Tag Archives: Agricola

Top NJ Taprooms; Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty (It’s Not Who You Think);Central NJ Food News Galore

NJ Monthly’s March Issue Devoted to Beer in the Garden State

NJ Monthly cover Mar16
Among its finds are 15 hot new taprooms. In it, I turn the spotlight on:

Brickwall Tavern, Burlington. The folks behind Brickwall in Asbury Park (and Porta Pizza and Pascal & Sabine) have breathed new life into downtown Burlington. THIS JUST IN: Brickwall’s new downstairs dining room is having its unveiling this coming Wednesday, 3/9, at 5pm. Full raw bar, cask ale on tap, etc.
BLEND Bar & Bistro, Hamilton. From the same family behind the ever popular Brothers Pizza right next door, as well as the Central Jersey Beer Festival.
World of Beer, New Brunswick. Rapidly growing franchise (about to expand to Hoboken, btw), offering 50 drafts and 600 bottles.

Read the full descriptions of these and 35 other NJ taprooms here.

Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty? With 9 Eateries and Counting, it’s….

3-2 Cover & Front (1-7).indd
…not who you might expect. As I write in the March 2nd issue of US 1, “The Princeton area boasts its fair share of food and restaurant dynasties, among them Jack Morrison’s JM Group (Blue Point Grill, Witherspoon Grill, Nassau Street Seafood); Raoul and Carlo Momo’s Terra Momo (Mediterra, Eno Terra, Teresa Caffe, Terra Momo Bread, Terra Libri); and Jim Nawn’s Fenwick Hospitality Group, which in addition to Agricola and the acquisition last month of Main Street’s European Bistro & Bar and its cafe in its Kingston [see more in next entry], has partnered with Princeton University to develop a bar and a bistro in two former Dinky train station buildings as part of the university’s ongoing arts and transit project.”

Meet the team behind Gretalia, which has them all beat, here in my cover story for the March 2nd issue of US 1.

The Times They Sure Are A Changin’

Echo March 2016 Cover

In my latest “Food for Thought” column in the March Princeton Echo I report on: the acquisition of longtime Princeton fave Main Street by the folks behind Agricola; the details behind Bucks County high-end caterer Max Hansen developing a large, swanky catering venue in a farmhouse in Hopewell; and the imminent opening of a specialty grocery in the village of Lawrenceville.

 

Fine Dining in Point Pleasant; Big Doings @ Great Road Farm; Join Me @ Salsa Slam 2015

Fine-Dining in Point Pleasant Beach

There comes a time when even the most devoted sun worshiper or boardwalk fan relishes a chef-made meal in a civilized, air-conditioned setting. In the High Summer issue of Edible Jersey I profile three possibilities:

Edible Jersey high summer 2015Daniel’s BistroThe Picard family resurrected their popular restaurant after it and their home were devastated by Superstorm Sandy
Poached Pear. This first solo restaurant of Scott Giordano (last of Whispers in Spring Lake) was just this week named among the top 25 restaurants in the state by New Jersey Monthly
Shipwreck Point. Readers of NJ Monthly designated it the best steakhouse in South Jersey

Great Road Farm: Big Plans Underway for the Farm that Feeds Agricola

Tomlinson Family. Photo courtesy US 1 Newspaper

Tomlinson Family. Photo courtesy US 1 Newspaper

I sat down with Farmer Steve Tomlinson and Jim Nawn, owner of both Great Road Farm in Skillman farm and Agricola, the Princeton restaurant it supplies, to talk about their latest plans and accomplishments. Foremost among them is the Food Barn project, well underway, that will feature its own kitchen and chef and will be the site of on-farm dinners, demos, and other events. I spill the beans here in the July 8 issue of US 1.

Judging Salsa (the Condiment) in Princeton

As I have for the past three years, I will be on the panel of judges in the Princeton Library‘s annual fun event, which crowns the local eatery with the best salsa. There’s a People’s Choice winner, too, so come on down this Wednesday night to sample the salsas and vote for your favorite. While you’re there, stop by the judge’s table to say hello – and not just to me, but to the star judge: Gab Carbone of the Bent Spoon, who won the first Salsa Slam.

