Nick Ringe is an artist in more ways than one.
His concepts on a plate speak to his love of fresh ingredients, sustainability and superior technique honed through years of hard work.
His creations on canvas go deeper into a world of healing and provide an outlet for creativity that on occasion consumes him.
Together, his creative pursuits provide sustenance for those he serves, and “food for thought,” so to speak, for those who view his art.
“Food and art are definitely linked,” said Ringe, an assistant manager at Michigan Dining. “Just the way my path is taking me, I’ve moved to the front of the house so I’m more managing people now. I enjoy influencing and leading people.
“Now my art has sort of shifted from cooking and into that realm of trying to move people in that way.”
His visual art creations come from deep within, a “bug” inside and “something that just wants to come out sometimes.” He recently submitted a piece titled “Energetic Heart” to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center’s 16th annual art show, “rEVOLUTION: transformation.”
It was one of three pieces featured by the U-M Museum of Art in a blog about the exhibit.
“It was about healing; the concept of it is pretty deep, and I could talk forever about it,” he said. “That type of drawing to me is linked to my purpose, my highest aspiration in my life. When I draw and when I write, it’s coming from that place of depth. It’s not something I just take lightly.
“I don’t do very much drawing, but when I do, I can feel it and see it and know what I want it to be, and I just have to get it out of me so I can rest.”
His career path started as a 16-year-old dishwasher at a coney island restaurant in Chelsea — an unrewarding experience. “I swore I would never step foot in a kitchen again,” Ringe said.
Instead, over the next several years, he worked at seven or eight other restaurants or service establishments, gaining a full repertoire of experience. He was enrolled in the culinary arts program at Washtenaw Community College when he and his wife, Tabithah, decided to start a family.
He worked full time at Barton Hills Country Club before taking a job with Michigan Dining as a cook for a year. Because the job was seasonal and he had a young daughter, he went back to Barton Hills for full-time work.
About four years later — and with another daughter on the way — he returned to U-M as a sous chef in 2013.
“I got a text saying they were hiring chefs and someone remembered me, the work ethic I put in there to make that place shine,” he said. “My growth really took off once I got here. I learned front of the house, back of the house, production.”
While he has not returned for his degree, he did receive his executive chef accreditation through the American Culinary Federation while at U-M. He’s also been taking leadership and negotiation courses through the university that he then passes on to his staff in the form of training sessions.
“I’m kind of taking micro-approaches to it rather than wrapping it all up in a degree,” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll go back for it, but right now I’m learning so much by doing and volunteering myself for things, just jumping in and taking people’s advice. I’ve had my hand in most all of it.”
He is stationed in East Quad but has worked at each of the nine residential units at some point, in various capacities. His current duties as assistant manager center more on staff outside the kitchen, but he’s spent countless hours creating inside it.
Ringe said he does not have a favorite type of cuisine to prepare, but give him fresh food, and he will put together a stunning dish.
“I always liked local food, seasonal food, trying to support the local economy and the local food movement,” he said. “Michigan is super bio-diverse. We live in a beautiful area for plants and for animals and all this seasonal bounty. For me it’s trying to connect people with that.”
His passion for food can be traced to his wife’s announcement that they were expecting their first child and he wanted to ensure his family could access fresh food. He looked into gardening, including forest gardening where vast edible landscapes are developed.
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That took him down the scientific path of food, which led him to develop his own fertilizer that includes microbes harvested from the forest.
“It’s very simple, you need a bucket, some water, the compost scraps from your house and add the microbes to it and in a week you’ve got fertilizer,” he said. “People could make their own fertilizer right now and be infusing the soil with life from all around Michigan.”
Some people do not have the land to grow their own sprawling garden, so Ringe has been overseeing the tower garden at East Quad since it was created in 2017. A second one exists at Bursley Hall.
“We use it as a way to generate excitement around sustainability and give people, especially in an urban setting, an idea of how to grow plants and produce food in a different way than they’re used to,” he said. “If someone has less space, they can grow vertically, they can grow fresh things all year round.”
The pandemic put a hold on the gardens, but Ringe said there are plans to restart them this fall.
When he’s not in the kitchen or spending time with his family, he’s either putting his creative juices to paper or enjoying exhilarating rides on his motorcycle. The motorcycle was a gift from his stepbrother, a former doctor at Michigan Medicine who last year moved to Pennsylvania and did not want to transport the 2009 Suzuki S-V650 sport bike with him.
Ringe said he enjoys riding it on the roads near his Stockbridge home, and while his wife “doesn’t love it, she is understanding.”