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Daughter’s injury inspires chef Midgley

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POSTED January 14, 2014 10:02 p.m.

Michael Midgley will make good on a promise this weekend.

The executive chef at Ernie’s Food & Spirits in Manteca will take time away from the kitchen to take his family on a Disneyland vacation.

Consider it a postponed celebration.

Midgley won Sunday’s episode of Cutthroat Kitchen on The Food Network, pocketing $15,500 for his ability to create tasty dishes despite a series of challenges and odd plot twists.

Cutthroat Kitchen is hosted by Alton Brown and features four highly reputable chefs from around the country in a three-round cook-off. Each chef begins the show with $25,000 of spending money. The winner keeps the balance at the end of the show as their take-home prize.

After each round, a contestant is eliminated by a judge (in this case, Simon Majumdar) until there is a winner.

Each round is spiced with various challenges. Off-the-wall but potentially debilitating items are auctioned off to the chefs, who can use the items – such as rubber gloves, dried meats and fruit, an undersized pot, etc. – to foil one another.

Because of his big personality, Midgley, who wore his trademark backwards cap and “fire” shoes, was an easy target for the others, especially chef Kelsey Henderson. “I definitely had the most sabotages every round,” Midgley said with a raspy laugh.

Midgley was targeted twice during the first two rounds. He was forced to sit out the first 15 minutes of the opening round and then given tomato aspic for his sauce instead of fresh tomatoes. In the second round, he was forced to share utensils with another chef and awarded broken rice paper for his summer roll.

In the final round, Midgley defeated Henderson despite having to cook from his knees on kid-sized kitchen set. His strawberry shortcake, though undercooked and sloppily plated, was deemed tasty still because of the goat cheese.

“The Easy Bake oven didn’t cook anything. I had it on full blast and pulled (the biscuits) out with my bare hands. (The producers) had me redo it; I had to use a napkin to make it look real,” he said.

“All the mixing tools, they were fake. The spatula and bowls were breaking in my hands. I was destroying everything. I grabbed something and it would break. Trying to make a cake in a Dixie Cup is impossible.”

While others used large portions of their allowance during the auctions, Midgley was relatively frugal with his money. He entered the final round with $18,500, knowing the money was already ear-marked. “I really want to win this for my daughter,” was a phrase he mentioned more than once on the show.

In the days leading up to the October filming of the episode, Midgley’s daughter, Taylor, became a major source of motivation. She had suffered a compound fracture in her arm and had to be admitted to the hospital.

“Three days before I left, she was in the hospital,” Midgley recalled. “She said I had to win it for her and take her to Disneyland. That was some powerful ammunition to take down there. I had to win.”

Midgley’s confidence was palpable. He won a mental battle with his opposition, using his silver tongue to unnerve the other chefs. He said the game actually began in the green room.

“I was pretty determined going in there. I felt confident I was going to win. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve been in that situation before with Top Chef. When I walked in there, I felt I couldn’t accept losing.

“I was there to win and thought I could do it.”

Chef Michael Midgley is a former Top Chef Season Two contestant and judge on Knife Fight. He is currently working on an eBook and series of short videos. The eBook will include 20 simple recipes for the bachelor or entry-level cook and will be available next month. There is no release date for his YouTube videos.

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