Beyond Milk and Cookies: NJ Chefs Divulge Their Dream Christmas-Eve Grub

These local foodies put themselves in Santa’s boots and shared what they’d like to snack on if they were to come down the chimney.

santa claus with cookies
Photo: Shutterstock

We asked some of our favorite Garden State chefs to put themselves in Santa’s boots and describe what they’d like to nosh on if they were to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

Jamie Knott, Chef-Owner, Saddle River Inn, Saddle River; Saddle River Café, Saddle River; Madame, Jersey City; Cellar 335, Jersey City; Kinjo, Newark 

“I’m going to take my stint as Santa seriously. For one thing, I want to look my best. I’ll get a nice haircut and trim the beard. Maybe I’ll go in for a few dabs of Just for Men. As Santa, I’ll need energy. My favorite snack, chocolate-covered pretzels, should do it. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, love them both. For me, the best brand is Utz. Though to be honest, I wouldn’t be unhappy with a bowl of Holsten’s black raspberry ice cream. To drink, a nitro cold brew coffee to go. Black, no sugar. I’ll have a lot more work that night.”
Saddle River Inn, 2 Barnstable Court, Saddle River; 201-825-4016. Saddle River Cafe, 171 East Saddle River Road, Saddle River; 201-282-2300. Madame, 390 4th Street, Jersey City; 201-876-8800. Cellar 335, 335 Newark Avenue, Jersey City; 201-222-1422. Kinjo, 159 Washington Street, Newark; 973-944-2828

Ryan DePersio, Battello and Kitchen Step, Jersey City; Ember & Eagle, Eatontown

“Since Santa’s schedule is unpredictable, I might be heading down the chimney late-night or even in the wee hours. So, I’ll go for something that’s always the perfect finish to a dinner or as a bedtime treat. This would be my mom Cynthia’s hazelnut biscotti from our former restaurant Fascino, where she was the pastry chef. The biscotti are not too sweet, with a touch of savory. I’ll wash it down with a Negroni, which soothes my stomach and calms my mind.”
Kitchen Step, 500 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City; 201-721-6225 and in Newark Liberty International Airport, Terminal A. Battello, 502 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City; 201-798-1798. Ember & Eagle and Tillinghouse, Suneagles Golf Club, 2000 Lowther Drive, Eatontown; 732-443-3009

Brendan Ullmann and Tyler O’Toole, Co-chefs/owners, The Circle, Fredon

Brendan: “OK, I’m Santa. I want a bowl of my mom’s spaghetti carbonara. She’s Italian and she’d cook it for me as a treat when I was a kid. I don’t make it myself now because it could just never touch hers. To drink, a tumbler of Maker’s Mark.”

Tyler: “This Santa is putting in his order for a perfect chicken parm, which would be my mom’s recipe. With a Bombay Sapphire G&T. Ho ho ho.”
310 NJ-94, Fredon, 973-862-6410

David Burke, David Burke Hospitality Management, restaurants statewide

Chef David Burke in a Santa costume

Celebrity chef David Burke has no problem putting himself in Santa’s shoes. Photo: Courtesy of David Burke Hospitality Management

“It will have been a long night. I’ll want lobster scrambled eggs with osetra caviar and a toasted English muffin. I’d like my eggs scrambled in Jersey-made goat butter, with crunchy, crumbled nori seaweed, Himalayan pink salt and a touch of jalapeño. And then I’ll get back to work.”

