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IN A KNIFE FIGHT

Manteca chef appears on TV show

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IN A KNIFE FIGHT

A video interview with Ernie’s Food and Spirits Chef Mike Midgley.

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POSTED October 25, 2013 12:37 a.m.

If Mike Midgley has a future in television, he’s not saying.

Just as a chef never reveals their secret ingredients, Midgley, a Top Chef alumni, remains tight-lipped about his upcoming projects.

It’s not that Midgley fears jinxing any of the deals, which may include potential partnerships with two major networks. It’s just at this stage of production, he’s contractually obligated not to say anything.

“Stay tuned,” said the culinary genius at Ernie’s Food and Spirits in Manteca and the owner of a Central Valley catering company.

Until then, Midgley has an appetizer of sorts to satisfy his fan base. He will appear in three episodes of Esquire’s “Knife Fight,” produced by Drew Barrymore and starring Top Chef Season Two winner Ilan Hall, beginning Tuesday night.

The show is staged after hours at Hall’s Los Angeles-based restaurant, The Gorbals inside the Alexandria Hotel, and offers a refreshing, alternative take on the cooking show.

This is not Iron Chef. In fact, there’s no prize – other than a butcher’s knife with the words “I won.” Nope, contestants battle for bragging rights alone.

“It’s like a Fight Club atmosphere,” said Midgley, who will appear as a celebrity judge on the Oct. 29 episode. He and Hall remain close from their time together on Top Chef, and Hall approached him with the opportunity to judge.

The show pits two  accomplished chefs against one another in a contest of skill, quick thinking and bravado, and nothing more.

Chefs arrive at The Gorbals after close of business with a crew of friends and family in tow, Midgley said. Alcohol helps spike the mood, giving Hall’s open kitchen the feel of an underground arena or stage. The crowd screams, heckles and cheers on the chefs – who prepare and cook at least two dishes within arm’s reach of the mob.

They’re given no advantage of lead time with their entrees. Ingredients are unveiled  moments before the clock starts. They’re given an hour to cook. “It’s no-holds barred,” said Midgley, as contestants are allowed to steal ingredients, hide equipment and “break blenders.”

All the while, a panel of celebrity judges wait anxiously for the chef’s to arrive with their creations.

In the premiere, Hall invited Englishman Brendan Collins and Frenchman David Feau into his kitchen for a clash of culture and style. They were given razor clams, red torpedo onions and live catfish.

The opening sequences are of Collins and Feau slaying the fish, stabbing them repeatedly and lifting them from the bloody water by the tip of their knives.

“The background, the noise, the intensity of everything ... it’s exciting,” Feau said. “It drives your adrenaline. You want to win, but when you’re actually cooking, you want to win more.”

The pressure is real.

In the opening episode, Collins and Feau took their battle down to the final buzzer. Feau frantically cooked his catfish over an open flame, while in his haste to plate a dish, Collins toppled a blender with his elbow.

“It’s nerve-wracking. You don’t know what the ingredients are. You have an hour from when they find out to get their dishes out,” Midgley said. “You have all these people watching and talking smack, but cheering you on at the same time. Everyone’s drinking. It’s a mob of people.”

In his final two appearances, Midgley says he and his wife stand among the crowd, offering witty commentary to the cameras. “But I don’t know what will be left in or cut out,” he said.

Midgley enjoyed his time on set, especially his conversations with Barrymore, a true Hollywood icon. Barrymore also served as a celebrity judge on one of the episodes.

“She’s pretty fun. We just hung out while the guys were cooking, chewing the fat, you know,” Midgley said. “She’s down to earth. She just loves food.”

This may be the start of a series of career opportunities for Midgley, whose cooking career began as a 14 year old at the Elkhorn Country Club.

Midgley has filmed an episode for an undisclosed network. He hasn’t been told when it will air and is prohibited from discussing the details until a date is specified.

He’s also agreed to film a pilot episode for a farm-to-table cooking show here in the Central Valley. The plan, he says, is to shop the pilot to Fox.

He owes these opportunities to his appearance on Top Chef, which broadcasted his talents and big personality to the world and plugged him into a select network.

“Top Chef gave me a platform,” he said, “and the people I’ve met through those people on that show got me on other shows.”

Whether his Hollywood career takes off or not, Midgley is committed to the dinner crowds and parties here in the Central Valley.

“Cooking for TV is great, but it’s not all the time for me. I get these random things that pop up here and there. You hope they can parlay into something more, but at the end of the day, I’m a chef,” he said. “If I wasn’t cooking, I’d be going stir crazy.”

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