Two Local Reality Food Stars Share Their TV Experiences and Recipes

Marc Huebner, of the Noble Lion, serves scallops over creamed corn and bacon; Ariana Feygin is tastefully inspired by fresh ingredients to make the perfect dish.

When people ask Marc Huebner about his experience on Food Network’s America’s Best Cook, he likes to tell them, “If you’re a golf fanatic and you got to spend two weeks with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and that crew, well it was kind of like that for me.”

Huebner (who came in fourth in a 2014 season of the show), spent those weeks working with chefs he respects  and other like-minded home cooks. He says unlike some reality shows that seclude contestants, he and his competitors were able to get to know and learn from one another. “They came from all of the states, and everybody had a different style of cooking,” he says. “That was probably the best part of the experience.”

That, and the fact that when he came back home to Minnesota, he had realized his dream. “This was something I always wanted to do, but having talked to other people (and chef Michael Symon in particular) … It lit the fire for me to come back and put forth the effort for [The Noble Lion] to come together,” he says.

The Victoria restaurant has the show to thank, as does Huebner’s creativity. “There were a couple cooks there that were into using different cooking equipment for molecular gastronomy,” he says. So when he got home, he purchased a sous vide circulator and started experimenting with food science—“just a little bit,” he says.

Between the learning, rubbing shoulders with Iron Chefs and meeting home cooks from across the country, it’s not hard to understand why Huebner doesn’t hesitate to say, “I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

Ariana Feygin knows her way around a blowtorch, knives and a microplane. The 13 year old isn’t creating DIY projects—she’s cooked her way around her family kitchen and right onto the most recent edition of Fox Network’s Master Chef Junior, where she competed against other young culinary artists, who cooked through a series of challenges and eliminations.

A fan of the show, Ariana was motivated to try out for the program (three times! “I was very determined,” she says.) before making the cut. “I was just inspired by the passion the kids and judges had,” she says.

The show was filmed in 2017 in Los Angeles, Calif., and the program aired locally winter/spring 2018. Ariana made it to the top 12 before an uncooperative dish of egg yolk ravioli tripped her up. “It was definitely a learning experience,” she graciously says.

Her takeaway basket from the show is full. “[My favorite part] was to meet such amazing kids,” Ariana says. “I made friendships that will last a lifetime.” She also learned a bit about herself. “I can do a really good job leading a team,” she says, referring to the wedding challenge in which she served as a team captain of young cooks, who prepared lamb and halibut entrées for wedding guests. “I can have a strong voice,” Ariana says.

Ariana was only 4 or 5 years old when she tasted her first interest in food preparation. She was playing on her mother’s phone and discovered a cake decorating YouTube video. Fast forward, and she regularly cooks meals for her parents, Julia and Lenny Feygin (both from Belarus), and siblings, Gabi, 11; Michael, 7; and Nico, 3. She’s intent in exploring the culinary components of other cultures, especially her own. “It’s really interesting to me,” she says.

Cooking isn’t her only passion. Ariana and her sister have raised over $200,000 since 2013 for the Pinky Swear Foundation and the Newborn Foundation, in remembrance of her maternal grandfather, who died at 40 years old from pancreatic cancer. They’ve been honored for their efforts by Congressman Erik Paulsen (MN 3rd District) with the Star of the North Award, and Ariana received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award in Washington, D.C.

Ariana’s already spent time learning the ropes at restaurants (Wayzata’s 6Smith, Spoon and Stable and Bellecour) and she’s considering a cooking career where she can “interact with people and inspire others,” she says. “No dream is too big.”

Chopped Challenge

Mystery Ingredients: coconut flakes, lamb, polenta and radishes

Ariana Feygin and Marc Huebner are veterans of TV-based cooking contests, so we tossed them another challenge. Riffing off of the Food Network’s Chopped, our local cooking duo was given four “mystery” ingredients  and was tasked with developing recipes using those items (and more if needed) to create tasty entrées for readers to try at home.

Ariana’s recipe:
Spiced pan seared lamb chops in Thai coconut curry broth with crispy polenta cakes, pickled radish chips, greek yogurt and mint sauce, and micro daikon

Polenta Cakes
1 cup polenta
4 cups water or chicken stock
1 tsp. fine salt
2–3 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan to finish

Combine chicken stock/water and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Whisk in polenta in a slow stream, making sure there are no clumps. Reduce the heat to low, and whisk until just thickened. Cover and simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every 5 minutes. Finish with butter and parmesan. Transfer into tin, and chill until firm.

Pickled Radish Chips
6 oz. red radishes
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
3 whole garlic cloves
⅔ cup red wine vinegar

Thinly slice radishes. Whisk together vinegar, peppercorns, salt, sugar and garlic. Add radishes and allow to pickle (around 30 minutes).

Lamb Chops
3 Lamb chops/1 rack (Frenched)
2–3 Tbsp. butter
Rosemary, thyme and sage sprigs
2 whole garlic cloves
Pinch of curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Season the lamb with salt, pepper and curry powder. Heat pan on high, and add oil. Once the oil begins to smoke slightly, add the lamb chops and sear until they are colored on all sides. Add the herbs, butter and garlic, spooning the foaming butter over the lamb to finish cooking. Remove the lamb, and drain the butter from the pan. Allow the lamb to rest.

Coconut Curry Broth
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp. red curry paste
3 Tbsp. coconut flakes

In the same pan as the lamb, scrape up the little brown bits on the bottom (fond) to allow them to flavor the broth. Add the curry paste and mix. Slowly drizzle in the coconut milk and simmer until it reaches your desired thickness. Finish with the coconut flakes.

Greek Yogurt and Mint Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
6–8 mint leaves (chiffonade)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Pinch of cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients until everything is evenly incorporated. Thin with buttermilk if desired.

To Finish the Dish: Cut the firmed polenta into small squares or circles. Sear 2-3 minutes per in hot butter or oil till golden and crisp. Assemble plate with lamb, broth and sauce, and garnish the plates with micro daikon.

“I was inspired to create this dish because I wanted to showcase the key ingredients and elevate them to a higher level,” Ariana says. “It was important for me to balance the gamey flavor of the lamb with the spicy broth and cool everything down with the yogurt sauce. The tart radishes and creamy polenta complement the lamb beautifully, and the Asian inspiration really shines across the plate.”

Marc Huebner’s recipe:
Lamb Curry over Coconut Polenta Cake with Pickled Radishes

Pickled Radishes
1 bunch radishes
1 small sweet onion
½ cup sugar
1 cup distilled vinegar
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. coriander seed
½ tsp. pepper flakes

Clean radishes and cut off the tops.  Peel onion.  Slice both the radishes and onion on a mandolin at a very thin setting.  Place into a glass bowl. Bring water, vinegar, sugar, garlic and coriander to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Add red pepper flakes and pour mixture over sliced radishes and onion.  Set aside. Cool for later use.

Coconut Polenta Cake
1 cup whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cups quick cook polenta
½ cup coconut flakes
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Bring milk, stock and butter to a boil then reduce to medium heat.  Add polenta, and continuously stir, adding salt to taste.  Polenta should be ready in about 45 minutes, when it pulls away from the side of the pan.  Mix in coconut flakes thoroughly. Pour polenta into a 9” x 9” cake pan, and put in refrigerator to set until firm.  Once polenta is set, cut 3” x 3” pieces, and set aside.  Heat pan with oil to medium high heat.  Cook polenta on both sides until browned and cooked through.

Lamb Curry
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 Tbsp. minced Serrano pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced ginger
1-1/2 lbs. lamb cut into one-inch cubes (preferably shoulder meat)
2 Tbsp. sweet curry powder, (I prefer Penzeys)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup frozen peas
lime wedges

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, peppers and ginger, and cook over moderately high heat until barely softened, about four minutes. Add the lamb, and cook over moderately high heat, turning every so often, until it is browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for two minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover partially, and simmer over moderate heat until the lamb is tender, about 60 minutes. Add the peas, and cook until heated through.

To finish the dish.  
Place a piece of the polenta cake on a plate.  Ladle some of the lamb curry over the top of the polenta.  Add some of the pickled radishes and garnish with cilantro and a lime wedge.

“I’m a big curry fan and lamb lends itself well with curries of all kinds,” Huebner says. “I chose a sweet curry here to go with the polenta which has a sweet undertone to it. I decided to integrate the coconut flakes into the polenta instead of cheese, which is what is typically done when preparing polenta.  I thought this might add an interesting hint of coconut to compliment the coconut milk that is in the curry.  The pickled radishes add a bit of crunch, tartness and heat.”