Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bill Wood -- Kalamazoo's Minister of Culture

Bill Wood, food and restaurant critic for the Kalamazoo Gazette since 1988
If anyone knows how to throw a good party, it is a chef.  Put a number of chefs together and you've got an unimaginable extravaganza in fine food and fun.

Kalamazoo's local chefs took time off from their busy schedules on Sunday evening to honor Bill Wood, food and restaurant critic for the Kalamazoo Gazette over the past 23 years, a position he describes as “one of the coolest, most-envied jobs” at the paper.

Local chefs honor Bill by supplying a Taste of Kalamazoo
Chefs from 10 local restaurants and students from the Kalamazoo Culinary Academy and high schools  prepared special appetizers, desserts and baked goods for an extraordinary taste treat featuring some of some of the best cooking in Kalamazoo.

Shawn and Terry Hagen, owners of Bravo Restaurant and Cafe, which offers an Italian fine dining menu, held the private party of over 225 of Bill's family, friends and dining “companions,” as he usually referred to people who accompanied him on a restaurant story. 

“You have brought together all the food groups of Kalamazoo:  the restaurants, the growers, the People's Food Co-Op, Fair Food Matters, ” said Judy Sarkozy, owner of Sarkozy's Bakery, which specializes in quality French-style bread and baked goods.  

“Kalamazoo is on the cusp of being a critical food ecology center, and you did that for us,” she said, also recognizing that Bill has been instrumental in featuring the efforts of the local food movement in Kalamazoo.

Judy Sarkozy and Rob Peterson
Many of Bill's Gazette colleagues also attended and a couple local professional photographers captured at least 1,000 pictures during the two-hour event.  A high school videographer recorded the sights and sounds of the event as well as the voices of several guests who shared their stories and experiences with Bill.

As a feature writer, Bill was known to find a special quality in a chef and his/her food that went beyond routine description.

Brad Pines, a 30-year reporter at the Gazette, characterized Bill's work as having “extraordinary talent and skill.”

“Bill set a pretty high bar of excellence,” said Pines, of his writing, his choice of subjects and as a well-dressed, cultured man.  Bill always wore a suit with a fashionable flare.

“He was the only one to come to work regularly wearing an ascot and knowing how to tie his own bow tie,” said Pines.

Rob Peterson, director of Business Recruitment & Retention at Downtown Kalamazoo, Inc. and one of the organizers of the celebration, noted that Bill's columns brought to the forefront all the wonderful cultural things going on in the city, which included the jazz scene. 

Bill and Channon dance

Chef Channon in dance mode

Chef Channon Mondoux, a specialist in Turkish cuisine, another organizer of the event, provided a special belly dance as part of the entertainment.  She also made sure Bill had a proper turban, cape and feathers so he could join in the dance.

Why a belly dance?

About five years ago Bill attended a Turkish dinner event Mondoux held where she performed Raks al Saif (sword dance). Practically every time he had seen her since, he mentioned it. 

"I thought it was a great opportunity to poke some fun at Bill, but that's not the only reason," said Mondoux.  "Bill has given so much of his life to the art, fashion and food scene in Kalamazoo that I thought I would give a little back to him. Raks Sharqi (the dance style she did at the party) is used for community events that bring joy and celebration and get people up on their feet clapping and joining in on the happiness.  What better way to end the night with a dear friend."

Bill said he was stunned by all the well wishes--and dances--from his friends, colleagues and reading public. 

His wife, Linda Mah, also a reporter at the Gazette, and their twin daughters, Ava and Lena, were on hand for the celebration as well as his cousins from Cleveland.

However, not one to rest even in retirement, Bill has taken on the role as the Minister of Culture with a blog, “Riff on the Good Life.”  In it he continues to share news about Kalamazoo's chefs, their lives and their culinary creations as well as stories on fashion, art, jazz recordings and the local jazz scene. 

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