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Detroit’s food scene has never been easy to define, and in the past few years, the blossoming of urban gardens, neighborhood eateries, and food artisans has added more than a dash of excitement. Many Detroit area chefs are very conscious about using locally grown products, which, in turn, helps local communities and food suppliers.
They are inspired by Detroit’s culinary history — from classic cuisine to ethnic eateries, and continue to present diverse menu options for our areas sophisticated diners.
The following metro Detroit chefs preside over restaurants and cafes large and small, established and upcoming, casual and conventional. As experts in the kitchen, their culinary creations served at tables, countertops or outdoor patios have no doubt kindled countless memories. For this issue of Hour Detroit, they have taken the opportunity to share a favorite tip or technique that has made a difference in the way they prepare or present food. Some are little know methods for catering a dinner for hundreds; others are simple ways to brighten soups and sauces. Each is time-tested and bound to give you ideas for your own meals.
Scott Stromer, Executive Chef
Motor City Casino
Q: What is Mise en place and is it important to the home chef as well as a MotorCity Casino chef?
A: The definition of “Mise en place” is a French phrase which means “putting in place,” as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relish, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook or chef will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. The practice is also effective in home kitchens.
As executive chef at the MotorCity Casino Hotel “Mise en place” is a way of life. Organization is key for the success of the culinary associates, who number more than 400. The planning of menus, staffing of events, giving your guest the best experience in the food and beverage world is our goal, and as a home “chef ” should be yours.
Start out easy with tried and true menus. Do not take on a difficult menu. Select a number of easy courses, and compliment with one harder to prepare course. You want to have your meal a success from start to finish. Standardizing your recipes is a must. The best way to impress your guests is with consistency. Having that roast chicken always be perfectly cooked and seasoned each and every time. Measure everything — liquids with liquid measure; Dry ingredients with dry measure.
I have always been extremely passionate about food. If you love food half as much as I do I know you will be an expert in no time.
“Putting in place” is at home, and at The MotorCity, a recipe for success.
Zharko Palushaj, Operator/Manager
Q: What should I keep in mind when choosing olive oil?
A: To choose a great olive oil, think of the way you would choose a great wine. In an olive oil, you’d want extra virgin, which has less then 0.8 pecent of acidity in order to be classified as such. And, of course, you’d want the best extra virgin olive oil, which is Manni Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a brand that has garnered a cult following of opinion makers, world-renowned chefs and celebrities. This olive oil is so high in antioxidants that it is able to maintain its “extra-virgin” composition for three years instead of the average, short lifespan of other oils.
Italy produces the best olive oils and the finest in the world, including Manni. Beware of imitations; read the label and make sure it says “Product of Italy.” If those words are missing, the oil may be a blend produced from another country and only shipped from Italy.
Garrett Lipar, Executive Chef
Q: What is the importance of using wild products in meals?
A: Wild products bring an interesting twist to the table. Due to their nature, they are indeed wild and subject to the elements. This makes wild products both elusive and invaluable ingredients due to their versatility and wide ranging tastes. Wild ingredients are key to developing new flavors and help us to find and stay in touch with nature in our home and at our table.
This is not a new philosophy, but one that gets lost in translation too often. Eating wild foods can broaden your scope of flavors, textures, tastes, and sensations. This is, after all, one of the reasons we eat, right? Our need to eat is to sustain nutrition, but our desire to eat is to seek and find something new an d exciting or draw comfort from the familiar. The why is often tied to emotional stimulation in one form or another.
At our restaurant, we try to showcase as many wild ingredients in our menu as possible to get people excited about what’s around us, and what our state has to offer. Michigan has a bountiful array of wild plants, herbs, and animals that we seek out to share in the dishes we prepare. Next time you are out on a hike, you might research a plant and find that it is indeed edible. Or if you are at a restaurant like ours, take your palate on a little adventure and try something different. If there’s something that sounds weird or wild, try it! You may unleash your love of the wild.
Jacob Williamson, Executive Chef
Wolfgang Puck Steak and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina, MGM Grand Detroit
Q: What is “tempering” meat and how do I keep colors in seasonal soups?
