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September 19, 2012

Local chef honored as best in the state

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM — There are countless places around the Great Lakes state to find a one-of-a-kind meal prepared by a top-notch cook. But according to the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association, the best chef in the state can be found in the Rail District of Birmingham.

Big Rock Chophouse executive chef Brian Henson was named Chef of the Year by the MCCA, in association with the American Culinary Federation. Henson competed against two other local chefs for the coveted honor, which dates back to 1975.

Henson, who lives in Wixom, has been part of the team at Big Rock for about four years, though his experience reaches back 20 years and includes a number of notable culinary achievements. After graduating from Schoolcraft College in Livonia with a culinary arts degree, Henson worked at a number of restaurants around Michigan and across the country. He even joined legendary chef Wolfgang Puck in opening five restaurants in California, Chicago and Denver.

But it was in Michigan where Henson found a home, settling down and creating an award-winning four-star menu for Big Rock. Though the list of Henson’s achievements is long, including a Level 1 Sommelier distinction from the Court of Master Sommeliers, he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the MCCA had chosen him as the 2012 Chef of the Year.

“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said.

To earn the title, Henson competed in a cooking competition at the Country Club of Detroit July 2. He and his two competitors were given an hour and a half to prepare four identical entrée plates for a judging panel. A couple of weeks before the competition, the chefs were informed of what protein they would be provided. In the days leading up to the event, the chefs brainstormed their creations and practiced building the entrées in the allotted time.

The competitors, who included Henson, Kevin Peasgood of the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club and David Danoit of Edgewood Country Club in Commerce, were given a whole Arctic char to build their menu around. Henson’s winning creation included a sautéed Arctic char with smoked char pierogi served with golden beet sour cream, chanterelles, fennel and toasted hazelnut vinaigrette.

Henson said he worked hard in preparation for the competition, but wasn’t necessarily nervous.

“I always just figured if I wasn’t going to do well enough to win, I shouldn’t win,” he said. “It’s not anything different from what I do day in and day out at the restaurant.”

The winner was announced at the 37th annual Chef of the Year Awards Gala Aug. 27 at the Country Club of Detroit. Henson was there to accept his award. Next summer, as the reigning title-holder, he’ll be asked to prepare the dinner for the 2013 gala.

To prepare such an important meal, Henson will need help, and his longtime industry colleague Peasgood was quick to volunteer his staff to help out.

“Kevin is a good guy. I know him through the association (MCCA). His food is very good, and both (his and Danoit’s) food looked great and very flavorful,” said Henson of his esteemed competitors. All three chefs were nominated to compete for the honor.

Peasgood, a Madison Heights resident, said he believes the judges were pleased with his entrée of pistachio-crusted Arctic char with orange basil beurre blanc, potato saffron timbale, and glazed assorted baby vegetables.

“I think they liked it,” he said. “It was an honor to be nominated.”

As for the winning dish, Henson said he plans to present the Arctic char entrée often as a special at Big Rock. Diners can call the restaurant at (248) 647-7774 or check in with Big Rock’s Facebook page to find out when it will be available.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.