How This ‘Chicken Parm Kid’ Became a Standout Jersey Chef

A childhood food fixation fueled the culinary career of chef Adam Weiss, who now runs F1RST Restaurant in Hawthorne.

Chef Adam Weiss, of F1RST Restaurant in Hawthorne, wields a whisk and a knife

Chef Adam Weiss runs F1RST Restaurant in Hawthorne. Photo: KT Harrison

When Adam Weiss was growing up in Franklin Lakes, his family called him “the chicken parm kid.” As a teenager, he perfected his banana cream pie. Today, the 46-year-old chef helms Hawthorne’s superlative bistro, F1RST Restaurant—”my own spin on New American bistro classics,” he says.

Below, Weiss dishes on turning his earliest enthusiasms into a career path.

NJM: Chicken parm was your childhood obsession?
Chef Adam Weiss
: From [the time I was] a little kid in Franklin Lakes through Ramapo High, I was into food. My family was restaurant-crazy, and I discovered chicken parm around age 7. I always ordered it. I always hoped for greatness.

So you became a food perfectionist.
[Laughs.] I still am. [My family and I] went to all the Italian places and the more ‘gourmet’ French places that cropped up in the 90s. We loved hibachi. My bar mitzvah reception was at Mt. Fuji, the landmark Japanese steakhouse just over the New York state line.

What did you eat at home?
My mom, Hedy, is a terrific, inspired cook who takes after her own mom, Grandma Lillian. Everyday meals were wonderful, and holiday meals were feasts. Plus, we celebrated occasions with special meals.

Occasions such as?
Oh, like the last day of school and then the first day of school. That was always Mom’s incredibly flavorful roast beef with potatoes. Hers made going back to school something to look forward to.

When did you start to cook?
I was in the kitchen a lot as a kid, chopping, measuring, that kind of thing—learning from my mom and Grandma when she visited. My part-time job in high school was at Market Basket in Franklin Lakes, making sandwiches and prepping other food. But my debut as a solid cook was baking a banana cream pie as a teen. My family still talks about it. I have to say, I’ve never had better.

Did that pie plant the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America?
I loved cooking, but didn’t know how you become a chef. I found out when my Foods class in high school, which was once called Home Ec, went on a field trip to the CIA. It was an “Aha!” moment. I knew I belonged there. I got in and earned the two-year associate’s degree—which most students stop at, but I went on for the four-year bachelor’s.

And then you were ready to show off your CIA-gleaned French technique.
That’s the foundation of my cooking. My first job post-grad was at the Hilton Woodcliff Lake. Next, I cooked at the fine-dining Esty Street in Park Ridge, eventually becoming executive chef and pastry chef. Then came Stone & Rail, the Glen Rock gastropub. But Covid happened. I did some catering and private cheffing while planning F1RST, which opened in July 2023.

F1RST’s menu offers a bit of everything: fish, pork, pasta, short ribs, steak frites, chicken breast. My dinner experience at F1RST suggests you’re doing your banana-cream-pie thing: perfecting each dish. What’s your take?
F1RST’s menu is my own spin on New American bistro classics. The flavors are big and bold with lush texture and complexity, thanks to French stocks and sauces. My goal is to make familiar dishes distinctive and innovative. Beef Wellington is updated meatlessly with brawny, saucy portabella mushrooms baked in pastry crust. My berry cheesecake combines French goat cheese and cream cheese, and my French-Japanese-Mexican tuna tartare is full of little surprises like guacamole, spicy mayo, caramelized-onion crème fraîche and blue-corn tortilla chips.

Chef, not only are F1RST’s flavors big, but the portions are, too.
We’re committed to delivering quality and value, and our 84 seats are often spoken for. Diners appreciate our BYO policy, and they love our signature dessert. The F1RST ‘Mounds Bar’ has the flavor profile of Samoa Girl Scout Cookies, but with Belgian bittersweet chocolate covering dense coconut ice cream.

A lot to like, including your mom on the premises, greeting diners. It seems the Weiss family’s celebration of food continues at F1RST.
It does. And I want to add: I’m still into chicken parm.

F1RST, 112 Lincoln Avenue, Hawthorne; 973-830-2119; @firstrestaurantnj on Instagram

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