Salsa Slam 2015 Flyer

Brooklyn Comes to Princeton; Best Coffee Houses in NJ

Frankies Spuntino @ Whole Foods Princeton for a Good Cause

So how often do I make it to Brooklyn to dine? Try almost never. So when I heard that The Franks – Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo – from Frankies Spuntino were cooking a meal at my local Whole Foods to raise funds for the Whole Planet Foundation, I jumped at the chance. I knew I was in for a great meal, and that happened. But the evening came with several unexpected bonuses.

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Among the surprises? That the evening’s 5-course menu was Sicilian from top to bottom, that assisting The Franks was their director of operations who turned out to be a longtime chef at Princeton’s Nassau Inn (and an old friend), and that the 24 guests included luminaries from the current Princeton-area restaurant scene AND  a 13-year-old whom I predict will someday be a noted restaurant critic.

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

CrudoBeetThe Franks led off with these two light courses: fluke crudo with Sicilian sette anni peppers & pistachio, and blood orange segments with 1 sunburst of a golden beet topped with shards of caciocavallo. The unbilled star of both dishes was the zingy, deep green Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (made from nocellara del belice olives) that Frankies imports and which Whole Foods carries. The can made for a gorgeous centerpiece:

TulipsThese dishes were followed by a pasta course. Not just any pasta: fettuccine with jumbo lump crabmeat in ricci de mare sauce. For the uninitiated, that’s sea urchin. This dish had the evening’s 24 guests unabashedly going back for seconds.

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Among those who named it as their favorite of the night was Shaun Orssaud, age 13, who came from Moorestown with his mother, Lisa.

Budding restaurant critic?

Budding restaurant critic?

Perhaps Mr. Orssaud owes his sophisticated palate  to the fact that he was born in France and lived there until he was 6.

Ribeye with Catanese Olivd Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

Ribeye with Catanese Olive Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

The centerpiece of the meal was this amazing slow-roasted ribeye. It was served with Ca’ Di Ponti Barbera, 1 of 3 wines poured.

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Seated in this photo are Josh Thomsen, executive chef at Agricola in Princeton, and its owner Jim Nawn. (Sitting across from them, not pictured, were Lambertville’s famed Canal House duo, Christopher Hersheimer & Melissa Hamilton. As I said, even the guest list was star-studded!) Serving the 2 men is Chris Harkness, who I knew years ago when he was chef at the Nassau Inn, and who has been working with The Franks for years now. The photo below shows those 3 plus Scott Allshouse, president of Whole Foods’ Mid-Atlantic region.

??????????Proceeds from the dinner went to the Whole Planet Foundation. Maybe I’ve been under a rock, but up until now I’ve been oblivious to the good work this organization is doing. Through its mission to alleviate poverty by providing micro-loans, it has assisted 875,158 women entrepreneurs in 61 countries (89% go to women) with $62 million in credit. To talk about Whole Foods’ charity work was an unexpected star of the evening – Michelle Mac Arthur:

Michelle MacArthurMs. Mac Arthur has been a part-time cashier at the Princeton store for only six months, but during the last holiday season she single-handedly brought in $8,000 for another Whole Foods initiative, Feed4More. By asking customers to donate $10 (or any amount) at checkout, she alone beat out 13 other Whole Foods stores in the region! She’s standing in front of an end display featuring, among other things, Frankies olive oil and the Frankies Spuntino cookbook.

New Jersey Monthly Features Best Coffee Houses from High Point to Cape May

NJ Monthly cover April 2015See if your favorites made the cut in this April 2015 cover story. I contributed these 6 from Central NJ that the powers-that-be deemed among the best:

Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso, Lambertville
Grovers Mill, West Windsor
Infini-T Cafe, Princeton
Lambertville Trading Co., Lambertville
Rojo’s Roastery, Lambertville & Princeton
Small World, Princeton

Clearly it was a tough assignment, drinking all those wonderful brews. But two in particular linger in my memory: the sidecar at Rojo’s espresso bar in Princeton, which are tandem, half-size espresso and cappuccino ($4) and a small pour-over of Crispy Hippie Dark Roast at Small World ($3.25).

