Chef Adrian Halpaus started his professional career washing dishes, just as many chefs have done before him.
It is the starting point in the kitchen brigade or Brigade de cuisine in the classic and very structured French way.
If you can make it as a dishwasher -- it can be a very stressful job indeed (if you run out of dishes or pots and pans the entire restaurant grinds to a stop) -- then the chef or owner just might give you a chance prepping vegetables. If all goes well, you might move to grill, then line cook, and by that time, if someone has taken you under their wing, the doors just might really start to open.
For Halpaus, that person was classically trained French chef Jean Claude of the Victoria House in Lanesboro, Minn. Halpaus did his time as the dishwasher, but because he was willing to work hard, showed up on time and wanted to learn, he moved up the line rapidly. There is no more demanding kitchen, or chef, than the classic French variety, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
In 2007 Halpaus, now a chef, opened Adrian's Restaurant in Pascagoula. It took a few years to find its footing, but when it did it earned a solid following. Local seafood and steaks were featured and were well-received.
By 2012 the restaurant was successful enough for Halpaus to take a vacation, the first in years. While he was waiting at the airport for his flight out, the restaurant burned to the ground.
"It was not a good day," Halpaus said. "We had customers coming from Mobile to Ocean Springs."
Sometimes tragedy leads to paths of success unforeseen, and that is what happened to Halpaus.
In 2013 the Palace Casino contacted Halpaus, and in short order he was presiding over Mignon's Steaks & Seafood at the smoke-free Palace.
Halpaus brings a lot to the table, or more correctly, to cooking and running a fine-dining restaurant.
"So much of success is dependent on experience," he said. "Looking back, it is humbling. There is just no substitute for it. You can make the most creative dishes, but if they haven't been made with your customer in mind, they just won't sell. But you have to keep on trying new things, trying to be on the cutting edge."
Halpaus recently added an immersion circulator and a fancy ice cream maker to his kitchen. As a result, some amazing dishes have already found their way to the menu.
On a recent visit for this story, Halpaus made a marinade of cumin, red pepper, chipotle, jalapeños, lots of cilantro, and some other ingredients (see recipe below), added a beautiful ribeye steak and cooked it in the immersion circulator for several hours, grilled it off, deglazed the pan with tequila and made a sauce from it. This he served with some saffron rice and grilled shrimp. Wow!
On the menu
If you haven't been to Mignon's, then you are in for a treat.
A few appetizers will illustrate the point: Filet Medallions with Foie Gras, crab beignets, lobster bisque and French onion soup. The French influence is obvious, but the local twists, such as the New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp and fried green tomatoes make this as cool a menu as you will find anywhere.
Keeping in mind this is a steak house, there are six cuts of USDA prime beef from which to choose, a double-cut Kurobuta pork chop (a heritage breed of pork from Japan) and a great lamb chop. To accompany your choice of meat you can choose from lobster tail, foie gras, au poivre (coated in black peppercorns), grilled shrimp, Maytag blue cheese (one of America's best blue cheeses), crab meat, Béarnaise sauce or maître de butter. Wow again!
If you are in for fresh seafood take a look at the grilled shrimp, scallops, surf and turf, lobster and chef's catch of the day.
If I were making the choice it would be the catch of the day. Halpaus can do wonderful things with local flounder, cobia, Gulf tuna and occasionally Chilean sea bass.
There is a lot to recommend about Mignon's, the super sexy ambiance, excellent menu with all its twists and turns and a lounge where you can sip your favorite drink and explore the restaurant menu, but the wine list is worth a story all its own.
Mignon's has received the Award of Excellence from 2006 to 2015 from Wine Spectator Magazine for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.
"There are many different paths you can take, some go to culinary school and do quite well, but I came up through the ranks," Halpaus said.
Halpaus is an accomplished chef, and if you are a foodie, then Mignon's should be at the top of your list.
SOUS VIDE BEEF WITH GRILLED SHRIMP
1 steak per person (USDA prime if possible)
3-4 shrimp per person
1-2 ounces tequila
½ cup cumin
1 ½ tablespoon red pepper
2tbl kosher salt
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
10 jalapeño peppers halved and seeded
8 cloves garlic
2/3 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon whole black pepper
4 cups vegetable oil or pomace olive oil
4 bunches cilantro
Combine the ingredients starting with the cumin and ending with the cilantro in a blender and pulse until you have a smooth slurry. Place the beef in a large Ziploc bag with the marinade for several hours. If you have an immersion circulator, set it on 129.5 f, cryovac the filet with the marinade and sous vide for 2 hours. If you do not have an immersion circulator, remove the filet from the marinade, don't wash it off, but give it a quick wipe. Sauté to medium rare using clarified butter. Grill the shrimp in the same pan using more clarified butter, but please do not overcook.
Deglaze the pan with tequila and then add a little sour cream to make the sauce. Whisk well. Take a little time and try to plate carefully. Use a brush to make interesting brush strokes with the marinade. Serve with saffron rice and garnish with the shrimp.
Go to sunherald.com to see video and more pictures of Halpaus at work at Mignon's Steaks & Seafood at the Palace Casino Resort, 158 Howard Ave., Biloxi.
Julian Brunt, who is from a family with deep Southern roots, writes Coast Cooking in Wednesday's Sun Herald and has a blog at sunherald.com.