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Funny thing happened on the way
Aspiring comedian becomes world class chef
ERNIES CHEF2 10-25-13
Ernies Food and Spirits Chef Mike Midgley works on a filet mignon dish. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

His shoes and wallet have been designed tastefully for a man of his profession.

“You like this bacon?” Ernie’s Food and Spirits chef Mike Midgley asked rhetorically, pulling back his pant leg. “And look at this wallet.”

They’re fitting accessories for this world-class cook with the larger-than-life personality.

Midgley, with his natural instincts in the kitchen and a gift for gab, has married well with the Hollywood scene. The Top Chef Season Two contestant will appear in three episodes of Knife Fight beginning Tuesday, largely for his ability to steal the moment.

That Hollywood beckons should come as no surprise. About 16 years ago, Midgley near broke through under a different spotlight – comedy .

He left Stockton in 1997 shortly after graduating from Bear Creek High, pointing his loaded-down S-10 toward Los Angeles.

“I was the funny guy, always making people laugh,” he said. “Plus, I thought it was a good reason to get out of Stockton.”

It took about six months, but Midgley finally caught a break. He and some friends snuck in through the kitchen of The Comedy Store and found an empty stage.

Ever the comedian, Midgley grabbed the microphone and began telling jokes for his friends. Unbeknownst to everyone, a manager was listening to Midgley’s act.

The manager was impressed and put Midgley on the Sunday list, giving the teenager his shot. There was just one problem: Midgley had to work.

In a land full of dreamers, where most  search selfishly for the big break, he said no one was willing to switch or cover his hours.

Out of options, he called The Comedy Store hoping he could reschedule. They wouldn’t. Midgley’s career opportunity crumbled, sentencing him to a life in the kitchen.

“I needed those tips,” he said.

Years later, Midgley laughs at the experience.

Call it the last laugh.

After all, with Top Chef credentials and a kitchen to call his own at one of the Valley’s swankiest restaurants, Midgley is doing more than wearing his bacon.

He’s bringing it home, too.

QUESTION: Do you cook at home, too?

ANSWER: I do cook at home. At home, I always screw things up. My wife gets so mad. “Why are you burning stuff?” I guess I lack the focus at home.

Q: What is your signature dish?

A: Crab cakes. I find myself making those all the time.

Q: What dish do you struggle with?

A: I don’t really have that problem. If something doesn’t come out right, I’m pretty determined. I’ll work at it until I get it right.

Q: What inspired your career choice?

A: Family. On the weekends we’d get together and celebrate – grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles. … Saturdays and Sundays, everything was based around food. My parents were good cooks. My grandmother would come over with five pies.

Q: You’ve had national exposure and several TV appearances, and yet you’ve remained true to your Central Valley roots. Do you feel like you sacrificed some of your career to stay close to family and friends?

A: I could have had bigger opportunities … bigger stages to cook on, especially after Top Chef. But I chose to stay here. I moved to Los Angeles; thought I’d be a stand-up comedian. I did it for eight months and came back. I know how hard it is to chase stuff like that. If you cook good food, they’ll find you.

Q: Do your children realize they share a roof with a celebrity?

A: My daughter is into it. She’s seen me on TV. She tells other kids, “My daddy is chef.” They have a strong interest in cooking and being in the kitchen. I’ve taught them how to make cookies and they really like baking bread. They like the yeast; watching the bread rise.”

Q: What do you like to do away from the kitchen?

A: Golf. I’m not scratch, but I love to play. I have some moments.

Q: What would your dream foursome be? A: Jon Daly (professional golfer), David Chappelle (comedian) and WC Fields (comedian).