A: Before cooking meats, steaks especially, it is good practice to “temper” or pull them out of refrigeration for 20-30 minutes. This will slightly raise the internal temperature of the cut allowing it to cook more evenly and quickly. This way, the inside of the meat actually cooks while the surface works up a nice crust or char.
After cooking, it is important to rest the steak. Remove the steaks from the grill or whatever you are using to cook them just before they reach the desired cooking temperature and let them rest on a rack before slicing. You may want to briefly throw them on the grill before slicing and serving. Carryover cooking will take place from the residual heat while resting. The meat fibers will relax and the juices in the meat will be redistributed throughout the cut creating a much more tender steak.
For vibrant colors in seasonal soups, any pureed soup with green vegetables can become more vibrant by adding a little raw or blanched spinach to reinforce the green color of the final product. This will allow the soup to stay brighter longer as chlorophyll tends to lose its effectiveness over time.
At Wolfgang Puck Steak, we currently have a velvety corn soup on the menu. I like to add a little ground turmeric during the beginning phases of the cooking process to slightly intensify the yellow color of the soup. Add just enough to alter the color but not really taste. Adding the turmeric in the beginning will allow it to “bloom” in the soup and cook out some of the flavor so it does not compete with the flavor of the summer corn.
James Rigato, Executive Chef
Q: What is the chef ’s perspective on beverage pairing?
A: When dining, I can’t think of anything more important than food and beverage harmony. I love aperitifs, like Lillet Blanc or Champagne to excite the palate and prepare the mouth and body for food. I also have a distinct need for digestifs like Amaro and espresso after every meal. The in-between pairings should be as seasonal as the food. This time of year I crave raw seafood, bright vegetables, and fresh fruit. Naturally, sparkling wine and all kinds of roses pair well with these foods this time of year. I love philosophical regional pairing too, such as drinking the under-appreciated Aligote with rustic French charcuterie. There are many pieces of literature on pairing food and wine available in books and online, not to mention Michigan has a number of sommeliers as well as three Master Sommeliers, so counsel is never hard to find. Asking the wine seller at your local market helps, too. The time it takes to research the proper beverage pairing is a worthy investment for the home cook. It will elevate your food.
Reva Constantine, Executive Chef
Great Lakes Culinary
Q: How do you time the dinner so all the food is done at the same time?
A: In the culinary world timing is very important, we have to cook for hundreds of people and have all the food perfectly cooked at the same time. So how do we do it? It comes from practicing and knowing how long food takes to cook. To make it simple let’s consider a simple meal of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. After you have figured out what you want to cook then you have to analyze your main ingredients and calculate what takes longest to cook and base your timing off that. If the roasted chicken takes 45 minutes to cook then begin with the chicken, peel and boil your potatoes, and while the potatoes are boiling, put on a pot of water for your asparagus. Fifteen minutes before the chicken is due out of the oven, drain and mash your potatoes, cover, and leave in a warm spot. Don’t forget to take advantage of your chicken resting time so once you’ve taken the chicken out of the oven, allow it to rest and steam your asparagus. Everything will be done all at the same time if you practice and have a game plan. Chefs always have a game plan. It’s called a “prep list.” Make sure your prep list is a timed list starting with the item that takes the longest.
Paul Grosz, Chef and Co-Owner
The Stand Gastro Bistro/Cuisine Restaurant
Q: Chef, can you tell me how to make your wonderful sauces?
A: Well, the answer is quite simple. Basically I make sauces of natural flavors and reductions to intensify the flavors.
For seafood and fish I like to use citrus and white wine reductions. Orange juice, lemon juice, and even lime juice when reduced make a terrific compliment to any seafood item. Sometimes I add coconut milk to the citrus reduction as well. For a more savory sauce, I use a simple tomato sauce made with carrots, celery, and onions. Puree and add garlic and basil.
For meats, I like to use basic (but well made) beef, veal or duck stock. Thirty gallons reduced to a quart do the magic for me. If you want it a little sweeter, make a port wine or Madeira reduction to add to now what the stock would be called is a glaze.
Brian Kanak, Executive Chef
Toasted Oak & Grill
Q: What is the difference between pickling and canning?
A: Pickling the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. Almost anything can be pickled including cucumbers, carrots, onions, and cabbage. At Toasted Oak Grill & Market we love to pickle ramps, grapes, blueberries, cauliflower, and beets.
