CHEF CHAT: New Year, New Ideas

We check in with four fine chefs to see what they're jazzed about.

Chef Dan Richer was driving to Razza the other morning and musing on an ingredient awaiting him at his celebrated restaurant in Jersey City.

Sunchokes,” said the James Beard Award-nominated chef, whose dedication to the craft of fermentation has brought national acclaim to Razza’s bread and pizza programs. “I’m going to roast them in our wood-fired oven with good olive oil and sea salt. I like to keep things as simple as possible.”

Roasted sunchokes, he added, “are like candy.” Toss them with root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, and you’ve got a more complete dish with a higher nutritional profile, he added.

Richer isn’t the only Garden State chef with “new for the New Year” ideas…

In Millburn, Ehren Ryan, chef-owner of Common Lot, is taking the opportunity at this relatively quiet time of year to tweak his menu and experiment.

“I just got in kaffir lime leaf,” Ryan said. As he spoke, he laid the foundation for a new dish: “It’s gotten cold outside, so I’m thinking about soup. A lobster bisque, maybe, with coconut and kaffir lime.”

He’s also pondering bone marrow.

“I’m playing around with bone marrow and our house-made butter. Maybe with lavash or flatbread?” Using his ice cream machine’s “savory canisters,” Ryan might whip together bone marrow and butter.

Meanwhile, in Hopewell…

On January 9, chef-partner Greg Vassos of Brick Farm Tavern will reopen the devout farm-to-table restaurant after its holiday break with “new” as the operative word.

“This is the most creative time of year,” Vassos said, because he can juxtapose the classic storage vegetables (beets, rutabagas, potatoes) with preserves from high summer (baby yellow carrots, garlic scapes) and offbeat ingredients such as “wineberries we foraged.”

Wineberries, native to Asia, grow wild in the Mid-Atlantic and are something like raspberries, only smaller, tart and very juicy. Vassos is “thinking pastry (using) the wineberries. We got rid of all-purpose flour in the restaurant, and we’re getting our own flour now from Ringoes, three miles down the road. We are, and will remain, farm-to-table in the truest form.”

Finally, down the Shore…

At Poached Pear Bistro in Point Pleasant Beach, chef-owner Scott Giordano is ringing in 2017 with his own new  items.

Black sea bass and corvina are so good right now,” Giordano said. “We’ll do the bass simply: Sear it so the skin is crispy and serve it with oven-roasted tomatoes and artichokes, with a sauce of white wine, lemon and garlic.”

“The roots”—vegetables, he means—“are right this time of year. We bring them on the menu in a major way. That’s the best thing about cooking here in New Jersey: The seasons change, so the ingredients are always changing. It keeps things interesting.”

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