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Chef Benedetto Palazzolo cooks at home

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Although he’s only 23, Benedetto Palazzolo, the imaginative chef who became Tre Monti Ristorante’s executive chef two months ago, already has an impressive cooking history.

The Monroe native has a promising culinary future. But he said that although he spent a lot of time helping his mom in the kitchen while growing up, his original plan was to become an ophthalmologist. After attending college on that track for six months, he realized his true passion and decided to enroll at The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.

“While I was there, they said they saw that I had the potential to be a great chef and gave me the chance to work at Ai Fiori, a one star Michelin restaurant,” the chef said. Palazzolo ended up interning there … working six days a week … while also attending the culinary school and studying Italian.

Upon graduation in 2012, the chef moved to Colorno, Italy, for a year in order to study at the Alma Marchesi Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana located in an old castle.

“I was told there that Italian food teaches you creativity and French food teaches you perfection. And if you learn both, it will build you into a great chef,” he said. “So when I said I also wanted to learn to cook French food, they sent me to a two-star Michelin restaurant near the Swiss Alps whose chef was French-influenced. That chef, Pierro Bertinoti, taught me technique. My Italian was terrible, but I didn’t need to talk to learn. I just had to watch him. He taught me how to pay attention to detail and the art of simplicity.”

While still in Italy, Palazzolo saw a magazine published by the Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society, and had a chance to talk to the group’s president about his future. When Palazzolo said he wanted to go back to New York, the president recommended he try to find work at either 11 Madison Park, Le Bernadin, Daniel Bouloud or Jeans George. He landed at Jeans Georges, a prestigious three-star Michelin restaurant.

“I hopped on various stations and that’s where I really learned a lot by watching and helping the other chefs create extraordinary dishes,” he said. “At Jean Georges they also taught us about agriculture and took us to their vendors and producers to show us how everything is grown and produced naturally and organically. It’s a very important thing to learn and I’m doing that with my staff here.”

That job was followed by a two-year stint in Palm Beach at Mar A Lago (in the winter) and at the Trump National Golf Course in Washington, D.C. (in the summer.)

But eventually, Palazzolo felt he wanted to move back home.

“This is where I grew up,” said Palazzolo, who now lives in Sterling Heights. “The area’s culinary scene is up-and-coming and I want to introduce people to the art of a whole new fusion cuisine without them having to travel to New York, Chicago, LA or Miami. You never hear of people coming to Detroit to eat. That’s something I want to accomplish here. It’s one thing to cook good food, but it’s truly a unique experience to be able to create a memory through eating.”

Pan Seared Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Corn, Shiitake Mushrooms and Snow Peas

Gnocchi

1 sweet potato

1/2 Idaho potato

1/2 quart microplaned manchego cheese

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup of 00 flour

Vegetable ingredients

3 tablespoons of fresh corn

4 pieces of snow peas

2 pieces of shitake mushrooms, rough chopped

To prepare the Gnocchi

In a 400 degree oven, cook the Idaho and the sweet potato until cooked through. Pass both potatoes through a food mill, then mix with the manchego cheese and 1 egg yolk until fully emulsified. Mix in flour until dough is able to form a shape. (You want the gnocchi dough to be soft not hard.) Using a gnocchi board, roll out gnocchi and place on a sheet tray that has been dusted with the flour. In a large, round pot, boil salted water that is as salty as the sea with 1 stick of butter. When water comes to a boil, slowly add gnocchi and boil until they begin to float. Then, using a wired spider or a fine mesh strainer, slowly skim the gnocchi out and put them in a sauté pan that has been oiled and buttered. Finally, sauté the vegetables in a hot saute pan and pan sear the gnocchi until they are brown on both sides.

Per 3 servings: 777 calories; 50 g fat (33 g saturated fat; 58 percent calories from fat); 38 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 221 mg cholesterol; 885 mg sodium; 37 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Japanese Udon Bowl

Mushroom broth

1st set of ingredients

1/2 carrot

1/2 onion

1/2 stalk celery

4 shitake mushroom tops

1 tomato

2 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs of thyme

1/2 leek, julienned

2 pieces of spring garlic

1 tablespoon black pepper corn

4 dried porcini mushrooms

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

2nd set of ingredients

2 quarts of water

1/2 cup ginger ponzu

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

Togarashi (a red pepper mix sold at Asian markets), to taste

Red Thai chili, to taste

To prepare the mushroom broth

First pour two tablespoons of grape seed oil and slowly roast the first set of chopped vegetables in a pot for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Once the ingredients are all roasted, add black peppercorns, then add the 2nd set of ingredients and reduce the liquid by 1/2 quart. Then put in a French press for full extraction.

To prepare the Udon noodles

Cook one 8.8 ounce bag of Udon noodles in boiling water for 3-4 min until noodles are tender.

Vegetable ingredients

6 pieces blanched snow peas

4 pieces of Beech mushroom

1/4 cup thinly sliced leeks

1/2 piece of spring garlic

1 teaspoon sesame oil

To prepare the vegetables

Pan sear vegetables with hot sesame oil in sauté pan.

Ingredients for garnish

3 pieces of Narutomaki*

Pea tendrils

2 radishes, thinly sliced

To assemble

Combine the noodles, the vegetables and the mushroom broth. Garnish with 3 pieces of Narutomaki, pea tendrils and thinly sliced radishes. Serves 2.

*Narutomaki, a pretty pink and white rice fishcake, can be purchased at most Asian markets.

Per serving: 1,077 calories; 38 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 32 percent calories from fat); 140 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 94 mg cholesterol; 5,404 mg sodium; 51 g protein; 12 g fiber.

Fresh Summer Watermelon Salad

1/2 watermelon cut into 2 inch square cubes

5 small teaspoons of pureed smoked Burrata*

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar

Fresh basil for garnish

*Smoked burrata cheese (can be purchased at most Italian markets)

First, cut the watermelon rind off, then cut the flesh into two-inch cubes of watermelon. Once you have all your cubed pieces, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge. Take the smoked burrata and pulse in the food processor. Just before serving, take the watermelon pieces and stack them into a pyramid on a plate. Using a teaspoon, distribute the pureed burrata on several of watermelon cubes. Season the cubes with the salt. Then drizzle 1 tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar over the burrata and finally garnish with the basil. Makes 3 servings.

Per serving: 173 calories; 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 16 percent calories from fat); 38 g carbohydrates; 32 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 670 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber.