As sweet as Gwen Joy is, she doesn't really do the dessert thing. Instead, she digs full-flavored vegetarian fare and sipping hot liquor drinks with biker gangs in dive bars. Joy's also, it should be noted, a painter, toy transformer, model, art socialite and rock club concessionaire (she earns coin as a kind of 1940s cigarette girl).
Before heading to a show at Hamtown's Belmont to hawk candy and smokes to the local rock 'n' roll set, Joy joined MT for her favorite meal (OK, second favorite) in town at the elegant jazz joint Cliff Bell's.
Joy sat down clutching a happy gang of vintage stuffed animals just purchased from a garage sale and, before diving into a beet salad, began yakking about her most recent modeling gig: Ms. Chiquita Banana. "I'm totally in it for the costume," she says. "It's what I'm wearing to Theatre Bizarre this year."
METRO TIMES: So, what exactly will you do as Ms. Chiquita Banana?
GWEN JOY: Not too sure. Talking creatively about bananas at a Kroger or something. I'm going to look up some fun banana facts. ...
MT: Are you into bananas?
JOY: I like banana as an ingredient in things and banana-flavored things, but as far as fruit goes I'm more of a plum and peach kind of girl.
MT: We were supposed to meet at Nick's Gaslight for your ultimate Detroit meal, but they were closed. What do you get there?
JOY: I go there for the triple-decker veggie club sandwich and this fantastic Greek cocktail that has cloves and some sort of orange liquor in it.
MT: What are you ordering here?
JOY: I love the beet salad and an order of the brussels sprouts — no bacon. Maybe I need to branch out, but I love these both of 'em. The menu here's creative, but old school at the same time.
MT: Aside from meat, is there anything you hate to eat?
JOY: It's not that I hate meat; I just can't eat it. I really hate white bread, I really don't get into bland foods. Sweets really aren't my thing either.
MT: If you could be a food in a cartoon world, what would you be?
JOY: Either a pomegranate or an avocado shake!
MT: Avocado shake? Can't say we've ever come across those. ...
JOY: It's a traditional Vietnamese drink made with avocado, milk, ice and honey. So good! Plus, green's my favorite color.
MT: In talking art and food, what's your take on the hackneyed "starving artist" phrase?
JOY: I don't really like clichés. If you have an ounce of talent and charisma you don't have to starve. Price your stuff realistically and be resourceful.
She's an artist and a consummate champion for the city of Detroit. She's Sabrina Nelson, and we can find her Saturday's at Russell Street Deli in Eastern Market, and on weekday afternoons most likely at Goodwell's Natural Foods in the Cass Corridor
A mother of three, Nelson — who works at the College for Creative Studies and the Detroit Institute of Arts — has an infectious and positive outlook that's famous in the city's arts community. The life glow she seeks from food she eats transfers into her spirit and her art. "I'm hopeful somebody will be affected by the art and can see its beauty on a level higher than what just the visual offers.
MT: You're a born and raised Detroiter who still lives in the city.
SABRINA NELSON: Not just born and raised here, I was made in Detroit, there's a difference! My purpose is to make sure people know there are beautiful things here and wonderful places to enjoy.
MT: What kind of foods do you crave?
NELSON: Savory and spicy things — food with a lot of seasoning. I like Indian food, African food and food from the West Indies, Louisiana or Thailand; foods that just combust with flavor. In my family, if someone cooks something up and it's really good, they say, "Ooh, she put her foot in it!"
MT: Is there something you can't bring yourself to eat?
NELSON: I think okra is the enemy and it should be destroyed! "Power to the killers of okra," my brother just shouted. It reminds me of old-people food because you don't have to chew it, you can just gum it, then the slimy creature just falls apart in their mouths. Makes me dry heave. ...
MT: On a lighter note,your favorite place to grab a bite in Detroit is where?
NELSON: The Good Well! More commonly known as Goodwell's. We used to have a co-op in Detroit, but we don't anymore, so we don't have organic foods that we can choose from. Where do you get fresh, organic vegetables with steamed brown rice? If you go to the Chinese places over by the Blockbuster and Starbucks you're going to get the same overcooked white rice and Tso's chicken. I'm all about trying to eat healthy.
MT: Is the organic vegetables and brown rice your go-to dish?
NELSON: Oh, yeah! It's an organic medley of seasonal vegetables like broccoli, carrots, cabbage, sprouts and onion laid over brown rice. I think they give you a side of tamari — some kind of brown sauce — that makes the whole dish just pop! Like a soul food restaurant, you don't just go for all the good food, but for the good company too. The people that go there are similar in their thinking, they want to see good things happen in the city — they're spiritual. And, of course, the food's just really good.
Unlike his rather large abstract paintings and sculptures, which utilize reclaimed materials, doses of oil, spray paint and an array of chemicals, artist Ian Swanson's palate is clean and rather precise. Together with Chris Samuels and Lindsay Yeo, Swanson heads up the ORG Gallery inside the Russell Industrial where his current exhibition, Laquer, is up till June 6
MT: We're here at the Woodbridge Pub for your favorite meal in Detroit, the ...
IAN SWANSON It's a sandwich called The RZA
MT: Sounds cool — what's in it?
SWANSON Tofu, bean sprouts, a spicy thai sauce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peanuts wrapped up in lawash.
MT: What's in it that does it for you?
SWANSON I was drawn to it by its clean, simple flavors and because it's spicy, tasty, healthy and not at all greasy. Plus the name rules!
MT: Would he approve of the wrap?
SWANSON I think the RZA would totally enjoy it. Isn't he vegan? I think so.
MT: What artist, dead or alive, would you like to enjoy an RZA with?
SWANSON Robert Rauschenberg; I love his work and his intensity.
MT: What was your fave breakfast as a kid?
SWANSON Three scrambled eggs with Frank's Red Hot. It was my favorite breakfast as a kid — is still my favorite meal, overall, I think. I could, and sometimes do, eat it twice a day — at least a couple times a week. It's cheap and easy.
MT: What's the most visually pleasing plate to the artful eye?
SWANSON Sushi! It's simple, creative and I've always loved the way it's arranged on a plate.
MT: Do you have any food allergies?
SWANSON Yeah, mushrooms. When I was a kid, I had some allergy tests done and it came back that I was allergic to mushrooms and cockroaches.
MT: What foods can't you stand?
SWANSON Since I was a kid, I won't eat meat on a bone. It's a total phobia — my gag reflex goes into overdrive.
MT: I say "starving artist" and you say ...