It was nothing short of a coup when Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen’s managing partner Christopher Cannon scored Craig Polignano’s services this fall as executive chef of the landmark restaurant in downtown Morristown.
It’s been a couple of months since the veteran of major-league restaurants in New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania took charge of the stoves that feed the dining spaces at the old Vail Mansion—a good time to check in with the chef and see how he’s doing.
Table Hopping: What is surprising you about Jockey Hollow? What did you not anticipate about working here?
Craig Polignano: The magnitude, more than anything. How vast it is. That allows me to have diverse food and have a few different styles (of food) under the same roof. I don’t have to mold myself into any one type of cuisine here. I enjoy that—it’s a challenge.
TH: What’s a dish you are doing now that reflects that challenge?
CP: My pork rib dish. It’s in the Oyster Bar. It’s bone-in baby back ribs that first are cured overnight then cooked in duck fat, low and slowly. Then they cool overnight in the duck fat… They’re deep-fried and glazed with apple cider. We plate them with butternut squash polenta and charred broccoli. A lot of love goes into it.
TH: How are people responding to your new menu?
CP: You know? Chefs are Instagramming the pork rib dish. Jerry Rotunno, of The Committed Pig (Manasquan, Morristown, Summit), wrote, ‘It’s the best dish I ever had.’
TH: So how are you navigating this huge physical space?
CP: On Fridays and Saturdays, I do an average of 52 flights of stairs! I go from the kitchen (upstairs) to the basement (location of The Rathskeller) to the middle level, where the Oyster Bar is. Again and again.
TH: That’s a lot of walking.
CP: I’m different from a lot of people in that it’s passion that drives me. It’s who I am as a human being. Creating food, a well-run kitchen—I’m very structured. I put that out to everybody. It makes me different in this industry. There’s a certain percentage of people who buy into what I do. I have an old-school mentality—systematic and organized—and it pushes the weak out and makes those who buy into my [ethic] that much stronger.
TH: It’s Christmas weekend: What are you doing?
CP: For the holiday? Taking a nap! (Laughs.) I just moved into a new apartment in Somerville, near Shumi (the acclaimed Japanese restaurant). I love Shumi. [Chef-owner] Ike is my favorite chef and one of my favorite human beings. When I was at Ryland [Inn; Whitehouse Station], we used to cook lunch, then go out to Shumi to eat our lunch there, then go back to Ryland to cook dinner.
TH: Why did you pick Somerville?
CP: It’s an up-and-coming town. Verve is my favorite place for a drink; Shumi is my favorite place to eat. Three of my best friends live there. It’s now my home.
Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen, 110 South Street in Morristown. 973-644-3180; jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com.