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 percent vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
For the salad
6 heads frisee lettuce, trimmed and washed
2 honey crisp apples, julienned
6 whole eggs, poached
If not using store-bought bacon, one week in advance, in a small mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except pork belly, stir to combine and cover liberally over the pork belly. Place belly into reusable bag and place in refrigerator for 7 days, turning belly over once per day. Remove belly from bag and rinse thoroughly, pat dry and dice.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, place diced belly and render for 7-10 minutes or until bacon starts to crisp, strain fat and set bacon aside.
To prepare the vinaigrette, in a blender, combine all ingredients with the exception of the blend oil and poppy seeds. Turn blender to high, puree for 30 seconds and then begin slowly drizzling oil while blender is still running. Once all oil has been incorporated, season with salt and lemon juice to taste and add poppy seeds.
For the salad, in a large bowl combine frisee and apples, dress with vinaigrette to taste. Place in serving dish, top with poached egg and bacon lardons. Garnish with fresh chives, tarragon and basil. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 611 calories; 54 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 80 percent calories from fat); 17 g carbohydrates; 10 g sugar; 259 mg cholesterol; 647 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 5 g fiber.
Sweet Potato and Tortilla Soup
6 large sweet potatoes, roasted until tender, skins removed
2 whole onions, diced small
1 head garlic, minced
2 quarts vegetable stock
1/4 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, toasted and ground
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup blend oil
8 ounces sour cream
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed
1 package fresh corn tortillas, fried into chips
1/2 cup radish, julienned
1/2 cup cabbage, julienned
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges
In a large stock pot over medium high heat, coat bottom of pot with oil and add onion, garlic, cumin and cinnamon. Sweat until onions are translucent. Add vegetable stock and sweet potatoes, bring up to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cook for 45 minutes. In a blender, working in small batches, add contents of pot, puree on high, slowly drizzling oil into each batch, until smooth. Add brown sugar and season with salt to taste.
Combine sour cream and chipotle peppers in mixing bowl and stir to combine. Season with salt and fresh lime juice to taste.
To serve, place soup into bowl, add as many tortillas as desired, stir to combine. Garnish with chipotle sour cream, radish, cilantro and cabbage. Serve with lime wedge. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving: 609 calories; 34 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 74 g carbohydrates; 25 g sugar; 12 mg cholesterol; 377 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber.