At home with chef Chris Cason

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Chris Cason, executive chef of the Chapman House restaurant in Rochester, said he was influenced in learning to cook from watching his grandmother create meals from scratch when he was a boy.

“She worked her way through several kitchens back in the day and ended up running food service programs at Lake Shore High School in St. Clair Shores,” he said. “A lot of the recipes I make have been influenced by a technique I saw or an ingredient I was exposed to at my grandmother’s. It’s part of my cooking psyche.”

The chef said that while he was still in high school, he started collecting cookbooks from such esteemed chefs as Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in the Napa Valley and enjoyed preparing some of their recipes for his family.

“I was first drawn to the artistic aspect of the photos. The plating of the food was exciting to me because it was architectural. I have always been fascinated by how things are put together, both in food and in architecture, and once wanted to be an architect,” said Cason, 34.

After graduating from De La Salle Collegiate in Warren, Cason attended Michigan State University where he majored in computer science. But after more than three years, he left because he had “more of a passion for cooking than for computer science,” he said.

A year later, Cason enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. While there, he worked stage for Andrew Carmellini at the prestigious Café Boulud in Manhattan and also did a three-month internship at Tribute restaurant here in Farmington Hills.

After receiving his associate degree in 2005, the chef returned to Detroit where he worked at Brian Polycn’s Five Lakes Grill in Milford and also at Jumps in Grosse Pointe before moving to Chicago to work at Takashi for one year and at Etno, an organic burger restaurant, for five years.

In 2013, the chef decided to come back home once again, this time to work first as a sous chef at Roast in Detroit and then as the kitchen manager at Bad Brad’s in Shelby Township, where he said he learned a lot about volume cooking.

“My cooking experience is vast and broad and includes catering, barbecue and fine dining. I’ve put my time in everywhere and it has all contributed to what I am now and also given me the right experience to be very flexible in what I do,” the Shelby Township resident said.

Cason said he came up with the Pig Brittle recipe printed here because, “Sometimes I crave something that is sweet and salty all at once and this fits the bill.”

He likes the waffle recipe because “it has a lot of the earthiness you find in a bran muffin, but also enough sweetness to satisfy a sweet tooth.” And the chef thinks this parsnip recipe would make a great side to serve at your Christmas dinner. “It’s different from the traditional sides, such as sweet or mashed potatoes or Brussels sprouts,” he said. “For some reason parsnips have fallen by the wayside in the last few years. I don’t know why because they are delicious and a really nice alternative to the standard sides.”

Roasted Parsnips with Nigella Seed Glaze and Parsley Salad

For the parsnips

12 cups parsnips, peeled and oblique cut

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup spiced nigella glaze (see recipe below)

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

For the parsley salad

1 cup red onion, thinly shaved

1 cup parsley leaves, picked in big pieces

1/2 cup red grapes sliced into thin rounds

olive oil

For the nigella glaze

4 cardamom seeds, crushed

1 tablespoon coriander

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tablespoon black peppercorn

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried turmeric

1/2 cup nigella seed

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

To prepare the parsley salad, in a medium bowl, combine parsley, grapes and red onions and toss with a small amount of olive oil.

For the parsnips, in a medium bowl, toss parsnips with olive oil, salt, and pepper. On a sheet tray lined with parchment, roast parsnips at 450 degrees until nicely browned and just done. Reserve.

To prepare the nigella glaze, toast all the spices (excluding the nigella seed) in a pan until fragrant. Then combine all the ingredients in a medium sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Allow to cool completely before straining. Add nigella seed and salt and pepper to taste and reserve. Warm the sauce before serving

To assemble, place roasted parsnips in a large bowl and spoon the finished glaze over, allowing the excess to run onto the plate. Top with the parsley salad. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 360 calories; 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 48 g carbohydrates; 17 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 159 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 12 g fiber.

Pig Brittle

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup bacon, diced and rendered

2 tablespoons baking soda

4 tablespoons butter, softened

To prepare the brittle, butter a silicone baking sheet, as well as an offset spatula and set aside. Using a 2-quart saucepan, heat the sugar, corn syrup, and water over medium heat and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring with a heat-resistant spatula.

Stir in the red pepper, walnuts, and bacon pieces. Cook until mixture registers 300 to 310 degrees on a candy thermometer. It should form a long thread when you pull the spatula out. This could take as long as 20 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and carefully whisk in butter and baking soda. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared pan and spread out evenly with the buttered spatula and sprinkle with salt.

Allow to cool slightly and pull to desired thickness. Makes about 12 servings.

Per serving: 366 calories; 14 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 34 percent calories from fat); 57 g carbohydrates; 56 g sugar; 23 mg cholesterol; 1,145 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 0.5 g fiber.

Buckwheat Flax Waffles with Cranberry Sauce and Orange Marscapone

For the waffles

1 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of kosher salt

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1 tablespoon sugar

2 medium eggs

1/4 cup plain yogurt cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon melted butter

1/2 cup water

Powdered sugar to taste

Agave nectar to taste

For the cranberry sauce

3/4 cup cranberries, dried

1 cup white wine

1/4 cup brown sugar

For the orange mascarpone

3/4 cup mascarpone

1/4 cup ricotta, whipped

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 orange, juiced and zested

For the waffles, in a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Sift the dry ingredients and then whisk dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, a small amount at a time, until well combined and a smooth batter has formed. Refrigerate until needed. When ready, cook in your waffle iron on medium high until they are golden brown — approximately 3 to 4 minutes depending on your waffle iron.

To prepare the cranberry sauce, in a pot over medium-high heat, mix together all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat until the cranberries have softened, about 20 minutes. Then purée roughly using an immersion blender.

For the orange mascarpone, in a medium bowl, whisk together ingredients until well-combined.

To serve, first place the orange mascarpone on a plate. Top with cranberry sauce, then the waffle, a little powdered sugar and the agave nectar. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 543 calories; 24 g fat (11 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 68 g carbohydrates; 39 g sugar; 142 mg cholesterol; 215 mg sodium; 14 g protein; 7 g fiber.



Meringue Cookies

3 egg whites, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup superfine sugar

1/2 cup 67 percent dark chocolate, finely chopped

Kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons espresso powder

For the meringues, preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar at low speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 1 minute. Fold in the chopped chocolate and a pinch of salt. Sift the cocoa powder and espresso powder over the meringue and fold 2 or 3 times to incorporate; the meringue should look marbled. Spoon eight 1/2-cup mounds of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Using the back of a spoon, gently spread the meringues into 3-inch rounds. Bake for 1 hour, or until the meringues are firm on the outside, but still chewy in the center. Let cool completely. When ready to serve, top with espresso powder. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 177 calories; 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 20 percent calories from fat); 35 g carbohydrates; 33 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 36 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 0 g fiber.