At age 14, Jeff Rose discovered he was comfortable in the kitchen. Growing up in New Jersey, a good friend of his offered him his very first job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. Soon after he started scrubbing furiously at pots and pans, he realized that the culinary scene was right for him.
Even back then, Rose paid attention to the chefs around him as they chopped, sauteed and plated delicacies at lightning speed. He also learned a thing or two from his mother, who was an expert at rolling the perfect matzah ball. After finishing high school, he felt confident enough in the kitchen to start a small catering business.
While Rose’s parents were proud of his work ethic, they encouraged him to give culinary school a shot. Instead, he chose Michigan State University’s hotel and restaurant management program, and spent several years after school working in hotels in Colorado and Texas.
With heavy doses of enthusiasm, Rose moved to Michigan at 23 with his heart set on opening his own restaurant. Not long after he settled in Ferndale, he figured a few more years learning from the pros couldn’t hurt.
He started off his stint as a chef in Metro Detroit at Sweet Lorraine’s and then quickly landed a position at Tribute.
When he first put on his chef’s hat at the iconic restaurant, he told himself he would stay no more than a year. However, he quickly changed his mind once he was introduced to Chef Takashi Yagihashi.
“He taught me food and flavors, and how to cook and put things together — I got the best training there,” Rose recalls fondly.
Under Yagihashi, he seamlessly moved up in the rankings from line cook to sous chef within a year. What he thought would be a short run turned into six years of schooling on the job.
With a newfound level of confidence, Rose left Tribute to run Iridescence at the Motor City Casino and then moved over to Big Rock Chophouse in Birmingham.
His next big break was after meeting Food Network personality and chef Michael Symon, who had big plans for opening Roast in the Book Cadillac Hotel. Rose not only helped Symon run the kitchen but also helped earn Roast the Detroit Free Press “Restaurant of the Year” award in 2009.
While he has kept his promise of staying in touch with Chef Symon, Rose has since moved on from his successful year at Roast. After his time as head chef at Toast in Birmingham and Ferndale, he was finally prepared to open his very own restaurant.
His initial vision entailed opening a quaint French bistro, but he eventually settled on an upscale smokehouse and grill in the picturesque Walled Lake area with pals Richard and Rachel Mandell.
The next challenge was developing a name for their new dining destination. After two months of deliberation, the trio settled on C.A.Y.A., an acronym for “come as you are.”
As the restaurant implies, regulars and newcomers are encouraged to stop in wearing a nice suit and tie or even boat shoes and shorts.
As the restaurant began to unfold, Rose started recipe testing right in his backyard. He bought two smokers, filling his Ferndale neighborhood with an incredible aroma of fresh meats.
Despite having to tweak some of his initial creations, Rose developed a varied menu featuring not only your typical smokehouse fare, but also bountiful salads, sandwiches and fresh fish.
“We’re not one of the chain barbecue places where you get a meat and two sides for $10,” Rose says.
He emphasizes C.A.Y.A. is a place to gather around the table for a leisurely meal and notes that the sides are meant to be shared family-style.
Vegetarians and vegans will especially enjoy the smoked spaghetti squash, which is rich and full of flavor — for carnivores, it makes a perfect side.
Rose’s claim to fame is running a scratch kitchen, seeking out produce and meat from farms within 100 miles of the restaurant. Tolgate Farms, a Michigan State University property in Novi, is his favorite spot to grab fresh vegetables during the summer months.
The eclectic menu changes frequently, and Rose is always adding new ingredients into the mix depending on the season and his mood.
As a person who never can sit still, it’s rare to find him in the same spot at C.A.Y.A. While he’s known to be directing all the happenings in the kitchen, at other times he acts as manager, prep cook, host or even dishwasher depending on the day.
To add even more variety into his schedule, Rose is eagerly awaiting the next Seasoned Chef’s Dinner Series at C.A.Y.A., a special evening where guests enjoy multiple courses and plenty of cocktails for $100. The next one is March 9. Visit cayagrill.com for details.
While he hasn’t completely let go of the French bistro idea, Rose has truly found C.A.Y.A. to be home.
C.A.Y.A. Smokehouse Grill
1403 S. Commerce Road, Wolverine Lake
Check out C.A.Y.A. on Facebook and Instagram @cayagrill