Beef Bourguignon a fave for this chef at home

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

When Brian Kanak was a teenager, he didn't envision becoming a chef. Instead, he thought it would be great fun to own a restaurant, an idea he got from frequently accompanying his grandfather to Ginopolis restaurant (in Farmington Hills), where he enjoyed watching the owners, John and Pete Ginopolis, work the room.

"I wanted to be just like them," says the executive chef of Novi's Baronette Renaissance Hotel, as well as its Toasted Oak Grill and Restaurant. So during his senior year at Groves High School in Birmingham, Kanak started working at Eaton Street Station in Birmingham, where he had several different jobs, including dishwasher, bus boy, food runner and then server.

"When that restaurant closed for a while in order to evolve into the Big Rock, the general manager asked me what I wanted to do for a career," he says. "I was young and very ambitious, so I responded that I wanted to own multiple restaurants, and she then explained to me that, as a start, it would be rather important to first learn how to cook. She also suggested I go to work for Craig Dillworth at the Ocean Grill in Birmingham."

Kanak started at the Ocean Grill as a dishwasher, but because of his eagerness to learn how to cook, he soon became a prep person and realized that he was passionate about food and wanted to become a chef, rather than a restaurant owner.

The Novi resident eventually got a job with the Capital Grille in Troy as a line cook and ended up in Philadelphia as one of the chain's corporate trainers. That led to a position with iconic restaurateur Stephen Starr at two different restaurants, followed by a stint as executive chef at the Cadillac Grill, a concept restaurant at Philadelphia's Comcast Center, home to both the Sixers and the Flyers' sports teams.

Just after his son was born, Kanak decided to move back to Michigan to be closer to family.

"This is when I came across an article about a new restaurant opening up at the Baronette Hotel called the Toasted Oak Grill and Market. Needless to say, I was intrigued and very persistent until I was hired to work there, first as a sous chef, in 2010," he says.

And in 2013, he became their executive chef.

"I love my job," Kanak says. "But none of this could have happened without the support of my sous chefs and my hourly team, as well as my wife."

The chef says he has a special fondness for beef bourguignon for three reasons. First, it's a classic recipe that his grandfather often made. Second, it's a nod to his wife Stephanie's French roots. ("Her family often makes a dish called Pot Au Feu, which is similar to beef bourguignon, but utilizes more root veggies," he says.)

And third, he loves this dish because "once all the ingredients are in the pot, you can just let it cook while you hang out with friends and family."

To accompany the beef bourguignon, Kanak suggests serving an arugula salad with honey vinaigrette, along with a loaf of crusty bread. And for a perfect wine pairing suggestion, he defers to Chelsea Melvin, Toasted Oak's restaurant director, who recommended an Evanstad Pinot Noir from the Domaine Serene Winery, which is in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Judith Harris Solomon is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

Beef Bourguignon

¾ pounds thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, small dice

¾ pounds pearl onions

2 pounds sirloin, top round or chuck roast, medium dice

1 pound carrots, small dice

10 garlic cloves, minced

1 ¼ pounds mushrooms, quartered

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped

1/8 cup tomato paste

½ cup brandy

2 cups red wine

4 quarts beef stock

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy sauce pot, add bacon and pearl onions. Allow the bacon to render and the onions to carmelize, about 2-3 minutes.

Once some of the fat has released from the bacon and the onions are browned, add the meat and allow to brown for 4-5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Allow the carmelization process to start. Add the garlic, mushrooms and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Allow the mushrooms to cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the tomato paste. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Before adding the brandy, reduce the heat to medium, then pour the brandy and allow it to soak up into the vegetables. This process should take another 3-5 minutes. Add the red wine and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the beef stock and allow the mixture to simmer until all of the vegetables are tender and the meat pulls apart.

Taste and adjust any seasonings as needed. (Expect this whole process to take at least one hour and remember this is a stew, so it should be thick.) Serves 6.

Per serving: 658 calories; 33 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 117 mg cholesterol; 635 mg sodium; 54 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Arugula Salad with Blueberries and Fresh Goat Cheese

4 cups Arugula

1 cup cooked quinoa

½ cup red onion, thinly sliced

4 tablespoons blueberries

4 tablespoons fresh goat cheese

Cinnamon Honey Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Place arugula on a plate. Top with quinoa, onion and blueberries. Crumble the goat cheese on top. Drizzle the dressing over all. Serves 4.

Per serving (with dressing): 279 calories; 20 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 21 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 7 mg cholesterol; 92 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Cinnamon Honey Vinaigrette

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

½ vanilla bean, split in half

½ cup honey

¼ cup water

1 ¼ tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ cup rice wine vinegar

¼ cup champagne vinegar

1 ½ cups olive oil

Salt to taste

Bring cinnamon stick, clove, vanilla bean, honey and water to a simmer. Once at simmer, turn off and add the ground cinnamon. Allow to steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain the resulting syrup through a coffee filter into a bowl along with the mustard. Incorporate the two vinegars. Then, whisking vigorously, slowly pour the oil into the vinegar and mustard mixture until all of the oil is incorporated. (Note: The dressing can be made in advance and refrigerated for one to two weeks.

Yields 2 ½ cups.

Per serving (per 2 tablespoons): 175 calories; 16 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 82 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 7 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 34 mg sodium; 0 g protein; 0.3 g fiber.

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