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Home > CHEF SECRETS > New York Chef Secrets > Michael Vignola (The Secrets Behind Chopped Part 2 of 3)

Michael Vignola

The Secrets Behind Chopped

    Michael Vignola
Executive Chef Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C.

TravelsinTaste.com: What did you think when you saw the lamb heart?

Vignola: For the appetizer course I did a braised lamb heart with grilled pie dough and a spiced pumpkin puree. I knew there was no fat and I knew I had to get rid of all that sinew. I immediately did a barrel cut of it to take off all the outside muscles and outside sinew. I diced it small enough and got it braising. I put in a little bit of garlic, thyme and beef broth, then covered it and let it cook as fast as it could. I got a little bit of sear on it, then let it cook down, cook down and cook down. I knew if I put the pie dough in the oven I would have forgotten about it. I wasn't that comfortable with the oven yet, so I just wanted it to be out of sight and out of mind. Then I saw the malt balls. I thought, "Halloween, Mexico, Day of the Dead -- let's do a mole pumpkin kind of thing." So I cooked them down with some sriracha and put them in my pumpkin puree.

TravelsinTaste.com: Did you notice anything the other cheftestants were doing, like when Michael was burning his appetizer?

Vignola: No. You are so in the weeds. There's no thought process. Towards the other rounds, like in the second round, I felt really good. I might have even said I feel confident. I'm like, "Alright, I've got the lay of the land. I've got an extra 10 minutes. I'm going to blaze. I know how to cook. I know what I'm capable of doing. I know how to manage a clock. I'm really going to come out and shine. I'm going to attack this as fast as I can, cook my heart out and let it show on the plate." I really wanted to take every ingredient and not just use it as a garnish, but turn it into something.

TravelsinTaste.com: What did you think about the ingredients? What do you think was your advantage?

Vignola: The others were intimidated by the ingredients. The ingredients were really hard. I wanted to look past them and think about what they are in their essence. The gummy teeth, for instance. What are they? They are sugar, so they'll cook down. I said, "Alright, let's make a pickling liquid and I'll use that as my sugar, instead of real sugar. I'll combine vinegar and water, and we'll cook that down." That's what I glazed the carrot noodles in. I had this sweet and sour broth, so it really was an Asian flavor. For the chicken, I wanted to roast the head, the feet and all the connective tissue; the collagen really came out and gave us that great broth.

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