At home with chef John Vermiglio


At home with chef John Vermiglio
  1. At home with chef John Vermiglio
    detroitnews.com
    The executive chef of Grey Ghost in downtown Detroit cooks up lamb shanks and…
    Food

John Vermiglio’s first cooking memory is not a particularly good one. At the age of 11, while trying to make pasta, he put it in a pot on the stove and then left the house. “As a result, I was banned from cooking for a long time,” the executive chef of Grey Ghost restaurant in downtown Detroit says. “And now I tell my mother jokingly that I got into cooking to spite her.”

While attending Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, Vermiglio worked first at Big Apple Bagels washing dishes and then at Jet’s Pizza doing a little bit of everything. And during that time period, he also watched a lot TV shows on the Food Network. “There was a nine-episode series called “Cooking School Stories” that followed the students at the Johnson & Wales University Culinary Arts program in Providence, Rhode Island. I had never seen food in that way before and once I did I thought that’s the art form I want to explore. So after spending my freshman year at MSU to please my parents, I enrolled at Johnson & Wales and received my associate’s degree from there in 2006,” the chef said.

After graduating, Vermiglio moved to Chicago, where he did a couple of internships, including one at a law firm where he said he “explored the world of being a corporate chef. But even though I was making money and having good hours, I realized I didn’t go to culinary school to make sandwiches and fruit trays.” So, after four months at the law firm, he began working as a chef at renowned chef Charlie Trotter’s catering company and artisan grocery store.

Three years later, Vermiglio became the executive sous chef at chef/owner Art Smith’s Table Fifty Two restaurant, also in Chicago, and ended up traveling with Smith to 11 countries on four different continents. “Oprah Winfrey brought us to Johannesburg to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 400 girls at her Oprah Leadership Academy and I also accompanied Smith and Mayor (Richard) Daley to Shanghai where we cooked at the 2010 World Expo,” the 32-year old said. And back in Chicago, Vermiglio also did a TV show on Bravo called “Around The World in 80 Plates, “a combination of Top Chef and Amazing Race where chefs competed in 10 countries in a food-related scavenger hunt and cooking competition. But the show didn’t make it past the first season, in part because of the cost to produce it,” he said.

In 2015, after stints working in Chicago for Graham Elliot (currently a judge on the “Top Chef” TV show) at his eponymous restaurant, Graham Elliot, and also at his Elliot’s GE Bistro and after helping to open up three Matthias Merges’ restaurants: Billy Sunday, A10 and Yusho, Vermiglio decided to move back to Detroit to work on opening up Grey Ghost.

The Ferndale resident said he chose to share his lamb shank pot pie recipe because, “In the winter, there’s nothing better. And using a lamb shank elevates it beyond the more traditional chicken pie. He also said his Sweet Potato Soup recipe “is modeled after one of my all-time favorites, the Mexican soup called posole. But instead of a pig’s head, I use sweet potatoes.”

Adds the chef: “The key to quality pureed soup is to puree it in small batches and to use blend oil to emulsify it, just like you would a vinaigrette or aioli. (Editor’s note: by definition, blend oil is a combination of extra virgin oil and vegetable oil. Percentages vary.) I use blend oil because it offers the same benefits of vegetable oil while incorporating the subtle flavor of extra virgin olive oil. I try not to use butter or cream in my recipes because I think they mask the flavor,” Vermiglio said.

Although the chef works very long hours, he still tries to cook at home two or three times a week for himself and his girlfriend, Andrea Lockhart. “But it’s not as much as she would like,” he said.

Curried Lamb Pot Pie with Buttermilk Biscuit

For the filling

2 lamb shanks

Kosher salt (to taste)

Cooking oil (enough to cover bottom of Dutch oven)

1 sprig of thyme

1 sprig of rosemary

1 tablespoon mild curry powder

2 quarts beef stock

1 whole onion, diced small

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 whole bay leaves

1/4 cup carrots, diced small

1/4 cup potato, diced small

1/4 cup rutabaga, diced small

1/4 cup celery, diced small

5 ounces unsalted butter, melted

5 ounces all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons green olives, chopped

2 tablespoons dates, chopped

For the biscuits

2 pounds self-rising flour

6 ounces unsalted butter

2 cups buttermilk

1 egg, whisked for egg wash

For the filling

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place a Dutch oven on the stovetop over medium heat and add a splash of oil. Season lamb shanks with kosher salt and place into Dutch oven and sear on all sides. Add onion, garlic, curry powder and bay leaf; sweat until onions are translucent. Add beef stock and bring to a boil, place lid onto pot and place into the 300-degree oven for 3 hours or until lamb is falling off the bone.

Remove shanks from the pot and return to the stove top, bring to a gentle simmer. In a separate pot, combine melted butter and flour and stir to combine. Add mixture to the braising liquid and whisk. Add potato, rutabaga and carrot to liquid and continue to simmer until potatoes are tender and liquid has thickened. Remove lamb shanks from pot. Shred the lamb shanks. Return shredded lamb to pot. Add dates and olives and then season with salt to taste. Place the filling in a 9-by-13-inch pan or portion out in six individual oven-proof pots and set aside.

For the biscuits: Place flour into a large bowl. Using a cheese grater, grate cold butter into flour, tossing lightly to coat. Slowly add buttermilk while mixing by hand, continue mixing until it comes together like a dough. Knead gently, by folding dough in half, for 30 seconds. Roll out to 1/2-inch thick, punch out to appropriate size to cover the pan or the pots. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes until biscuits are golden brown, then remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 1,333 calories; 69 g fat (37 g saturated fat; 47 percent calories from fat); 147 g carbohydrates; 10 g sugar; 167 mg cholesterol; 2,830 mg sodium; 31 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Frisee and Michigan Apple Salad with Egg and Bacon

For the bacon

1 pound of store-bought bacon

Or, if making your own, 1 pound fresh pork belly

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon curing salt (optional)

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 orange, zested

1 lime, zested

1 lemon, zested (reserve the juice for the vinaigrette)

For the vinaigrette

1/2 cup pecorino cheese, finely grated

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 egg yolk

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup blend olive oil (a combination of 30 percent extra virgin olive oil and 70 …

Tags: #Detroit
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