes out to eat. Can’t go wrong, he says.
  3. Miso-roasted seabass with chanterelle and corn risotto. It’s the chef’s favorite fine-dining recipe to create.
  4. Pureed bananas. This one is just on Lily’s list, though dad is always happy to whip some up for her.
  5. Pizza. Chef Chad and his little chef aren’t all about the fine dining. This is a favorite food is on the top of many people’s lists.