Prime + Proper
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Culinary Director, Heirloom Hospitality
Michael Barrera, culinary director for Heirloom Hospitality, oversees the diverse New American spread at TOWNHOUSE Birmingham and Detroit, as well as the vibrant, technique-driven steakhouse fare at PRIME + PROPER Detroit, from menu development to execution, planning, seasonality, and more. The importance of taking care of guests lies at the core of his culinary philosophies. “Never take yourself too seriously,” he says, “and always remember your technique and repertoire, but most importantly, that our guests deserve our sincerest hospitality.” That outlook leads to adventurous culinary programs at all Heirloom concepts, stemming from kitchens in which Barrera maintains a permeating sense of professionalism and fosters an environment of constant growth and learning.
Growing up in Saginaw, MI, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Barrera primarily enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals due to the lackluster restaurant scene of the time. Inspired by his parents’ tireless work ethic, he got his first job at 14 and continued working in local restaurants throughout high school. After moving to Lansing, MI, and giving traditional college a try, Barrera recognized his passion lay in the restaurant jobs he worked in his down-time. “Nothing made me feel the passion I did when taking care of others,” he says. So, in 2001, he loaded up his car and took off for Philadelphia to attend The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and earned his culinary degree in 2003. Starr Restaurant Group then hired him to work at The Continental in Old City Philadelphia, at which he gleaned priceless culinary insights from chefs Bill Murphy and Blake Joffe. “They taught me to take great ingredients, and not play too much—let them speak, for they are the stars of the plate, not the chef.”
Returning to the Detroit area, Barrera gained experienced in numerous restaurants, including Beverly Hills Grill and Streetside Seafood, at which he served as executive chef. In the winter of 2014, Barrera interviewed with Heirloom Hospitality Founder and CEO Jeremy Sasson, and then took the helm of TOWNHOUSE Birmingham in February 2015. “I saw something in Jeremy, and his passion for this business, that was unlike anything or anyone else in this area,” he explains. The chef then took on TOWNHOUSE Detroit, while continuing to oversee the Birmingham location, and later joined Sasson in developing the atypical steakhouse concept, PRIME + PROPER, for its fall 2017 debut.
A resident of Troy, MI, Barrera spends his off-hours with his wife, Alejandra, and their children, Nico and Marcelo, typically watching the boys play sports, or traveling, eating, playing with their two dogs, and attending concerts—“live music is essential to a balanced life,” Barrera says. Philanthropically, the chef engages with the Make a Wish Foundation and the Gleaners Community Food Bank.