Local foodies rejoice for more opportunities to taste a fresh variety of innovative recipes at El Club. Since opening in 2016 Pepe Z Pizza, brainchild of Chef Matt Ziolkowksi, has introduced a culinary staple at the new venue in Southwest Detroit saving clubgoers from the late night food desert that many Detroiters are so painfully familiar with.

After establishing a seriously dependable pizza offering, Pepe Z Pizza has decided to expand the dining experience with a string of pop up events inviting local and national chefs to run the show temporarily. Recently El Club has welcomed Detroit-based chefs George Azar of Flowers of Vietnam, as well as Dr Sushi to create their own magic in the venue’s kitchen. The next pop-up this month will be a real treat: Los Angeles-based baker and chef Clara Cakes will make her maiden visit to Detroit in celebration of the release of her first vegan cook book with two special dinner seatings on March 12-13th.

Clara Cakes is a 19-year old vegan chef who got her sweet start early in life. At the age of twelve years old, Chef Clara Polito began baking delicious vegan treats, slanging them at local DIY punk shows and any baking competitions she could find. The beginning of her  journey was out of necessity. “My main motive for getting started with cooking was becoming a vegan. At the time when I started, I lived in a suburb with little to no vegan deserts so it forced me to begin to experiment on my own starting with brownies and cookies, my personal favorites,” Clara explains.

Active in the Los Angeles punk scene from a young age, Clara describes her local punk community that has both inspired her culinary pursuits and embraced her aspirations as she set out to start her career. Punk-rock is an intrinsically political genre; Clara identifies with this outspoken and groundbreaking genre in a variety of ways. Similar to Detroit, Clara describes that Los Angeles is brimming with musicians and creatives whose work ethic motivates her. “In the LA punk scene, I encounter so many musicians who are always working on new material, writing songs, coming up with new cover art and constantly trying to build themselves! A lot of them work so hard doing it for nothing more than the love of the music and this inspires me to stay passionate and hard working with my cooking.”

She finds an interesting relation between punk’s rebellious nature and her vegan enthusiasm. A huge motivation for her veganism came after deeply conceptualizing and understanding the disappointing principles observed in dairy and egg industries. Passionate about the ethical treatment of animals, Clara spreads vegan recipes and cooking as her personal way to stick it to the man. She explains, “Punk rock and veganism are closely related and a lot of people have learned about veganism through punk because it’s the easiest political statement to make.” Clara enthusiastically and incessantly works to spread her recipes to reject the hegemonic mistreatment of animals, and to encourage others to find ways around supporting industries and companies with disreputable business practices.

In true punk rock fashion, Clara has defied the norm by breaking barriers and living life on her terms. “Once you know you have a passion for something, you have to hold onto it really hard- and for me this has been a very slow and steady business. There were moments when I was tired and not sure what I was doing, but I think the most important thing is to keep on keeping on, and to ask yourself – If you truly love something, then why would you quit?” Clara describes that societal pressures such as going to school and sidelining her career for education have worn on her at times. Clara resiliently rejects the perceived norms of someone her age and puts her whole heart into her cooking career, doing what others may think she shouldn’t.  Currently she’s been listening to LA’s Girlpool, as well as her brother’s LA based band, Losing End. Her whimsical and artistically designed cookbook feeds off her influences and punk-inspired, free-spirited style.

In her forthcoming debut cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone! she inserts her personality into the pages. The simple and spunky cookbook gives readers a clear sense of the chef’s experiences and humor as it is decorated with puns, sass, and fun. The release of the book has been a long-time dream of hers. “It’s important to familiarize people with vegan food and cooking because a lot of people have negative first reactions, and perceive it to be bland and gross. The cookbook has been a big goal because I want to make vegan cooking accessible while taking the stigma away from it. Vegan cooking can be thought of as an intimidating process but the book shows that it can be fun!” she explains. Clara responds to the veganism naysayers by explaining how becoming vegan has inspired her to explore new flavors, spices, techniques and ways to achieve classic recipes. She has fun researching ways to put a spin on classic recipes, build complex new dishes and to ultimately make food that she would want to eat. “It gets easier as you go!” she says. Clara will be featuring recipes from her cookbook on the menu at her upcoming El Club takeover and copies will be available for purchase.

Sneak preview of the menu Clara Cakes will serve at El Club. Image credit: Clara Cakes.

Clara views cooking as a social and intimate process and can’t wait to bring her carefully crafted menu to El Club. Food is unique in the nuances of personal memories associated with dishes, to the music played while cooking, to sacred family recipes and presentation and technique styles. As a pop-up chef, Clara describes a difficult balance between managing the inner workings of the kitchen and the delicate and original social experience she seeks to create outside the kitchen at the table. She juggles these factors simultaneously which proves to be very difficult, but mentions that the event vibe and the eventgoers’ feedback makes it all worthwhile. “When you do pop-ups it’s different than a brick and mortar because you don’t know what to expect out of dinner service.”

No dinner would be complete without a sweet vegan pie! Image credit: Clara Cakes.

The young, talented chef has never been to Detroit but she is enthusiastic to check out the city’s renowned art, restaurants and urban farming in the free time visiting. She considered Detroit with her menu, showcasing pierogis, local produce and technical skill. Although unfamiliar with a Detroit audience, she is eager to present her cookbook and convey to Detroiters her profound love of cooking. She recognizes that some of her fresh produce is less available here than on the West Coast, but hopes that her simple, accessible recipes will make eating vegan realistic and practical for Detroiters. Selflessly celebrating her 20th birthday on her visit to Detroit, she is ready to give this delicious five course meal as her own gift to attendees.

RSVP for one of the 7P or 9P seatings on Sunday, March 12 and Monday, March 13 paired with special DJ sets and exclusive book signing.


Words by Hailey Dukes. New kid on the block and sponge for all things Detroit. Student to this earth and the people, places, and things on it. Walking an unceasing journey to observe, feel, analyze, understand. Inspire me! Follow Hailey on IG @wolf___hailey // Twitter @heyygirllhai