Montclair: Center of the (NJ) Food Universe

by Melody Kettle

Michael Duarte and Ariane Duarte, Owners of CulinArianeAccording to Inside Jersey's  30 Best Meals in NJ, Montclair may well be the center of the food universe - at least in New Jersey.

Hot From The Kettle has had the pleasure of working with many of the renown chefs on the list - about eight of them actually.

At CulinAriane in Montclair, Top Chef and owner, Ariane Duarte, gave us a video demonstration of her famous Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon, and Feta Salad.

Ryan DePersio, of Montclair's Fascino and Bloomfield's Bara Cara,  taught us how to make Crispy Zucchini Blossoms at Fascino, and also visited Casa Kettle to make Sweet Sausage Bolognese, Ricotta Gnocchi, and Tuscan Seafood Soup.

Chopped champion, Chef Mike Carrino of Passionne, traveled with us to Bobolink Dairy, and showed us how to make a divine Drunkin' Punkin' Pots de Creme and Sausage and Oyster Stuffing, Sweet Spring Pea Soup, and even shared recipes for some of his favorite football fare like Bacon and Cheese Buttery Bites, and Super Bowl Sausage Chili.

In Bloomfield, Francesco Palmieri took us into his awesome kitchen at the Orange Squirrel, and even into his mother's garden


Chef Mike Carrino, owner of the acclaimed PassionneThomas Ciszak and his wife, Evelyn Hsu-Ciszak, welcomed us into their super-sexy restaurant in Paramus, Chakra, and showed us how to make Fettuccine Carbonara with house made pasta and house cured pancetta.  And Evelyn mixed up a baconized-bourbon cocktail known as the Smoky Deal.

Then we iinterviewed James Laird of Serenade in Chatham, and Humberto Campos of Lorena's in Maplewood.

As often happens with lists, there are those who are left off.  In a state as talented as NJ, there is a tendency to cite chefs with high profiles. I've done it, we all do it. But there is one restaurant that maintains a slightly lower profile, which I feel was overlooked - that restaurant is Osteria Giotto.  If I were to make a list, it would be #3. Luca Valerin and Robert Pantusa, along with their staff, notably Mariesa Pami, are consistent, and Scallop at Orange Squirellcreate nothing less than satisfying meal.  Take a look at Luca Valerin demonstrating the season appropriate Butternut Squash Risotto

New Jersey is not New York, and Montclair is not  Chicago or San Sebastian. I know this, but I have enormous pride in New Jersey - Montclair in particular.  The value in a list like Inside Jersey's is that it showcases the enormous concentration of talent in New Jersey. We, NJ residents and locals, have the option to dine at a multitude of world-class establishments, and dine on fare that is prepared by professional, first-rate chefs.  In some parts of the country, this a rarity - a luxury. 

In Montclair and other notable food towns,  the competition is steep, the patrons are discerning, Chakra, in Paramus, NJthe critics are tough, and the liquor licenses don't come cheap. It is not easy for a restaurant to survive.  Are we spoiled? Maybe.  

In my opinion, not often enough do we say or write  "Thank you."  That said, I'd like to offer a "Thank you" to all of our talented chefs in NJ, including those not mentioned, for working diligently and tirelessly, sacrificing time from your families, wearing your hearts on your sleeves, burning your wrists, cutting your fingers, and generally punishing your bodies, to create the gastronomic pleasures of the Garden State. It's a luxury to live here.