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Mike Sipos’ lambchetta is a real winner

 

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Mike Sipos’ recipe for lamb was a winner with the Cook for Me Sudbury judges.

 

BY LAUREL MYERS

Mike Sipos has an addiction, one that he is more than happy to share.

“I have three (barbecues) at the moment, all charcoal and all for different purposes,” the Sudbury resident says. “I use one primarily for grilling. I use a secondary one as a smoker grill. And my third one is for overflow, for large dinner parties.”

The sultry aroma of charcoal, the beautiful symmetry of grill marks, the mouth-watering collision of flavours – Sipos just can’t get enough. “I have an addiction. It’s called barbecue.”

Come hell or high water, Sipos is outside grilling year-round, three or four times a week. It’s that passion that led him to being crowned Cook for Me Sudbury champion.

Cook for Me Sudbury, hosted by Sudbury Living, was a web-based cooking competition which culminated in a final showdown between the top two contestants in a live event Oct. 24 at the Caruso Club.

“It’s something totally new that I’ve never really done in terms of food competition and I think I got the bug,” Sipos says.

His prize-winning dish, Lambchetta, is a nod to Sudbury’s porketta culture with a little bit of a twist.

“The twist was using lamp chops rather than pork and adding in an Asian flare with the Szechuan peppercorn in my dry rub, then glazing it with some local honey and lemon juice and grilling it.”

As it turned out, the dish, served with grilled polenta and asparagus, was a hit with the audience and the judges Mark Gregorini, (owner of Ristorante Verdicchio), Stephanie Piché, (owner of Legacy Catering), Simon Le Hénaff, (chef and professor for College Boréal’s Culinary Arts program) and special guest judge Marida Mohammed (Masterchef Canada runner-up)

“I thought I’d go with something new in this competition just to get myself excited about it,” Sipos says. “I went through a number of racks of lamb, just tweaking it and getting my ratios correct for my spice blend. I felt confident in the plate and the flavour profile.”

Growing up in a “European kitchen” – both his parents and grandmother immigrated from Hungary – his house was always full of flavour, smells and delicious food.

While there was little opportunity for Sipos, a teacher at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School, to edge his way into the kitchen growing up, he absorbed everything he could through simple observation. When it came time for him to move out, he embraced his new-found freedom of culinary exploration.

“I went back to those familiar, smells, tastes, textures,” he says. “I also had to get out of my comfort zone when I first met my wife. She was a vegetarian, so I had to adapt my cooking to a vegetarian menu. You had to be creative for that. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make something that is tasty and nutritious at the same time.”

While his dishes maintain a European inspiration, lately, he has been experimenting more with Asian flavours and “down south” cooking, such as pulled pork, ribs and chicken.

As for his advice to those just starting their gastronomical journeys, he says, “Just do it. Don’t be afraid of burning (things) or messing up a recipe, just go in 100 percent. The only way to learn is by doing.”

While he admitted “teaching is too good of a gig right now,” he has thoughts of one day opening a small barbecue shack. Sudbury should be so lucky to share in his culinary addiction.

In addition to bragging rights, the Cook for Me Sudbury winner won $1,000 in cash, a featured profile in Sudbury Living magazine and a $500 gift s.t.o.p. Restaurant Supply gift card.

Lambchetta

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1 rack of lamb (trimmed, frenched, 8-9 bones)
2 tbsp dried dill seed
½ tbsp of dried dill weed
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp of cracked black pepper
1 tsp of Szechuan peppercorn
4 tbsp olive oil

Glaze
½ cup honey
¼ cup lemon juice
Rind of one lemon (grated)

Cut rack of lamb into 8-9 chops.

Combine dill seed, dill weed, garlic, black pepper and Szechuan peppercorn in a mortar and pestle. Pound until dill seeds, dill weed, garlic and peppercorns are slightly smashed. Add salt and oil, stir and pour over lamb chops. Marinate 4-6 hours.

Prepare a full charcoal chimney, grill lamb on direct heat until desired doneness. Medium rare to rare is recommended.

Combine glaze ingredients, and apply just prior to serving.

 

Grilled Polenta
4 cups of chicken stock
1 ½ cups of coarse cornmeal (Quick cooking polenta)
1 large red pepper
3 shallots
2 tbsp of butter (unsalted)
½ cups of grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Start a small charcoal chimney, grill whole red pepper and shallots until soft and charred. Cover red pepper with Saran, peel skin when cooled. Dice red pepper and the shallots. Reserve.

Bring stock to a boil, whisk in cornmeal. Stir 5-8 minutes until cornmeal has absorbed the stock and set-up. Stir in reserved red pepper, shallot, butter and Romano cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spread polenta in an oiled 9X12 casserole dish and place in refrigerator to cool for 2-3 hours. Cut out circular shapes, brush with olive oil and grill until charred and heated through.

Grilled Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus
½ yellow sweet pepper
12 cherry tomatoes
10 pitted kalamata olives
14 basil leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp of pepper
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar

Wash and trim asparagus. Cut into two inch lengths. Cut yellow pepper into bite size chunks, then combine asparagus, yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes, olives, basil leaves, oil, salt and pepper. Mix. Prepare medium size coal chimney. When hot, sauté above ingredients in a perforated grill pan until charred and tender. Pull off heat, add balsamic vinegar, stir and serve.

 

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