Chef James Woodward cooks at home

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

The executive banquet chef at the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit, James “Woody” Woodward said he initially got involved with cooking around the age of 7 by doctoring up a cupboard staple.

“I remember opening a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, then adding a lot of seasonings that were right next to the stove. I kept adding them, thinking that would make the soup better, but it was gross,” he said.

While attending Fordson High School in Dearborn, Woodward worked at the Dearborn Villa, an Italian restaurant, making salads and assisting the sauté cook. Then, after studying hospitality management at Ferris State University for two years, he left in order to “travel for a few years and see the world.”

After stints in New Zealand, Alaska and Australia, the chef returned to the Detroit area and got a job at the Ritz Carleton Hotel in Dearborn, starting out as an entry-level cook for the employee dining room and ending up 13 years later as the hotel’s executive chef and food and beverage director. (A highlight of that stint was executing a birthday banquet in 1998 for a local philanthropist that was attended by former presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford, as well as Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich.)

In 2011, Woody began working at Back To The Roots — a small start-up sushi place in Chelsea that is no longer in business.

“The restaurant’s charter was to raise money to help fund a safe house in India to keep young women off of the streets and they ending up raising $10,000, which was enough to house 45 children,” he said.

In 2014, after working as the executive campus chef at WSU for two years, Woodward became the sous chef of the Palette restaurant at MGM and was named the casino’s banquet chef one year ago.

Woodward, 43, said he likes to make the chicken and vegetable recipe because, “I know everyone in the family likes it, it’s healthy and all these veggies are locally grown and in season right now. And I think chicken thighs have more flavor and a better texture than chicken breasts and are also less expensive” he said.

And the chef is passionate about this Miso Pork Ramen recipe. “Ramen soup is something I think is just now catching on in Southeastern Michigan and I can’t imagine the world without it,” the Canton resident said. “And the reason it takes so long to cook is that there’s a lot of flavor in those bones and it takes that long to extract it.”

Woodward said he cooks daily for his children, Justina, 8, and Danny, 6, and his wife, Diana. The couple met when both were working at the Ritz Carleton and Diana is currently a culinary instructor for the Plymouth Canton Schools.

Grilled Chicken Skewers with Sauteed Summer Vegetables and Aioli


1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half

2 ears of raw corn, shucked

1/2 pound haricot verts, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 leaves of fresh basil, sliced thin

To prepare the vegetables

Heat a medium sauté pan until smoking hot; add 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter melts, add green beans and toss for about 1 minute. Add corn and continue to toss for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and herbs and sauté for 1 minute, then season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Chicken skewers

2 pounds of boneless and skinless raw chicken thighs

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the chicken

Toss the chicken in the lemon juice, zest, garlic, oil and salt and pepper. Skewer the thighs, using about 4 ounces of chicken per skewer. Then, on a hot charcoal, grill, cook until chicken reaches an internal temp of 165 degrees. Serve with the aioli.


2 egg yolks

1/2 cup salad oil

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2 ounces fresh chervil

Salt and pepper

Place the yolks, garlic and chervil in a food processor. Blend for about 1 minute and then slowly add salad oil, then the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 8.

Per serving: 538 calories; 49 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 82 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 128 mg cholesterol; 303 mg sodium; 17 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Miso Pork Ramen

Pork broth

10 pounds of meaty pork bones

1/2 pound pig’s foot

1 onion, sliced thick and charred over an open flame

1/2 pound of ginger, cut in half and charred over an open flame

5 scallions charred over an open flame

10 dried shitake mushrooms

1 cup rice wine

1 cup fresh garlic, smashed

2 carrots charred over an open flame

1/2 cup light soy sauce

1 teaspoon hondashi or 1/2 cup bonito

1 6-inch sheet Kombu dried seaweed

2 heads bok choy, cut in quarters

1 pound pork belly

12 ounces fresh or dried ramen noodles

1 teaspoon white miso

1 corn cob

8 eggs

To prepare the Miso Pork Ramen

Place bones in a large stock pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then drain and rinse. Refill pot with water to cover and add mushrooms. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove mushrooms. Add pig’s foot, charred vegetables, garlic, and rice wine. Cook for 18 to 24 hours on low heat. Braise the pork belly in stock for 4 hours. One hour before taking the broth off the heat, add hondashi. When the hour is up, turn the heat off and add the dried seaweed. Let it soak for 10 minutes and strain. Season broth with salt and white pepper. Then, just before serving: add 1 teaspoon of white miso to the broth, cut the braised pork belly into 2 ounce cubes, poach or boil the eggs, sauté the corn in butter for 2 minutes, blanch the bok choy for two minutes and cook the noodles for 4 minutes.

To serve: Place noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Add pork belly, eggs, corn and bok choy. Add broth and serve hot. Serves 8.

Per serving: 611 calories; 37 g fat (14 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 38 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 242 mg cholesterol; 1,260 mg sodium; 28 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Berry Cobbler and Crème Anglaise


36 ounces frozen blueberries

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon corn starch

Pinch ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

To prepare the filling

Thaw berries in a colander over a bowl to collect the juice (about 1 cup). Transfer juice to a small saucepan and reduce in half. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir sugar, salt, cinnamon and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Add berries and juice reduction and mix gently. Add lemon zest and juice and stir to combine. Pour into a 9-inch glass pie pan. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until mixture is bubbling around the edges. Remove berries from oven.

Biscuit topping

1 cup unbleached flour

2 tablespoons ground cornmeal

1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the topping

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon together and set aside. Mix wet and dry ingredients together and stir to combine with a rubber spatula. Divide the biscuit dough into 8 parts, then spread them evenly on top of the cooked berry mixture so they do not touch. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture on top of the biscuits and bake in a 425 degree oven until biscuits are golden brown. Then serve warm with crème anglaise.

Crème Anglaise

1/2 vanilla bean cut lengthwise

1 1/2 cups whole milk

5 egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch salt

Scrape the vanilla bean seeds from the pod with a paring knife. Place seeds and beans and milk in a medium-sized pot. Heat over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until milk is steaming. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for about 20 minutes. Uncover and return to heat for about 1 minute.

In a separate bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar and salt until mixture turns a pale yellow color. Slowly pour 1/2 cup hot milk into the egg mix to temper, whisking constantly. Slowly add egg mix to milk stirring constantly and cook over a low heat until sauce coats the back of a spoon. While mixture is hot, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl. Cover by pressing a piece of plastic wrap flush against the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Serves 8.

Per serving: 368 calories; 11 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 27 percent calories from fat); 64 g carbohydrates; 44 g sugar; 136 mg cholesterol; 329 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 4 g fiber.