Michael Midgley, everyone’s favorite local chef, is making headlines once again for pulling off a win on Food Network’s new cooking show Cutthroat Kitchen. On each show, four chefs compete in three cooking elimination rounds until only one remains standing. Each contestant is given $25,000 to start out with and can bid up to that amount on numerous sabotage items auctioned off throughout the rounds. The trick is to spend enough to make your opponents’ dishes suffer, while still saving enough to go home with a nice profit if you win.
Chef Mike, as he is known at Ernie’s Food & Spirits, outplayed three other talented competitors to take home $13,500. Famous for getting all the way to the 10th episode in Season 2 of Bravo’s Top Chef series, he was definitely targeted by his colleagues, who threw multiple sabotages at him in every round—everything from cutting his cooking time in half to forcing him to cook on his knees in a baby-sized kitchen. How did he overcome these obstacles? “I was super confident,” he admits. “I had a little strategy – trust my instincts, lay low and try to play dumb so they think I’m a goofball geek who doesn’t take anything seriously.” Apparently, it paid off.
In the second round, the three remaining chefs were asked to make a Summer Roll. Chef Mike, who loves to cook Asian fusion cuisine, cleverly leaned over and asked one of his fellow participants what a Summer Roll was, giving him the false impression he had no clue what he was doing and potentially contributing to his ultimate victory. So, what’s up next for this talented chef? “I work six days a week, chefing and cooking everyday. I’m going to keep going to work and build up Ernie’s, which is one of the best restaurants around.” He says each day people come to the restaurant from all over the state.
When asked if his reality TV fame has affected him, he laughs. “I try to stay humble. Everyone at work keeps me pretty grounded. My boss doesn’t give me too many ‘Atta boys!” Since he has lived in Stockton on and off his whole life, choosing to settle down here with his wife and their three young kids wasn’t a difficult decision. “I came back because this is where I’m from. I love Stockton—I’m proud to be here. I have been all over the country…some places are bigger, but wherever you go, there you are. I’m a chef at a great restaurant.”
Chef Mike has been with Ernie’s from the start. He helped build the menu around his personal cooking style – what he describes as a blend of Asian, Mexican and American steakhouse fusion. He mentions the Asian Carpaccio appetizer, which he describes as “sashimi with steak”. Their most popular dish, however, is the Asparagus Rangoon. “We put grilled asparagus and cream cheese in a wonton, roll it up like a cigarette and fry it,” he explains. “We serve it with sweet chili sauce and micro-cilantro.”
Where does he get his inspiration for his culinary creations? “When I was younger, my dad and mom would watch PBS cooking shows with Julia Child and Martin Yan,” he remembers. “This was before TiVo, so we would take a pad of paper and a pencil and write down recipes they put up on the TV at the end of the show real quick.” His modern day idols? “Thomas Keller. I have been going to Bouchon in Napa since culinary school. And I like Tyler Florence’s style. He takes comfort food and jazzes it up. I like new techniques.”
TO DINE OUT, VISIT:
ernie’s food & spirits
1351 N. Main Street
Manteca (209) 239-3351