Joel Neirynck-Coon, the executive chef of Wolfgang Puck STEAK and Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina at the MGM Grand Detroit, remembers constructing massive sandwiches for his parents when he was very young. And by the age of 10, he enjoyed cooking pasta and meatballs — complete with a common, pungent bulb —with his French-Canadian grandmother.
“She cooked a lot of pasta and her house reeked of garlic,” he said.
But even though he had cooking and bartending jobs all through high school and college, Neirynck-Coon never thought he would become a chef.
“When I started at (Wayne State University), I first I thought I wanted to major in criminal justice and then go to the FBI,” he said. “But I ended up getting a B.A. in business management in 2007 because it was a versatile degree that you can adapt to so many different industries.”
Upon graduation, Neirynck-Coon began working for the Da Edoardo Restaurant Group at their Foxtown Grille, starting out as a cook. A hostess there whose husband was the manager of MGM Grand’s Bourbon Steak Restaurant “loved the specials I made and recommended me for a job at the casino,” said Neirynck-Coon, 32.
“I was offered a position at the Breeze Dining Court. It consisted of five unique stations (Asian, Italian, Barbecue, Grill and Dessert) and each one required different knowledge relating to that particular type of food. I would cook in order to train the cooks and to manage the quality. It was an eye-opener and gave me a chance to expand my management skills.”
Then, last year, after working in several different capacities at several of the MGM Grand’s restaurants, including as the casino’s banquet chef and the Ignite Sushi Lounge, Neirynck-Coon was named executive chef of the casino’s two Wolfgang Puck restaurants.
Neirynck-Coon said Wolfgang Puck comes to visit his Detroit restaurants at least a few times a year.
“It’s always a very memorable experience,” he said. “He’s an advocate for controlled chaos and likes guests to see the chefs hustling. He’s always making changes to the food while we’re making it. He keeps you on your toes.”
The Grosse Pointe Park resident said he and his wife, Samantha (who he met when she was a manager at Tap), “are very focused on eating healthy at home. She comes up with the ideas and we work together to develop them,” he said.
“She read about what is called the ‘Meal Prep Concept’ and we thought it would work for us. It’s about making several healthy meals at a time that you can then eat for five or six days during the week. It keeps us on track.”
The chef said he particularly likes the chicken recipe printed here because, “It has really bold and striking flavors.” And he highly recommends using local fresh organic chicken. He chose to share this salad recipe because “it’s seasonal and right now you can get really delicious produce. It’s a perfect combination of sweet apples and dates with sour acidic lemon and sherry vinegar.”
Curry Lime Chicken with Vegetables and Brown Rice
2 6-ounce chicken breasts (organic, free range or local Amish preferred)
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon tumeric
3 basil leaves, julienned
Juice of lime
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 Michigan heirloom tomato, chopped
1 each broccoli head, chopped
1/2 cup brown rice
3 ounces vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a 12-to-16-inch skillet, heat oil on medium to high heat.
Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. When oil just begins to let out subtle smoke, add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes, then turn and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onion, carrot and broccoli and saute for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, lime juice and all the seasonings and spices.
Turn the temperature to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste to see if more salt and pepper is needed. Allow the chicken to cool while you cook the rice. Cook the rice according to the instructions (I use low sodium chicken stock). Allow the rice to cool by laying it out on a plate or pan in the refrigerator. With a fork and knife, tear the chicken apart roughly.
If not eating immediately, in a tin container, scoop the rice on the bottom and pour the Chicken Curry mix over the top. Serves 2.
Note: This recipe can be made in advance and placed in refrigerator for five to six days. When ready to serve, place in an oven preheated to 300 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes.
Per serving: 1,151 calories; 75 g fat (29 g saturated fat; 59 percent calories from fat); 69 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 96 mg cholesterol; 405 mg sodium; 50 g protein; 11 g fiber.
Summer Salmon with Sweet Citrus Glaze and Vegetables
2 6-ounce pieces center cut Scottish salmon
1 tablespoon Michigan honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Corn freshly cut from 1 cob of sweet Michigan sweet corn
20 fresh cut Michigan green beans
2 leaves kale
1 bunch parsley, chopped
4 small radishes
1 small scallion, chopped
1 ounce toasted pine nuts
Pinch orange zest
Pinch lime zest
3 ounces vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Old Bay
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a 12-to-16-inch skillet, heat 2 ounces of vegetable oil on medium to high heat.
Season salmon with salt on both sides and pepper only on bottom side.
When oil just begins to let out subtle smoke, add salmon and sear top side (the side with only salt). Keep the salmon on the burner for 20 seconds. Remove and place in the oven for 6 minutes.
While salmon is in the oven, in a 10-to-12-inch skillet, heat 2 ounces of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add in the kale, corn, beans and saute for 2 minutes. Add in the radish and scallion and saute for an additional minute. Add the orange zest, lime zest, parsley, pine nuts and Old Bay seasoning. Saute for 1 minute while stirring. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove salmon from oven and turn over in pan. With a spoon, remove any excess oil from the pan and spoon it into a coffee cup to cool. Add honey, soy sauce, a squeeze of orange juice and lime juice into the pan while still hot. Spoon the mixture over the salmon while it reduces. Serves 2.
Note: This recipe can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for five or six days. When ready to serve, place in an oven preheated to 300 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes.
Per serving: 774 calories; 61 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 71 percent calories from fat); 26 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 80 mg cholesterol; 1,052 mg sodium; 34 g protein; 5 g fiber.
Farmers Market Apple Salad
1 Fuji apple, julienned
2 cups red cabbage or radicchio, julienned
1/2 fennel bulb, cored and julienned
3 Medjool dates, julienned
2 tablespoons parsley leaves, torn
2 tablespoons chives, medium chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
5 tablespoons Tuscan olive oil
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 cups shaved Parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
Prepare the apple, red cabbage or radicchio and fennel according to the description above. (The easiest way is to use a mandoline with a julienne attachment, but you can use a knife instead.) Then put all the ingredients (except the parmesan cheese) together into a bowl and toss. Place a layer of the salad in the center of a round plate. Add a layer of shaved parmesan, then another layer of salad, another layer of parmesan and end with a layer of salad. Serves 2.
Per serving: 913 calories; 64 g fat (23 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 47 g carbohydrates; 32 g sugar; 77 mg cholesterol; 2,771 mg sodium; 43 g protein; 8 g fiber.