While canning is the process of preserving foods by packing them into jars and then heating the jars to kill the organisms that would cause spoilage, pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. There are many types of pickles, from relishes to vegetables to meats; some are fermented in brine others are preserved in vinegar. Many pickles are pickled with antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves. The common ingredients in pickling are water, sugar, and salt, but from there it is wherever your imagination takes you. With our vegetables we like to use coriander, bay leaves, all spice, and juniper berries. The process takes about two weeks to complete, and will last for months with proper refrigeration.
Adam Polisei, Executive Chef
Q: What can I do to become a better cook?
A: Family and friends often ask me, can you teach me how to cook? Sure I can teach you how to properly sear a scallop or blanch the perfect asparagus but with the Internet and cooking shows these days, most people that are asking these questions have a pretty decent idea as to basic technique. In my opinion the most important thing that a person can do to make him or her a better cook is to develop a great palate by tasting and smelling everything. I mean, when you are shopping, smell your produce, when you have the chance taste fresh produce and herbs. When you go out to eat, taste things that you have never tried before. Chefs don’t just get lucky when putting a recipe together; we have tasted and smelled our ingredients thousands of times. It is extremely tough to recreate that sauce that you love so much from your favorite restaurant if you can’t figure out what’s in it. Once you can figure out that the tiny hint of black licorice flavor you get when you taste that sauce is coming from the fennel or anise liquor, you will have a much better chance for success. A chef ’s best friend is his salt and tasting spoons. When you are cooking, you should taste your food every step of the way. The more flavors that your mind and palate are familiar with the more complex your food will become.
Andre Neimanis, Executive Chef
Dirty Dog Jazz Café
Q: Why should you brine chicken and pork?
A: Brining enhances juiciness in several ways. First of all, muscle fibers absorb liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid gets lost during cooking, but since the meat is juicy at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier. Brined meats typically weigh 6 to 8 percent more than they did before brining — clear proof of the water uptake.
Another way that brining increases juiciness is by breaking down some proteins.
A mild salt solution can actually dissolve some of the proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid, making the meat more tender.
You can add dried herbs, such as thyme, oregano or sage to the brine or rub them directly on the meat for more flavors. You can also supplement or replace the water with another liquid, such as apple cider. Many types of brine include sugar, which adds to the flavor.
A basic brine recipe is 2 cups salt to 1 gallon water.
Colin John, Executive Sous Chef
Q: What is sous vide and what advantages does it offer for large events?
A: Sous vide is French for “under vacuum” and is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags emerged in a temperature controlled water bath. For example: Beef Tenderloin Filets are vacuum-sealed, the filets are then placed in a 140 degrees F water bath. When the internal temperature of the filets reaches 140 degrees they are removed from the water bath and quickly grilled or seared.
The advantage to this method for large events is a superior experience. Forte Belanger offers this cooking method for events, ensuring that your guests receive an experience that some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world offer. Imagine a seated dinner for 500 people in which every single guest is served a filet that is perfectly prepared. We strive to create that boutique restaurant experience within any event, the sous vide method helps us do that.
David Ogren, Executive/Corporate Chef
Twisted Rooster (also Freighters and the Crooked Goose)
Q: What is the secret to the perfect summer burger?
A: A great summer burger is the perfect symphony between the patty, bun, flavor and texture. When preparing the meat, the goal is to suspend flavor in the raw protein. It’s best to hand-form your patty, making sure to not “overwork” the mixture. With nearly all seasoning simplicity is king. We suggest simply salting the burger with a fine grain salt before placing it on the grill. Liquid sauces such as Soy or Worcestershire may also be used. Other spices like cracked black pepper or garlic powder will burn and become bitter when grilled. When hand-formed, the burger’s natural juice will fuse with the salt creating a flavorful, juicy result.
A fresh, local bun will provide the finishing touch to your burger. We utilize Michigan-based RW Bakers, they specialize in gluten free options, too.
Now for the fun part, the toppings, which should enhance, not overpower, the flavor. The time-honored tomato is the perfect centerpiece, but its flavor is often diluted when refrigerated. The best tomatoes are vine-ripened and kept above 45 degrees. Find them at your local Farmers Market and while you’re there, get creative. Add taste and texture with fresh avocado, grilled onions or a slice of sharp cheddar. At Twisted Rooster, we developed a Maple-Sriracha Salmon Burger, Granny Smith Apple Turkey Burger and a lean Bison Burger. Unique, local accompaniments will really set your burger apart.
