Coldwater Kitchen Dinner and Movie Experience Brings Culinary Justice to the Forefront

What does fine dining and the criminal justice system have to do with each other? 

A whole lot when you mix a documentary with an exclusive dinner in Detroit on tap next month.

The feature-length documentary, Coldwater Kitchen, is about a dedicated chef’s fine-dining culinary training program inside a Michigan prison, Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, about two hours from Detroit.

During a ‘Coldwater Kitchen’ Dinner & Movie with Freep Film Festival Chef Jimmy Lee Hill event, attendees can dine and enjoy the show created by Brian Kaufman, described as a timely film that comes as the national dialogue about the criminal justice system, which affects one in three Americans, has started to change, shifting from punishment to rehabilitation and into a space where there may be uncommon bipartisan support for improvements. 

Hill, executive chef and instructor at Lakeland told the Michigan Chronicle that food has always been a part of his life, and it is the central force to his decades-long work.

For nearly 30 years Hill, described as soft-spoken, has run the highly regarded culinary training program teaching incarcerated men eager for a second chance the value of both knife skills and life skills.   

“I teach this class (because) I feel like I should do everything I can too, I guess, promote you know, the foodservice industry,” Hill said of his fine-dining culinary training program. “It kind of blows my mind, you know, and it makes them (the participants) really enthused about the class because they get to see food coming out of the dirt which you know. … So I just tried to push the passion along that way by doing things to make the keep them interested in the program.”

Today the program is robust using industry-recognized curriculums and certifications, including the Foundations of Restaurant Management & Culinary Arts Level 1 and Level 2, ServSafe Food Manager, and the AHLEI, Start Program.

Hill said that his two most important mentors in his life, Solomon Tbo and Blanch Mae Hill, two “very Southern parents” attributed his success to them.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today in terms of learning about food,” Hill said. “My mother was in the dietary department at Muskegon General Hospital and my father, he sold barbeque and “All Things” out of our garden. I thank The Lord for both of them.”

The international premiere of Coldwater Kitchen took place last November at the prestigious DOC NYC film festival. It was selected as an Award Winner of the Miller/Packan Documentary Film Fund for Winter 2021. 

Coldwater Kitchen world premiered at DOC NYC film festival in New York City on November 16, 2022. Ahead of the premiere, the film team gathered for a group portrait with many of the film’s subjects. The feature-length documentary film Coldwater Kitchen tells the story of a dedicated chef’s gourmet culinary training program that gives incarcerated men new skills and new hope in a Michigan prison.
Photo Credit: Carlos Sanfer / DOC NYC

Coldwater Kitchen, which was co-directed by Frame’s own editorial director, Mark Kurlyandchik, and was produced over the last five years by the Detroit Free Press, was hailed as one of IndieWire’s “10 Must-See Films” when it made its DOC NYC debut in November.

Kurlyandchik, a former restaurant critic at the Detroit Free Press, told the Michigan Chronicle that previously while working at the Free Press he received a letter from an incarcerated man at Lakeland discussing his work as a sous chef in the culinary program and encouraging Kurlyandchik to check out the program.

“I was invited to one of those events. And when I got in, it was just I mean, it absolutely blew me away, the level of cooking and what was going on inside of the prison,” he said.

From there, Kurlyandchik wrote a story and the documentary came to life later on.

“It’s powerful,” Kurlyandchik said, adding that it adds a unique juxtaposition of dining and incarceration. “There’s not a lot of hope (in) a system that isn’t set up, you know, to forgive or to make you feel like you are human. … The system, the prison system dehumanizes people who go into it, and generally grinds them up and spit them back out, you know, worse than they were before. And so what you know, what’s so amazing about Jeff Hill, is that he does the opposite. And he really does, you know, instill hope and faith in a place that really needs it.” 

An opening night VIP event celebrating the film will be shown at the multi-day event, which will take place at Hazel Park’s creative hub Frame. Chef Jimmy Lee Hill, Dink Dawson, and Ernest Davis, two of his former students who also appear in the film, will prepare a delicious meal in the dining room of Frame.

The official film poster for the feature-length documentary film Coldwater Kitchen, produced by the Detroit Free Press. Coldwater Kitchen tells the story of a dedicated chef’s gourmet culinary training program that gives incarcerated men new skills and new hope in a Michigan prison.
Poster Design Credit: Brian McNamara

Kurlyandchik and co-director Brian Kaufman will also be present, moving around the dining area to share personal anecdotes about the making of the movie as you savor Chef Hill’s delectable “Black Magic” cake, Asian-glazed bone-in lamb chops with rice, seared Thai scallops with sweet potato mash, and bright quinoa salad with collards and lime-yogurt dressing.

Of course, Frame’s in-house mixologists Jaz’min Weaver and Sean Crenny will have the ideal wine and cocktail pairings to match.

Choose whether to eat supper first and then watch the movie or vice versa—meal first and the movie second. A small bar serving inventive cocktails, popcorn, and sweets is installed in the Frame Pavilion’s heated and covered screening area before the movie.

This one-night-only collaboration promises to be much more than just supper and will highlight the transforming power of both food and stories.

Attendees should prepare for a three-hour-plus Frame experience, as the movie run time is roughly 90 minutes. 

Dinner will be served communally inside the Frame dining room and is $85 per person plus fees and tax and can accommodate parties of one to six.


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