Nino Coniglio, Chef-owner, Coniglio’s Old Fashioned, Morristown

“When I come down that chimney, I could go for either of these: two slices from Coniglio’s and an old-fashioned egg cream like ours, with Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup and real seltzer bottled in blue glass. Or a pistachio bombolone—an Italian doughnut—with a caffè corretto. That’s espresso with a splash of grappa. Naughty and nice.”
11 South Street, Morristown, 973-723-9430

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Michael DeLone, Chef-owner, Nunzio, Collingswood

“There is no culinary rule that cookies, for Santa or not, must be sweet. And besides, how much sugar can one man—meaning Santa—eat in a finite amount of time? So, I’m hoping for savory cookies. One of my favorites is cheddar rosemary shortbread. And because I’m Italian and hence a lover of all Italian foodstuffs, I’m hoping for frico, which is incomparable: a delicious melted, delicate Parmesan crisp of a cookie. I’d also go for a refreshing Pinot Grigio spritzer. Make it heavy on the seltzer, because after all, I’ve got a pretty busy night ahead of me.”
706 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood; 856-858-9840

Ilson Gonçalves, Executive chef/owner, Samba Montclair

Samba Montclair decked out for Christmas

Samba Montclair decked out for Christmas. Photo: Courtesy of Samba Montclair

“Thinking about this brings me back home to Brazil and into the kitchen with my grandmother. She would bake cookies with us, which we would decorate with an egg wash, sugar and colored sprinkles. We’d also drink Quentão de Vinho, which translates to “hot wine.” It’s the Brazilian version of mulled wine—a red wine reduction with cinnamon sticks, spices, water and grapes. We were allowed to drink it as kids because the alcohol is burned off in the cooking.”
7 Park Street, Montclair, 973-744-6764

Tom Valenti, Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Morristown

“I’m a sucker for caviar, especially as a holiday indulgence or as a gift. So as Santa, I want caviar. These days I’m loving American caviar from sturgeon or paddlefish. It’s excellent and a better value than imported caviar. I ditched the blini and now prefer a sturdy, ridged, low-sodium potato chip. Please put out the crème fraiche, abalone-shell caviar spoon and silver platter. To drink, pink Champagne Billecart-Salmon.”
110 South Street, Morristown; 973-644-3180

Ranbir Bhatia, General manager, Benares, Wyckoff

“I would love to come down the chimney to a savory samosa or two. Samosas—filled tarts—are one of the most comforting and commonly eaten snacks across India. A samosa accompanied by the fragrant spices of warm chai tea mixed with sugar and milk would make quite a cozy and fuel-filled respite for Santa.”
327 Franklin Avenue, Wyckoff, 201-904-2222

Leia Gaccione, Chef-owner, South+Pine American Eatery, Morristown

“Instead of finding cookies and milk waiting for me, I would much prefer something savory. Pizza is one of my favorite things, so a couple of slices of pepperoni (preferably from Razza) and a cold Peroni would be such a treat. My current fave snack is butter toffee pretzels, a seasonal item from Trader Joe’s.

And for me, it’s a Christmas tradition to make bourbon Old Fashioned cocktails with Italy’s Amarena cherries. Typically, my best friend and I drink those while we help Santa get all the presents set up under the tree for my goddaughter.

But I’m not too hard to please. Honestly, even a charcuterie board and a glass of Lambrusco would be an absolute delight.”
90 South Street, Morristown, 862-260-9700

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Francis Schott, Partner, Stage Left Steak and Catherine Lombardi, New Brunswick

“If I’m Santa, what would please me most upon emerging from the fireplace would be a Christmas goose. I cooked my first goose in 2001. The recipe was from an old cookbook: whole roasted goose with chestnut stuffing. It was a revelation. I was transported.”
Stage Left Steak, 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick; 732-828-4444. Catherine Lombardi, 3 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick; 732-296-9463

Michael Cetrulo, Chef-owner, Scalini Fedeli, Chatham

“I’ve worked Christmas Eve probably since 1985, not getting home to my family until 10:30 pm, so I can relate to Santa’s annual gig. If I came down the chimney, what I’d want waiting for me is something I grew up with. My family always made the Italian Christmas Eve meal, the Feast of the Seven Fishes. One of the simple, delicious dishes in the meal was codfish Milanese. The fish is simply coated with Italian breadcrumbs, then fried in olive oil. Since we Italians love sandwiches, and late-night is a good time to bite into one, I will be craving a sandwich of the codfish Milanese with little bit of cherry peppers.

