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Beans & Cornbread chef fires up the grill

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

John Arnold, executive chef of Beans & Cornbread in Southfield, first became interested in becoming a chef back in his hometown of Harvey, Illinois.

Arnold moved to Detroit when he was 10 but returned to Harvey, a 25,000-person city south of Chicago, in the summers and started honing his skills from modest beginnings.

"I worked at my godparents' fish market cleaning the fish and they would let me fry some here and there," he says.

Unlike a great many of the local chefs, Arnold never went to cooking school.

"Instead I went to the school of hard knocks and learned on the job," said Arnold, 50.

When he was 15, he was hired to prep the food and fry the chicken at Brown's Chicken in Redford. That was followed by stints at several restaurants including Wendy's and Carlos Murphy's. By the time he was 19, the Redford resident says he was doing "serious cooking", first at TGI Fridays and then at Sebastian's, a Matt Prentice restaurant, where he worked for 10 years. (He also served as executive chef/ managing partner for Prentice's Tavern on 13 and the Flying Fish.)

When Beans & Cornbread opened in 1997, Arnold hired on as executive chef. But he left after six years in order to become the kitchen manager of Harper Hospital. Two-and-a-half years ago, he decided to return to the soul food restaurant because "I always enjoyed working there and it's a good fit for me," he said.

Although John puts in long hours at the restaurant, he still manages to cook at home once or twice a week for his wife Andrea and daughters Vyktorya and Bianca. "They love it when I cook," he said. "Both of the girls are pretty good cooks and they help me by doing a lot of the prep."

Bianca said she doesn't miss the opportunity for her dad's homemade meals.

"When my dad is cooking on his off days, I get over here as soon as I can," she said.

A big proponent of grilling, Arnold says he uses a charcoal grill rather than a gas one because it gives better flavor.

"Winter is actually the best time to grill because its cooler air brings out the natural flavors of your food and makes it taste fresher," Arnold said.

Over the years, Arnold has earned national recognition. He once prepared his sweet potato crème brulee on an Emeril Lagasse television show called Across America. In 2000, for a collaboration between Kraft Foods, six chefs (including Arnold) and several African-American magazines, he created a quick and easy signature dish that utilized Kraft Deluxe macaroni and cheese. And just a few weeks ago, Arnold prepared a catfish dish for ABC's hit TV show, "The Chew." Called The Swamp Thing and originally conceived by Patrick Coleman, the owner of Beans & Cornbread, that entree consists of a fried catfish that sits on a bed of rice, smothered with seafood gumbo, then topped with collard greens and a pair of Cajun shrimp.

Judith Harris Solomon is a metro Detroit freelance writer. Contact her at judyfreelance@aol.com

Grilled Salmon with White Wine Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce

2 seven-ounce salmon filets

Salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons granulated garlic

Season fish with salt, pepper and garlic, then set aside. Spray your charcoal grill with Pam and heat to about 350 degrees. Place salmon on grill, belly down, for approximately 5 minutes. Then turn salmon and cook for another 3 minutes. Flip salmon over and remove from direct heat; close grill. Cook for another 3-5 minutes. Place fish on plate and spoon the white wine lemon beurre blanc sauce over the fish.

For the beurre blanc sauce

1 tablespoon shallots, chopped fine

2 ounces white wine

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

6 ounces unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small pot, combine shallots, white wine, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce by half, turn off the heat and whisk in the butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over salmon.

Makes 2 servings

Per serving: 938 calories; 84 g fat (46 g saturated fat; 81 percent calories from fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 309 mg cholesterol; 337 mg sodium; 40 g protein; 0.1 g fiber.

Grilled Pork Chops with Barbecue Sauce

4 tablespoons jerk seasoning

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 center-cut pork chops

Mix jerk seasoning with the olive oil to make a paste consistency. Rub pork chops with the paste and marinate for approximately 30-45 minutes. Heat charcoal grill and sear the meat on both sides. Remove from direct heat, glaze with barbecue sauce and close grill. Continue cooking for 10-12 minutes and serve.

For the barbecue sauce

18 ounces Open Pit barbecue sauce

2 ounces white sugar

4 ounces honey

Juice of / lemon

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a 1 quart pot and simmer. Then reduce by 1/3 to get a rich, thick consistency.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 802 calories; 28 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 90 g carbohydrates; 75 g sugar; 116 mg cholesterol; 2,249 mg sodium; 41 g protein; 0.3 g fiber.

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

2 quarts of salt water

1 pound of fresh broccoli rabe, trimmed and cleaned

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon of granulated garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring salt water to a boil, add broccoli rabe and cook until tender (approximately 5-8 minutes). Drain and cool with an ice bath. In a sauté pan heat olive oil, add garlic and roast until a nutty brown (be careful not to burn). Add broccoli and toss gently; add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 85 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 85 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 165 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Primavera Rice

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces carrots, diced small

2 ounces celery, diced small

2 ounces green onions, diced

2 ounces asparagus, diced small

1 tablespoon of garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon thyme

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper

2 cups uncooked white rice

1 quart vegetable stock

In a 2-quart pot, melt butter, add vegetables and sauté until tender. Add garlic, thyme and salt and pepper, add rice and stir. Then add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover pot and lower heat to simmer until all stock has absorbed. Fluff with fork and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 587 calories; 25 g fat (14 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 83 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 62 mg cholesterol; 1,193 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 3 g fiber.