Pop-Up Collaboration with AJ Cappella and Robbie Felice

Toast in Asbury Park will host rising star chefs for a special dinner in September.

AJ Cappella, Sussex County guy, is musing about the land that he loves.

“I love being from New Jersey,” says the chef who in May was named the Rising Star of the Year at the Garden State Culinary Arts Awards. “It has everything I want: beaches, mountains, cities, the countryside, four seasons. You can get anywhere. Jersey will always be home.”

Adds his BFF from boyhood, Robbie Felice: “The only thing New Jersey is missing is the recognition.”

Cappella, 27, and Felice, 26, are young chefs on the rise in the Garden State. Cappella recently left the landmark Ryland Inn (Whitehouse Station in Readington), where he was second-in-command to executive chef Chris Albrecht; Felice is the top toque at Viaggio, a critically acclaimed Italian-leaning BYO in Wayne.

Together, they aim to bring recognition to the restaurant scene and put their own burgeoning careers in the spotlight by collaborating on a pop-up dinner at a trendy breakfast-lunch cafe in Asbury Park called Toast. They’re doing it after the high-summer rush is over—on Saturday, September 9 at 6:30 pm—and they’re doing it big, with a six-course menu that they conceived together and will execute together.

The Wallkill Valley High School grads bonded while working as teenagers at nearby Crystal Springs. While they didn’t enjoy washing dishes, they took to the fast pace and creative energy of cooking. Eventually, the resort’s executive chef, Anthony Bucco, mentored and encouraged them to go to culinary school. Cooking their own foods, their own ways is a goal they share today—and they hope this inaugural pop-up is the start of something regular, and vital to their home state.

We pop in to their thought process for a closer look at their plans, their menu for the evening, their take on collaborations.

AJ Cappella: “We free-formed the Asbury Park menu while sitting in a park in Morristown.”

Robbie Felice: “And I complained the whole time, ’cause it was hot and loud and there were lots of distractions.”

AJC: “Sitting there was my idea. I was fine.”

RF: “We’re both excited. We both said, keep it super-local, super-seasonal. I’m just excited to be working with AJ. I want to show off!”

AJC: “I’m excited about the pork entree. It’s going to look like an ocean, with the white foam of an ocean wave.”

RF: “The fluke crudo is going to be exciting to eat. I like lifting main ingredients—and then getting a surprise! We’re bringing my front-of-the-house manager (from Viaggio) with us ’cause he knows our style.”

AJC: “Once everyone sits down, we will explain each course to the diners.”

RF: “We want this to be an experience for them.”

That experience, they explain, will include—in addition to bacon-wrapped pork (with couscous and Manilla clams) and the fluke crudo (with cucumber, melon, gazpacho, grapes and black garlic)—duck egg (with roasted-corn custard; ricotta cavatelli (with rabbit, beech mushrooms and parmigiano-reggiano), and peaches and cream for dessert.

AJC: “Since I left Ryland, I’ve been doing freelance, which gives me the opportunity to cook what I want to cook. I like to entertain people, to give them an experience outside of their own house.”

RF: “When AJ and I cook together, we bring each other up. This dinner will make us bring our A game. I mean, when I went to Europe, I didn’t go to find girls on the beach. I went to learn from [chefs] better than me.”

AJC: “We picked Asbury Park because—

RF: “It’s up-and-coming. It’s a cool spot for two young kids. It’s super-meaningful for us. Maybe we can open a restaurant together. Or this could start 12 pop-ups.”

AJC: “I hope it takes off. I’m looking to become known, not to become rich. I want to shine. I want us to make people feel that Jersey rocks, that we can cook as well as anyone. No one thinks of New Jersey as producing any special food. That’s wrong.”

RF: “We’re doing every dish together. It’s not like, he does one course and I do another. I think it’s more interesting this way.”

AJC: “It’s us putting our minds together on everything.”

RF: “A true collaboration.”

Seating for the pop-up on September 9, which the pair dub the “Rising Star Chef Dinner,” is limited. The cost is $150 per person, which includes tip and tax. Toast, a BYO located at 516 Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, is handling the reservations, which can be made by calling 732-776-5900.

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  1. Luxe Limo

    So very glad to find this post! Luxe Limo Service would be happy to promote you through our blog and social media. Asbury Park is a frequent ride of ours. We’ll be sure to tell our clients as well!