I recently sat down to talk to Frank Fejeran, the owner and chef of Ricewood BBQ, to find out a bit about him and what led him to doing what he does. We chatted at one of the picnic tables, the al fresco seating area at Ricewood. The best part about this location was that we were able to appreciate the aromas coming from the wood smoker next to the food truck.
To say that Frank has been around is a bit of an understatement. He was born in California, but moved to Ann Arbor while in the early years of elementary school. He returned to California for high school and then went to culinary school at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Frank began working in restaurants in California and met his mentor chef Riko Bartolome in Southern California. From there he moved back to Southeast Michigan to work at Tribute in Farmington Hills. Then it was to Chicago, where he cooked at Takashi and Hopleaf. Prior to opening Ricewood BBQ, Frank had been the executive chef at Raven’s Club, here in Ann Arbor.
It was the position at Hopleaf that Frank identified as career changing. He went from having the skillset of a chef to focusing on the food that he was preparing. Frank said that we live in a global economy and freshness is possible from many places, just the carbon footprint is different. Rather than solely focusing on extremely local food sources, the chef’s job is to entertain, to fill bellies and make people happy.
When I asked Frank why he chose to open a BBQ place, he replied because he loves BBQ. It is almost a hobby-like job. He said that once he figured out the core stuff, everything just falls into place. Furthermore, he stated that BBQ is not a flavor, not a meat, it’s a way of doing things. It is a tradition.
Frank did a good bit of research to determine how to make his BBQ the best it could be. He traveled to Texas to conduct this research. It was there that he determined that smoking the meat over a wood fire provided the best, most authentic flavor. As a result, you can see the offset firebox wood-fired smoker when you go to eat at Ricewood BBQ.
One of the big differences about Ricewood BBQ is the fact that your choice of meat is served over a bowl of rice with finàdene (pronounced finadini). I asked Frank why he chose to serve his BBQ over the rice bowl. He told me that it came from a family tradition. Part of his family is from Guam and their family dinners were bowls of rice with roasted meat and finàdene over the top. Leftover meat was kept in a bowl of finàdene in the refrigerator so it would marinate while being available for snacks or future meals.
I asked Frank about his plans for the future, since a food truck in Michigan is definitely a seasonal type of business. He told me that he is building a company with a goal of redefining a chef’s work/life balance. Frank said that food based businesses survive or fail due to labor and overhead. His plan is to create several micro-businesses focusing on small menus, low labor costs and small overhead.
Right now Ricewood BBQ is open Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm or until they sell out. They are also open for Nitewood, one Saturday night each month. Nitewood is only advertised via their social media accounts, so make sure to follow them on Twitter @ricewoodbbq or Facebook a2ricewood.