Local Eats: Popular sushi spot at Flint Farmers’ Market seeks to expand its cuisine borders

FLINT – A popular food vendor nestled within the corner at the entrance of Flint Farmers Market has evolved beyond its basic Japanese hand-rolls.

“Temaki was kind of our thing but with a twist,” said Chef Ian Diem, owner of the Chubby Duck. “That’s kind of how we were born and we started off in a real small spot and we had to make one really basic dish, and then we kind of evolved from there.”

The Chubby Duck has a menu that features many beloved traditional sushi dishes including specialty rolls such as the California Roll, the Spicy Tuna Roll and the Scotsman Roll.

The menu also features Temaki combos that come with a drink and a side. Combos include the Krabby Temaki sushi cone combo, made with crab salad, green onion, carrot, avocado, cucumber and daikon, or the Shiitake Mushroom Temaki sushi cone combo, made from Shiitake mushrooms, green onion, carrot, cucumber, daikon and unagi sauce.

With a wide range of options from the menu, it would seem hard to pinpoint one specific dish that most of customers crave, but over the last year, Diem has come to narrow it down.

“Because I’ve changed the menu over the Covid (pandemic), I added a lot of other stuff because I kind of – after being here for so long – I kind of realized what people really wanted,” Diem said. “The Korean Chicken, the shrimp fried rice, they love the crab bangoon, we can’t keep enough of them going, and they eat so many of them.”

What makes each dish special is the authenticity of the ingredients used. Although Diem prioritizes buying most of his goods within the market or nearby stores, some foods are harder to come by locally.

“You have to make some changes just based on product availability to your menu and things like that,” Diem said. “I buy what I can from the vendors here at the market…I’ll use Donlan’s Fish Market if I need something special… there’s just certain things that you just can’t get, especially being like this style of cuisine which is more of an international style of cuisine.”

Diem went to culinary school before graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. In his career, he decided to combine the two, taking it as far as he could, studying and researching international cuisine.

He spent some time in Japan studying under a Japanese chef in Japanese cuisine and other Asian cuisines. Over time, Diem would write multiple cook books on international cuisines such as Indian cuisine and Mexican cuisine, and later on went on to be a tenured culinary arts professor.

“Food opens up people’s eyes,” Diem said. “It drops down the walls, the borders, I love to give somebody something new that they’ve never had before and just see their eyes light up, even now that I’m not teaching, I still try to educate people on cuisine.”

The Chubby Duck opened its kitchen six years ago on the same day the Flint Farmers’ Market opened. Aside from the storefront, the Chubby Duck also serves as a catering service.

However, the catering business was all but gone in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“When Covid hit, all that ended, immediately,” Diem said. “It’s been tough, so really this is the only thing we’ve got going on now is the store front… but I’m trying to evolve this business and grow it.”

Even though 2020 was a rough year with the pandemic and losing most of its persistent customers in the University of Michigan-Flint student body, Chef Diem is optimistic about pulling right out of the unfortunate events just fine.

Before the pandemic hit, Diem had goals of moving the Chubby Duck into its own brick and mortar space or having multiple locations and getting creative in these spaces, with hopes of still making the idea a reality.

Diem wants to further bring his experiences and culinary knowledge to his hometown of Flint.

“Me personally, my main goal is to help out all the people in the community,” Diem said. “I’m already retired, I don’t need to be doing this, personally, but I’m creating jobs, a lot of jobs, my goal is to keep this going, get these people trained and moving around, get a whole workforce going, give some people some opportunity where there wasn’t any.”

Aside from the Chubby Duck, Diem has an ongoing project with another local organization to build a commercial kitchen to give people opportunities in different environments in the food industry. In the future, he’d like to bring something else to north Flint, not necessarily a restaurant, but something different.

For now, Diem is focused on making his Chubby Duck customers as happy as he can by providing them delicious dishes.

“It’s all so damn good,” Diem said. “The Korean Beef is absolutely wonderful. We use filet mignon for that, so we’re using expensive cuts of meat, even though we’re a small fast-food place, we’re using really high end cuts of meat.”

Here are some fast facts about The Chubby Duck:

Location: Flint Farmers’ Market, 300 E. 1st St., Flint

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Online: https://www.facebook.com/chubbyduck

Fun fact: Chief Diem excels in French cuisine and loves to bake French pastries

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