Rapid Fire: Thomas Ciszak of Chakra & Blue Morel

by Melody Kettle


 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Executive Chef/Partner, Chakra Restaurant (Paramus)
TLC Restaurant Group Chef/Director, Blue Morel (Morristown)

Thomas Ciszak is one of the Northeast’s most acclaimed chefs. Born in Germany and trained at top schools and restaurants in his home country, Chef Ciszak came to the United States in 1994.  His work grew noticed and he gained great popularity first at The Manor in West Orange, then at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan. From there, he joined The Fireman Hospitality Group as opening Executive Chef at Shelly's New York. In 2005, Chef Ciszak launched Copeland (now Blue Morel) at the Westin Governor Morris to universally outstanding reviews. Under his direction, Blue Morel offers modern, local, American farm-to-table cuisine.  Accessible and approachable, Blue Morel’s new menus feature dishes that range from old family recipes to playful twists on contemporary American favorites—in addition to the award-winning sushi and raw bars for which Thomas is famous.

Building on his culinary talent and business acumen, Chef Ciszak launched TC Culinary Solutions in 2006, consulting nationally for a number of high-end hotels and restaurants.  In August 2010, Chef Ciszak announced the merger of his company with Jason and Peter Longo and Philip Chiaramonte, owners of Chakra in Paramus, NJ, to form The TLC Restaurant Group, which owns, operates, and manages a variety of restaurant concepts in the New Jersey region. 

TLC’s first project was the relaunch of Chakra, with Chef Ciszak as Executive Chef/Partner.  His newly energized and reconfigured menus there received a rave 3-1/2 star review from The Record's Elisa Ung, who noted, "The space is as dramatic as ever, but the real star is what's on your plate." 

Chef Ciszak’s appealing international, multicultural menus are sophisticated but accessible. His food is presented thoughtfully and without pretense. A unique style that melds his European approach and American experience.


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

 I honestly don't know. I've been Doing this since I am 14. 

What is your earliest memory of food? What did it smell like? Interesting is that I smell the kitchen, not the food.

My oma (grandmother) cooked on a coal stove. The kitchen had a smokey smell. I will never forget that smell. 

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

Besides my Oma, professionally Henri Bach, a chef of a 2 Michelin star restaurant I worked at.

Do you recommend formal culinary education? 

In Europe, formal culinary education is extensive and inexpensive unlike here. Here, work hard in a top kitchen and study on your free time.

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

My wife just said recently, when we where discussing new restaurant projects, "anything you cook is great, don't worry".  That made me proud.

What's your zodiac sign….do you even believe in that stuff?

My wife is Chinese. I call all that stuff "chinese voodoo" besides karma, that's real!

What was your most memorable meal?

Many. But Charlie Trotter invited me for lunch. When the restaurant was closed. Amazing hospitality.

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

My home town. Same place I started 30 years ago.

Is there one ingredient you refuse to use in the kitchen? Pretty open to anything. No MSG! 

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

It always comes back to traditional methods. Right now I'm into hand made pasta. Pretty basic but so satisfying-To make and eat.

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

Excited about no GMO movement. Nothing is over, it's a circle everything will come back in time.

Favorite kitchen tool?

Got to be the knife. If you think about it. That's all you need. That and fire I guess.

What was your worst cooking related injury?

Little burn, little cut. That's it. I never had any injuries. Maybe I am very slow or very good, lol.

Favorite childhood dish? Who prepared it for you?

Many favorite. But my mom made left over potato dumplings with sautéed salami and almost burnt onion. Love it.

What is your favorite dish on your menus today?

Egg noodles with braised beef cheeks, creme fraîche at Chakra and the new chicken sandwich with Camembert, apple and Visalia onions. Good eats!

What’s the wildest thing you’ve done in the kitchen - culinary or otherwise.

Unless this Q&A is R rated, I am afraid I can't share.

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

I think portion sizes need to change. Guest are eating too much protein. Europe and Asia adjusted but USA puts a lot of pressure on food supply. 

So, what do you think about food bloggers?

Necessary Evil! Lol 

Any advice for upcoming chefs?

Work hard, put your head down and keep an open mind. 

What was your most embarrassing cooking moment?

I cooked my first goose x mas dinner when I was 17 years old. Used a brine recipe from a 3 Michelin star chef. Goose was inedible. Way too salty. The experience humbled me. Big shot Chef Thomas came back to earth.