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Little kitchen, big winner
Manteca chef proves his mettle on TV food show
Chef Michael Midgley works in the Lilliputian kitchen. - photo by Photo Contributed

Staggered by another challenge, chef Michael Midgley sunk to his knees during the final round of Sunday’s episode of Cutthroat Kitchen.

This is it, he thought as he took his place behind a cooking station built for, in his words, a gnome. “It’s going to be a nightmare,” said the executive chef at Ernie’s Food & Spirits in Manteca.

It was much better than that.

Midgley overcame the pint-sized kitchen in the final round, defeating his opponent’s balsamic-blasted dessert with a strawberry shortcake dish set off by, of all ingredients, goat cheese.

For his efforts, Midgley pocketed $15,500 – the balance of the $25,000 in spending money each contestant was given at the start of the show. Fanning his winnings, he vowed to celebrate by taking his daughter to her favorite amusement park. 

“Mike is a quick thinker and he showed that pressure isn’t an issue for him,” Ernie’s general manager Bryan Soria said on Monday. “He was able to focus and get his dishes done. It was fun to watch.”

Soria was among the first to know about the victory. Midgley phoned Soria with the news shortly after filming was complete – and then swore him to secrecy.

Despite that, Soria says he has watched the episode twice.

“What’s interesting, as a viewer, you’re not seeing their greatest work because of the crazy things being thrown at them,” Soria added. “Mike hung in there and was patient with it. He showed he can handle challenges like that, and we’re happy that he won.”

The final round was suspenseful from the start as Midgley and chef Kelsey Henderson took turns sabotaging one another.

Henderson fired the first shot, purchasing the children’s kitchen for Midgley, who had no choice but to kneel behind its knee-high counter, sink and appliances.

From its miniature utensils (which made whipping cream impossible) to its inadequate oven (which left his biscuits undercooked), Midgley’s chances at victory appeared to be cooked.

“I’ve got three kids, so I’m used to playing on the ground,” Midgley said on air. “… I feel like a giant.”

He responded by purchasing the next item on the auction block: a container of dried strawberries and cereal. Henderson was forced to hand over her fresh berries to host Alton Brown. Worse yet, she had to pick the dried berries from the cereal, chewing up precious time.

Midgley relished in his opponent’s struggles, but wasn’t confident in his dish, which suffered from a doughy biscuit and sloppy plating.

“Everybody in America knows I’m going home,” he said before The Food Network show cut to its final commercial, “and I’ve got to sit here and wait to hear the news.”

Judge Simon Majumdar wasn’t overly impressed with either strawberry shortcake, noting there were highs and lows about each dessert. However, Majumdar said Henderson’s balsamic splash made her dessert irrevocably “inedible.”

Midgley sidestepped elimination from the start.

His opening dish – chicken parmesan – lacked one key ingredient: the parmesan cheese. In a 60-second scramble to shop ingredients, Midgley failed to grab cheese from the locker. He quipped to host Brown that he was making lactose-free parmesan. That omission was not lost on Majumdar, though he looked another way during elimination.

In the second round, Majumdar praised Midgley’s innovation with his summer roll but criticized his abundance of heat. Saddled with broken rice paper (another gift from Henderson), Midgley turned his roll inside out, wrapping it in butter lettuce instead. He left the bits of rice paper inside to accomplish the taste.

“It’s sexy. It’s beautiful … like Picasso,” he said of his plating. “It’s like painting on the plate.”