Michigan-born Thomas Lents moved out of the state, built his career, received national accolades for his cooking, survived cancer, moved home and opened a dynamic restaurant to rave reviews.

But that’s only half of the story.

Lents is executive chef at Detroit’s Foundation Hotel, where he leads the glamorous Apparatus Room and Chef’s Table, a communal tasting experience for just 12 diners. His move from Chicago—where he earned two Michelin stars as executive chef of Sixteen—has earned plenty of ink. The Detroit Free Press lauded Lents as “one of the most decorated chefs to cook in Detroit in years—if not ever,” and named his Chef’s Table its Restaurant of the Year.

Lents is adamant his work in Detroit isn’t about ego or fame. Rather, he’s created an atmosphere at The Apparatus Room that is loud, boisterous and, above all, celebrates the Midwest, its food traditions and the chefs who make it. Housed in historic Detroit Fire Department quarters, “The space itself is a big room and I want to fill it with energy—it has to be a place where people come and congregate and the city can celebrate together,” he says. “We’re giving them great food in a great environment. A restaurant is always a conversation between the chef, the staff and the community.”

Lents’ storied career has taken him to Ireland and Las Vegas, where he became the first American chef de cuisine at Joël Robuchon, a three Michelin-starred restaurant. He began his stint at Sixteen in 2012, where his work earned those all-important stars. Life was fulfilling, but his health scare reminded him of larger goals. Now, he wants to not only boost Detroit’s reputation for fine food but mentor young chefs, giving them a learning environment so they can continue the city’s revitalization.

“It’s rare when you can find a city where the community’s interests and people’s self-interest are aligned. Everyone wants Detroit to do well. It’s a magical moment,” Lents says. “Being a chef is a hard-working career. You put a lot of yourself, personality and time into what you do. I feel like Detroit is a place where I can make a bigger difference.”

This article originally appeared in the 2018 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

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Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer. She also is author of three Detroit history books, including The Witch of Delray: Rose Veres & Detroit’s Infamous 1930s Murder Mystery.

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