Randy Truant, Chef and Owner
Q: What’s key to making fresh pasta?
A: Make every ingredient count. When dealing with a recipe with few ingredients it is important that they be of high quality and fresh. Farm fresh eggs and doppio (double) zero flour make the best pasta. When making the pasta dough the “well” method is preferred. Restrain from adding extra flour. This will make dry, tough pasta.
Kneading the dough is an essential step of pasta making. Handle the dough carefully, make sure not to over work as this will also make your pasta tough. You want to knead just until all flour is incorporated into dough and it is smooth and elastic to the touch. Make sure to cover the dough while it is resting for 30 minutes. After rolling the dough, let dry for 5-10 minutes before cutting. When cooking fresh pasta, make sure to season the water with a generous amount of salt. (The water should taste like the ocean). Fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried. When the pasta floats to the top it is ready to enjoy.
Pavlos Manolas, Executive Chef
Q: How do you remove traces of ammonia from fish?
A: The island of Santorini, as well as many other parts of Greece, is known for its fresh seafood. We cannot always get the same amazing fresh fish in the U.S., and it is shipped overnight flash frozen to preserve its freshness. An ammonia solution is often added to seafood before it is shipped to prevent freezer burn in the shipping/storage process. There is a trick, however, to ensure that this ammonia smell is not passed on to your customer’s plates. You can simply defrost your seafood by covering it with water and placing in a mixture of fresh lemon juice (for fish with skin and shellfish) or white vinegar (for squid, octopus, etc.) and kosher salt. The typical formula is 1 lb. of lemon juice/white vinegar and ½ lb. of kosher salt for every 10 lbs. of seafood.
Luis Negrete, Owner
Q: Why Tapas and Churros?
A: Tapas and churros are historically bonded to the relaxed culture, and the Spanish concept is a perfect match for downtown Royal Oak’s atmosphere. This is a great way to eat, share and have fun, and for me that is what food is all about. With tapas, you can go from typical Spanish or any recipe from around the world. The idea is to serve it bite size.
Motivated only by European innovative excellence in design and Michigan’s highest quality products, we are bringing a place where you would enjoy a perfect selection of regional tapas, an outstanding cup of coffee or a traditional and delicious hot chocolate with churros. We have some non-traditional food, but that is still a secret. You’ll love it.
Lee Ulrich, Executive Chef
Joe’s Produce Gourmet Market
Q: What influences your selections when selecting ingredients?
A: For me, more important than which ingredients to use, is that you use the freshest ingredients. I always focus on what’s in season. To get the best ingredients, you have to go where the best ingredients can be found. That’s why I love being the chef at Joe’s. Between our meat and seafood store, where I can choose angus beef that’s been aged 40 days to the jet-fresh, wild caught seafood to our produce market where I can get the juiciest freshest fruits and vegetables daily. It’s all right there for me to use on my daily menus, for catering — whatever my needs are. Fresh herbs are how I like to tie it all together. When choosing fresh herbs, look for unmarred leaves and an aromatic smell. Store like flowers in the refrigerator in a cup of water.
Justin Vaiciunas, Executive Chef/Director of Food and Beverage
Top of the Pontch
Q: How do you create a dish?
A: There are two important factors that go into creating an amazing dish. The first and most important is the taste. Every dish needs to be different, yet familiar to the guest. Each ingredient must be carefully sourced to provide the highest quality, and freshest flavors. Sauces need to balance the fats, acid, and sugars in order to bring out each distinctive flavor. The protein must be seasoned properly in order to pair well with the sauces. Seasonal vegetables should always be utilized, and served fresh. The second most important part in creating a dish your guests will always remember is the plating. Creating a colorful and artful dish with vegetables, which give depth to a dish, and colorful sauces designed like brush strokes on a canvas, are what takes a regular dish to an exciting new level. As a chef, I strive to provide our guests with a unique and exciting dining experience using various styles, techniques, and methods of cooking from around the world. Delicious food artfully plated, will provide that “wow” factor you want to experience when dining out.