This week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Melissa Richards, the pastry chef of Grange Kitchen & Bar and business owner of Sweet Dirt.
The farm-to-table concept at Grange is no gimmick; it is a lifestyle, which is why Melissa chose to work there. After graduating with a B.S. and Masters from the University of Michigan, Melissa became a teacher. Her career and marriage afforded her the opportunity to take up cooking as a hobby and she began experimenting in her own kitchen. As budget cuts began to take effect in her school system, she was inspired to take her newfound hobby and turn it into a career.
This transformation took Melissa from Livonia, Michigan to New York City, where she would attend the Institute of Culinary Education. However, her value system around food did not come from her time in New York. When she was training to become a biology teacher, she took a genetic engineering class that used food as a basis for learning. This opened her eyes to how most food ends up on a table.
Only four years removed from her culinary education, Melissa came back to Michigan to work at Grange, a restaurant that sources ingredients only from local farms, aligning with Melissa’s food philosophy. Since joining the Grange team, Melissa has created innovate recipes – most notably her refreshingly unique ice creams that range from toasted coriander to bourbon to lime-basil. The ingredients come straight from the ground, which as Melissa explains, causes the tastes to “jump out” at you. Her creations are a reflection of who she is and bring forward a conversation about sustainability and food responsibility. She does not make trips to the grocery store, but instead pulls her diet and her business straight from the dirt.
If you go to Grange or visit the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market on Wednesday or Saturdays, make sure that you leave room to try one of her desserts. Whether you’re in it for the sustainability or for the awesome taste, either way you’ll enjoy what you try from Sweet Dirt.