Rapid Fire: Josh Bernstein of Spuntino

by Melody Kettle


 Josh Bernstein of Spuntino in Clifton

Josh Bernstein of Spuntino in Clifton

Joshua Bernstein is pioneering a new generation of authentic, creative and scratch-to-table cuisine as Executive Chef at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton, NJ. Bernstein’s work at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas reflects his 20+ years of experience in the kitchen. He graduated first in his class from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1999 and honed his craft at restaurants up and down the East Coast, including Nantucket’s Jared Coffin House and New Jersey’s Rosemary and Sage. He also spent time in the demanding world of corporate dining, serving over 2,000 diners daily at Condé Nast, Deutsche Bank, Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, and Time, Inc., where he cooked for celebrities, dignitaries and heads of industry. As his following grew, he launched Behind the Cuisine, offering interactive dinner parties and cooking classes across the region and opened his first restaurant, 9North, in his hometown of Wayne, NJ earning praise from The New York Times and many other reviewers.

The Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas concept offered Josh a unique opportunity to create authentic Italian food while placing an emphasis on sampling, sharing, and savoring his own favorite ways to eat – bringing all of his passions to the table. Bernstein’s philosophy has always been to share wonderful food and the knowledge needed to create and fully appreciate it. It is this collaborative effort that cultivates the unique experience shared with each customer. In the same spirit, Bernstein even offers free web videos demonstrating kitchen tricks and how several of his signature dishes are created. 

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef? 

JB: Probably a Math professor or computer engineer.  Not very sexy.

What is your earliest memory of food? What did it smell like?

JB: I remember my grandmother's sweet and sour meatballs that we would have every Rosh Hashanah. I never got the recipe.

MK: What or who has been the most influential on your ethos and cuisine?

My father have the best work ethic that I have every seen.  It rubbed off on me.  He also has always encouraged me in my culinary aspirations. He has always been my biggest fan and critic.

MK: Do you recommend formal culinary education?

I do for a good base of technique, but it needs to be combined with experience

What is the greatest honor/compliment you’ve received as a chef thus far?

Still waiting for the Beard house to call.  Seriously, I have had the privilege to cook for celebrities and dignitaries, but I love when my oldest daughter tells me that I am a good cook!

Passions or hobbies outside the kitchen?

Family and fishing

What’s your perfect “day off” like?

Hanging with my wife and daughters on a lake, fishing off the dock and finishing with a BBQ of the fish we caught, drinking a beer.

What was your most memorable meal? 

My wedding meal.  5 course local Maine menu with wine pairings.  I wrote the menu.

Do you have a favorite city or location? If you could open another restaurant anywhere, where would it be and why?

New York is great, but I love Portland, Maine. I would totally open a restaurant there.

Is there one ingredient you refuse to use in the kitchen?

Not really. I am willing try everything.

What ingredient or technique are you most excited about right now?

We are doing a lot of house made pasta at the restaurant right now. House made is always better.

What trend are you excited about? What trend is over?

TAPAS! I think that the days of huge portions are numbered.

Favorite cheap eat?

I love good street food, usually Mexican or Latino.

Favorite childhood dish? Who prepared it for you?

My mother used to make a seafood spaghetti dish with bay scallops, celery and tomatoes.  I loved it.

 What is your favorite dish on your menus today?

I love our charred octopus with farro and our spaghetti pomodoro

MK: What’s the wildest thing you’ve done in the kitchen - culinary or otherwise? Wow, I am pretty tame. I don't have a lot of crazy stories. Not a lot of Kitchen Confidentials here.  However, opening a 190 seat restaurant with a 75 person opening kitchen team is pretty crazy!

What change(s) do you look forward to in today’s food industry?

I hope that farm to table is not a trend but the norm.

So, what do you think about food bloggers?

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and have the right to put it up on the web. I do find most blogs helpful. I just hope that bloggers realize that they have an effect on peoples livelihood, good and bad.

Any advice for upcoming chefs?

Travel, work hard and eat everything

What was your most embarrassing cooking moment?

I have had a few live cooking demo moments when the item that I was cooking didn't come out as planned. Always embarrassing when you are in front of people and you are supposed to be the expert!