At home with chef Norm Fenton

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Norm Fenton, executive chef of Ale Mary’s and Tom’s Oyster Bar in Royal Oak, learned his way around a stove at an early age.

“My mom worked 60 to 70 hours a week, so I would cook dinner for her and my siblings starting at around 7 or 8 years old,” Fenton, 26, said.

In 2004, at the age of 14, Fenton spent the summer working as a busboy at Peabody’s restaurant in Birmingham.

“I originally wanted to work there to get enough money to buy an $800 BMX bike, which my mom could not afford. It took the whole summer to earn enough money,” he said.

Because Fenton did such a good job as a busboy and then as a dishwasher, restaurant co-owner Susan Peabody offered to train him to work the fryer, then to work several other stations. And it was there that Fenton first met Derik Watson who, at that time, was Peabody’s executive chef and who is currently the executive chef of Bistro 82 in Royal Oak.

By September, Fenton was working full-time at Peabody’s while also attending Clawson High School.

“Since I was working late in the evenings, the school let me skip first hour every morning,” Fenton said.

Then, after working as a line cook at Trattoria Andiamo in Rochester, Fenton enrolled at the Art Institute of Novi, from which he got an associate degree in 2010 in the Applied Science of Culinary Arts.

After stints at The Whitney in Detroit and Trattoria Andiamo in Royal Oak, Fenton two years ago reconnected with Watson, who asked him to be the executive sous chef at Bistro 82.

“Derik really pushed me to have better cooking skills and standards,” he said. “He has been a great mentor to me ever since I was at Peabody’s.”

Six months ago, Fenton became the chef at Ale Mary’s and Tom’s Oyster Bar because he thought it would be interesting to have a different set of challenges.

“It’s so different from what I was doing. It’s more of a gastro pub focus and a different pace,” the chef said.

Now the chef enjoys cooking at home for friends or even for himself about twice a week. Of course, he’s pulled into kitchen duty during family occasions.

The Polish leanings are both because his grandmother was Polish, but also because he said, simply, that he very much enjoys making and eating pierogi and sausage.

Fenton recommends serving the sausage and the pierogi with any kind of ale.

“I think its bitterness helps balance the saltiness and fattiness of these items,” he says.

He is particularly fond of Two Hearted Ale, which is brewed and bottled by Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, Michigan.

Polish Kielbasa

5 pounds ground pork

2 teaspoons marjoram

8 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons pepper

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon herbs de Provence

1 cup chopped garlic

1/4 pound of natural hog casing (available at your local butcher or a grocery deli counter)

Combine all of the ingredients (except the hog casing) in a mixer or a mixing bowl and fold together until fully incorporated.

Once everything is incorporated, place the meat mixture in the freezer for 10 to 20 minutes. Then, using a sausage stuffer, push the meat through into the casing. (To do this, you can buy a hand stuffer at any kitchen supply store and use pre-ground meat or you can grind the meat and then stuff it in the casing by using a food grinder and a sausage stuffer kit.)

Once stuffed, pinch and twist to create links. Let the sausages sit in the refrigerator overnight to let the fat congeal. Then place the sausages on a cookie sheet and put in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Makes 8 servings (1 sausage per person).

Per serving: 778 calories; 63 g fat (21.5 g saturated fat; 72 percent calories from fat); 9.5 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 197 mg cholesterol; 1,178 mg sodium; 46 g protein; 2 g fiber.



For the dough

2 large beaten room-temperature eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup lukewarm water

2 cups all-purpose flour

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, salt and water, and add the flour. Knead until dough is firm and well mixed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes to 1 hour.

Working with half the dough at a time, follow these step-by-step instructions. First, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Then, using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough in circles. Using a melon baller, place potato filling (see recipe below) on each dough circle. Then, with clean, dry hands, fold dough over filling to create a half-moon shape. Press edges together, sealing and crimping with your fingers (or use a fork) as for a pie. If dough gets dry, moisten edges with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water) before pressing edges together. Put the pierogi in freezer until hard. Then bring a deep pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Reduce to a simmer and drop 12 frozen pierogi at a time into water. Stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they rise to the surface, cook 3 minutes or until dough is done to your liking (based on thickness of dough). Repeat until all pierogi are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon to a platter that has been smeared with butter. (Pierogi will stick together if drained in a colander, even if the colander has been coated with cooking spray.)

Serve with melted butter, sour cream or sour cream gravy (see recipe above) if desired.

Note: Pierogi can also be pan fried after boiling, if desired. Add 1 stick of butter to a heavy, large skillet, and fry on both sides until lightly browned. Yields 2 1/2 dozen pierogi or 8 servings.

For the mashed potato filling

2 Idaho potatoes, cooked

One quarter cup unsalted butter

One quarter cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes and the mash. Combine with the rest of the ingredients.

Per serving: 237 calories; 10 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 38 percent calories from fat); 31 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 72 mg cholesterol; 204 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Sour Cream Gravy

2 cups sour cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 sprig fresh thyme

Combine thyme, black pepper, white pepper, kosher salt, and heavy cream in a small sauce pot and place on medium heat until it comes to a boil.

Once the cream mixture has reached a boil, add it to the sour cream and whisk until everything is fully incorporated.

Serve over pierogi. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 199 calories; 21 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 95 percent calories from fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 66 mg cholesterol; 280 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 0.3 g fiber.