Using food to bring people together is natural for Kevin Piotrowski. His fondest memories since childhood happened over eating with family and friends. Once a week, he invites guests into his kitchen through his online blog, Cavalcade of Food http://cavalcadeoffood.blogspot.com/, where he provides recipes and cooking demonstrations.
“I enjoy cooking for the people I love and people I don’t even know. Food, like music and art, is one of the greatest expressions of humanity,” says Piotrowski, a Dearborn resident who started his blog in 2010 to share his experiences and different types of cultural cuisine when he traveled.
The blog evolved after Piotrowski received a video camera as a gift last year. No idea what to do with it, his partner Ralph Valdez of Grosse Pointe Woods made a suggestion: ‘You bake and cook all the time and we should videotape you in the kitchen doing your thing.’ So I decided to try it,” says Piotrowski. “The concept was to have something that was interactive with the person on the camera, not the viewers, but rather the back and forth between the person holding the camera and me. I thought that would be more interesting, listening to these two people have a conversation about what’s going on.”
While preparing a variety of dishes and desserts like Parmesan tilapia, pork roast, gnocchi with tomato sauce, popovers, prune cake and cherry rhubarb pie, the pair is also having fun doing it. “Ralph had a radio show on WDET for 25 years and has a rich musical history. We synch up music with what we are cooking. We have so much fun,” he says.
Piotrowski puts a twist on nostalgic favorites like tuna noodle casserole, chicken ala king, meatloaf and what he calls pineapple “princess” upside down cake. He even pays tribute to his Polish heritage with family traditions including golabkis (stuffed cabbage), Kapusta (Sauerkraut) and kielbasa, and bread and butter pickles.
“Ralph loves to eat and that’s why it’s always a good combination,” he says. “He’s really adventurous and he does a little cooking himself. We try out a lot of things. If I haven’t made something before, we do a trial run to make sure it turns out or to see if we need to tweak it a little bit.”
Outside of the kitchen, Piotrowski works as the senior communications officer at Wayne State University’s Irvin D. Reid Honors College. Although he has no formal culinary training, he has years of cooking and baking experience. “I just kind of came to it,” he says. “I grew up in a house with a mother who was an incredible cook and baker. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her. I watched her very carefully and she would show me things. Some people are passive about food. I am engaged with food. When my mother made food for you, you knew that she loved you. The more you ate, the more she loved making it.”
Piotrowski appreciates more than the fine art of cooking: he is fascinated by the process of cooking the food he eats and has been collecting kitchen-related things for a long time. Enthralled with percolators, Piotrowski owns about 500 total, the oldest dating back to 1919. “I have a considerable amount of small kitchen appliances and I have amassed quite a few cookbooks over the years. I read them like a novel. The older cookbooks are really a snapshot of the time in which they were published, a trend of what food was like then,” says Piotrowski, remembering the 1950s Jell-O salad, which he brings to life in a new fashion on his blog.
“The fun is in finding these items,” he says. “Not a week goes by that I don’t buy something from garage and estate sales or thrift shops. Friends of mine who know I collect this stuff will often call me and tell me they’ve picked something up or just cleaned out a family member’s house. All of these things were made in U.S. factories and were really built to last. I think they are beautiful. If you own these things, they function and are meant to be used, not to sit in a museum.”
For that reason, Piotrowski actually cooks on his vintage stoves, which he has 12 of.
“I have heard from so many people about the blog,” he says. “People from other parts of the world like Argentina and Canada and Poland. People run across the videos on YouTube. When you’re cooking together with people, it’s magical. Food really brings people together.”