As far as my drink to go with it, my usual would be a glass of white wine, but nowadays, I’ve been doing Martinis. So please keep this chilled: a Martini up, no vermouth, one olive.”
63 Main Street, Chatham, 973-701-9200 

Hank Reed, Chef/General Manager, Mazur Cafe & Chocolate Lab, Hackettstown

“As Santa, I’ll hope to find something I rarely have but think about often: a big old bowl of biscuits and gravy. Let me explain, because I’m a Jersey boy, from Woodbridge. A Tennessean married into my family, and this Southern classic dish has become one of our family’s favorite dishes. It’s the quintessential breakfast: biscuits— flaky, buttery, and baked—loaded with sausage and gravy, with a sunnyside egg on top. I’d love a batch of it, with a glass of fresh-squeezed OJ. And then I’ll have to get going with my reindeer again.”
106 East Moore Street, Hackettstown; 908-269-8064

Thomas Ciszak, Chef/partner, Brasserie Mémère, Closter

“Here’s a Santa snack that’s super-easy and tasty. I’d like sausage palmiers: sautéed hot Italian sausage wrapped in puff pastry, sliced and baked. I’d wash it down with Glühwein, the classic German hot spiced wine my wife and Brasserie Mémère partner Evelyn Ciszak makes. It combines red wine, sugar, orange zest, cloves, star anise and brandy. It’s warm and toasty and would remind me of my German roots.”
107 Vervalen Street, Closter, 201-660-8822

Anna Altieri, Spiegelworld Corporate Executive Chef, Atlantic City and Las Vegas

“I’m a savory—rather than sweet—gal through and through. So, my treat of choice would be a big plate of caviar, potato chips, and creme fraiche. To wash it down, a flute of Champagne.”
Superfrico at The Hook by Spiegelworld, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino, 2100 Pacific Avenue; 888-966-0404

Anthony DeVanzo, Chef-Owner, Bici, Ramsey

“As Santa, I’ve worked through the night, delivering toys to all the good little girls and boys, and fueling up on energy gels and Gatorade. I’d like my treat to be something I can kick back with and enjoy. As somewhat of a traditionalist, it would have to be cookies. Old-fashioned “spritz” butter cookies, homemade! Spritz cookies have egg in them so they’re softer and hold their shape. All those traditional designs: Christmas trees, stockings, snowflakes. With sprinkles too, of course.

I’d like this Christmas treat to be served alongside a double Don Julio 1942 añejo tequila, neat. It’s a dessert in itself, with a smooth taste and flavors of white chocolate and caramel. After squeezing down chimneys all night long, this pairing would be the most welcome variation of cookies and milk.”
61 East Main Street, Ramsey; 201-962-9015

Seadon Shouse, Executive chef, Halifax, Hoboken; Managing Partner, Little Bar, Hoboken

“If I were Santa, I’d like to climb down the chimney to find my mother’s Linzer torte. I would never attempt to recreate it; it’s my mother’s signature dish, with a unique, dense, cookie-like texture. The fruity layer is my mother-in-law’s blackcurrant jam, with wild currants from her native Estonia. To drink, I’d love a glass of Maury, a fortified French wine. The torte and the wine are a sweet and savory pairing I’d look forward to.

Maybe I’ll finish the torte, or maybe I’ll take it with me back to the North Pole. Like many things in life, Linzer torte gets better with time. Recently, my mother sent me one for my birthday. It took two weeks to travel from Nova Scotia to North Jersey and was then dropped over a fence by the courier. Yet when I opened the box, the gift was completely intact and the best-tasting Linzer torte I’ve ever had.”
Halifax at the W Hotel, 225 River Street, Hoboken; 201-253-2500. Little Bar, 1401 Hudson Street, Hoboken; 201-300-1113

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