(See photos of Motor City's poissonier scaling and filleting a fish here.)
Somewhere in the deep blue waters off the coast of New Zealand, a roughly 15-inch, lollipop-red alfonsino fish with big, round eyes swims and feeds on crustaceans and cephalopods. It will be caught in a couple days, shipped to Detroit, and filleted before it's poached, pan seared, or carved into nigiri.
Once on your plate, you’ll find that alfonsino meat is silky, firm, and clean, while possessing an almost nutty flavor. Of course, that’s assuming that it isn’t old, previously frozen, or otherwise in some dilapidated shape. And that’s certainly a risk you run when ordering fish in Detroit.
But the odds that you’ll get second-rate seafood have been greatly reduced in recent months by Plymouth-based fishmonger Motor City Seafood. Co-owner Matthew Wiseman ordered the alfonsino that’s now swimming off New Zealand's coast. The fish will be line caught, then immediately sent to the airport when the boat docks. The alfonsino’s flight stops for a customs and Food and Drug Administration inspection in Los Angeles before it's quickly boarded on a Detroit connector.
A few hours later, Wiseman will meet it and other fish from around the world at the airport, pack them in his refrigerated van, and take them back to his Plymouth facility. His crew will scale the alfonsino, fillet it, and deliver it to any one of 25 top-tier metro Detroit restaurants that started buying from Wiseman when he and wife Staci launched the company in August.
There are several points that need to be highlighted in the alfonsino’s journey to Motor City.
First is the way it is caught. Wiseman will only deal with fisheries that use lines and care about sustainable fishing practices. Second is the short duration in which the alfonsino logs a high number of miles — Wiseman says he typically gets all his fish here at least 24 hours faster than other Michigan distributors. Third is the existence of the alfonsino in Detroit, period. Wiseman manages to find species we previously rarely — if ever — saw here, or in most other American markets.
That sort of access to new, high quality, fresh product can mean a lot for a growing restaurant scene like Detroit’s. In fact, before Motor City launched, the region generally got what Mabel Gray Chef James Rigato calls “second-tier service and second-tier product.”
"This is a great example of the food scene in Detroit legitimizing itself," Rigato says. "All these restaurants that are opening up with Michelin-starred chefs —that’s all great. But Matt is proof of the area's food scene cementing itself. Now we can get fish that you can't get in submarkets, like Columbus or Grand Rapids. This is Detroit continuing to build itself up.”
He adds, “I don’t think theres another vendor that changed the market like this in six months.”
It’s chefs like Rigato who get most of the glory when it comes to dining, but just as a reporter is only as good as their source, a chef is only as good as their vendors. For that reason, more and more chefs are turning to Wiseman and Motor City. In six months his product list went from five to over 40 species that includes everything from a long pole-caught, Hawaiian bigeye and yellowfin to a New Zealand snapper to a rare-in-Michigan blue nose. The latter holds the aroma of scallops and cucumber, is firm like a bass or grouper, and is one of Wiseman’s favorite fish.
Motor City is building out a new 1,800-square-foot space now that its 1,200-square-foot facility is too small. The client list Wiseman built over the last six months — mostly through free samples and persistence — includes Bacco, Takoi, SheWolf, Sardine Room, Selden Standard, Bistro 82, Voyager, Toasted Oak, Chartreuse, Dr. Sushi, Mabel Gray, Joe Muer, and many more.
At Corktown's Takoi, chef Brad Greenhill says his crew was skeptical when Wiseman first introduced himself, but Motor City provided a few samples and they "were hooked immediately."
"The big thing is they are based locally and bring in product direct. That’s key," Greenhill says. "There’s no other middlemen and the fish is as fresh as can be. The quality of the product and the great customer service and ability to meet our specs was paramount. It blew our previous supplier out of the water."
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