Editor’s Letter: Introducing Frame Stories
What We Talk About When We Talk About Pizza
There’s an old Russian saying that rarely needs explanation beyond its translation: “The first pancake is always lumpy.”
The idiom is universal not just because of the cross-border ubiquity of Saturday morning flapjacks, but because the metaphor applies to pretty much every creative process.
In fifth grade, I took an after-school book-writing class that began with our teacher regaling us with an apocryphal anecdote about Winston Churchill. Mrs. Stroh explained that the legendary British prime minister was also quite the amateur artist whose landscapes now command millions of dollars at auction. But when Churchill first sat down with his oils to paint, he was paralyzed by the perfection of the blank canvas in front of him, unwilling to sully it with the first brushstroke.
You’ve gotta get the first pancake out, lumps and all.
In this spirit I want to welcome you to the first issue of Frame Stories, the editorial content arm of Frame and FRAMEbar in Hazel Park.
For the first five years of its existence, Frame has played restaurant with an ever-changing lineup of guest chefs and culinary talent, reinventing itself almost nightly.
I covered Frame and its unique business model with great interest as the former restaurant critic for the Detroit Free Press, even naming it to one of my annual Best New Restaurants lists.
But the more I’ve gotten to know it from the inside, the more I’ve realized Frame is less a restaurant and more of a platform for powerful culinary storytelling. As its newly minted editorial director, I help to curate the “content,” if you will, just as I would a food magazine. Except at Frame, you get to eat the page, experiencing the storytelling in person and on the plate in front of you, with the chef in the dining room adding context and color, and our team of hospitality professionals providing the infrastructure and support for it to happen five nights a week.
With Frame Stories, we’re adding a digital food magazine to complement our offerings, where we can expand on Frame’s mission of celebrating the region’s culinary and cultural talent. We hope to better serve a growing and hungry audience that may not always be able to partake in person.
Our chosen moniker sounds deceptively simple but is based in narrative nomenclature. A frame story is one that surrounds or “frames” another story — which, at the risk of introducing too many metaphors in one editor’s letter — is exactly what Frame already does.
One of my favorite and most enduring examples of a frame story is Akira Kurosawa’s classic film “Rashomon,” which teaches us about the perils of perspective and how key pieces of a story change depending on who does the telling.
It’s a simple lesson, but so important as we work to deepen our understanding of one another. As a business that celebrates and promotes an array of cultures and traditions, we are committed to holding ourselves accountable to the diverse communities we serve and serve up.
As Frame Stories grows, we aim to cultivate the next generation of food storytellers while amplifying the voices of those already doing the work. That’s why, when appropriate, you’ll see other independent media make guest appearances in our content.
For this inaugural issue on pizza, you’ll find a story from Tostada Magazine by reporter Grace Reyes about the importance of a mother dough to a Detroit pizzeria. In the future, we hope to hire freelance writers and photographers to round out our coverage.
We’ll also be rolling out an advisory board in the coming months composed of a diverse group of stakeholders, each representing communities and perspectives essential to building a more equitable hospitality landscape.
But back to pizza for a minute (or a month)…
With Frame Stories, you can expect a new theme every issue, and a series of stories, recipes, and perspectives all based on that theme.
We’re beginning with pizza for a few reasons.
For starters, the red-hot pop-up Val’s Pizza will be in residency at FRAMEbar from February 9 (coincidentally National Pizza Day!) through March 6, dishing up Neapolitan-inspired pies and a familial backstory that will both win your heart.
But, perhaps more importantly, in 2022 pizza is the rare unifying force at a time when it feels like the country is splitting at the seams. As Ladies Who Pizza co-founder and Outlier Media Executive Director Candice Fortman says in this month’s Q&A: “The way that pizza can be molded and transformed to pretty much fit anybody is really lovely. It’s kind of what we need more of in life.”
Pizza is remarkably ubiquitous, transcending class, culture, and geography in a powerful way.
For example: I am an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who was sustained by the federal reduced lunch program. My earliest pizza memories come from the lunchline at Tenniswood Elementary, where a square variety was served weekly, except on “Mexican pizza” days, when its shape took on a more hexagonal outline. We didn’t host weekly Friday pizza nights in my Russophone household growing up. But as we assimilated, we increasingly celebrated birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s over gooey pies that would make the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles drool.
And though Fortman is a Black woman from the west side of Detroit and I’m a white man from Eastern Europe whose formative years were spent in Macomb County, we both enthusiastically took part in the Pizza Hut Book It! Program in our public schools, rewarded for our reading proclivity with highly coveted personal pan pizzas. That’s just one reason pizza is nostalgic for both of us.
There’s something beautiful about that.
There’s also something beautiful about serious chefs pivoting to pizza during the pandemic to pad their bottom lines while fulfilling their creative yearnings. As Pizza Replicator founder and chef Max Sussman tells us in this month’s feature story, the quest for pizza perfection is by its nature never achieved. There are always new places to take it. And that can be a fulfilling process for even the most ambitious chef.
But pizza is also something an amateur home cook can pull off without too many special tools or training, and Sussman offers tips for those of us among them.
If pizza can bridge the gap between Black and white, Detroit and Macomb County, professional chefs and amateur cooks, and still act as a foodservice bright spot in an otherwise devastating pandemic — there’s something beautiful about that, too.
To wash it all down, we offer a recipe for an Aperol spritz with a twist from Frame’s resident cocktail “mixtress” Jaz’min Weaver, as well as some wisdom from our sommelier/food and beverage director Sean Crenny on expertly pairing wine with pizza.
“Every culture around the world has been putting stuff on bread and baking it for thousands of years,” chef Marc Vetri writes in Mastering Pizza. “But a big, flat pie, cut for everyone to share? That’s a little different.”
Indeed, like Frame itself, pizza is a communal experience — and a natural starting point for Frame Stories.
We hope you’ll excuse any lumps; the first pancake never turns out just right.
But pizza… As pretty much everyone we spoke to for this first issue of Frame Stories has affirmed: Even bad pizza is still pretty good.
— Mark Kurlyandchik, Frame Editorial Director