 

 

 

 

 

Summer is NOT Over: Dine on the JC Waterfront; Attend a David Burke-Curated Alfresco Fundraiser; & Make Seasonal Salsas

Before We Get Started: Join me at Readathon for Adult Literacy

This Thursday, September 4th, I’m participating in Literacy New Jersey‘s Readathon at the Princeton Public Library. At 1 pm, I will read from my favorite (food-related) book for 5 minutes, as part of an all-day event to spotlight adult illiteracy.

A few cookbooks from my shelves

A few cookbooks on my shelves

Did you know that in Mercer County alone, 60,000 adult residents cannot read above a fourth grade level? As someone with a sibling who never learned to read (incredible, I know), this cause is very close to my heart.

From 10 to 11 am, children’s books will be featured; from noon to 4 pm, adult books. Please join me! The public is welcome to sign up as readers, too. Phone 609.587.6027 or email vgolden@literacynj.org.

 

As It Grows” Dinner to Benefit Little Silver’s Historic 1665 Parker Homestead

Parker Homestead

Parker Homestead

David Burke is the celebrity chef (David Burke Fromagerie, etc.) creating a sumptuous farm-to-table menu for what event co-chair Bob Sickles (of Sickles Market) terms a “serious food and wine event with a fun, casual approach.” It takes place on Saturday, September 13 starting at 6:30 pm under a sailcloth tent at the historic Parker Homestead in Little Silver, which is the beneficiary.

The “elegant casual” evening includes wines from Colts Neck’s 4JGs Vineyard, music, dancing, and a live auction (featuring rare collectible wines) conducted by Antiques Roadshow star Nicholas Dawes.

Here’s the menu created by David Burke (who, btw, grew up in Hazlet):

Cocktail Reception: Bacon Clotheslines with Pickled Carrot Garnish; Cheese”burker” Sliders; Quinoa Sliders; Pork Rillettes; Corn Panna Cotta Jars; Pig Trotter Terrine Spiced Apple; House Cured Lardo; Garden Conserva; Country Crostini; Chicken Lollipops.

Lusty Lobster Raw Bar: Wild Caught Sandy Hook Bay Clams; Wild Caught Delaware Bay Oysters; Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail; Jonah Crab Claws.

Sickles Market Cheese Table: Assorted Farmstead Jersey Cheeses including Long Valley Shepherd, Bobolink Dairy and Cherry Grove. Gourmet accompaniments and fruits.

“Local” Salad Station: Organic Kale Caesar Salad; Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Apples; Candies Pecans, Blue Cheese, Dried Cranberries; Fall Market Salad with Fixins’; Tomato Burrata Salad.

Fish Station: Barnegat Light Day Boat Scallops, Parsnip, Apple, Chanterelle, and Leek Fondue.

Pork Station: Porchetta Carving Station, Pineapple and Mustard Kraut, Quince, Lentils, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Corn Bread Stuffing, Country Potato Salad.

Beef Station: Roast Prime Rib with Au Jus, Horseradish, Crème Fraiche and David Burke Steak Sauce.

Pasta Station: House Made Cavatelli, Sheep Milk Ricotta, Butternut Squash.

Dessert: Cotton Candy, Smokin’ Hot Doughnuts; Peach Pies.

Tickets are $250 and can be purchased at www.AsItGrows.org or by calling 732.462.1466.

Surfeit of Scrumptious Salsas Sizzle at Salsa Slam 2014

Princeton Salsa Slam 2014

Princeton Salsa Slam 2014

Last month I was a judge at a different event at the Princeton Public Library: it’s third annual salsa contest. Ten area eateries vied for the coveted title of best salsa in this Ivy League town. Terra Learning Kitchen (located inside the YMCA) won over us judges with its Salsa Verde with Avocado, while People’s Choice went to Tortuga’s Mexican Village for its classic Secret Family Recipe Salsa.

My fellow judges: Gab Carbone of the bent spoon, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, & food blogger Sue Gordon

My fellow judges (left to right): Gab Carbone of the bent spoon, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, & food blogger Sue Gordon

Naturally, I used the occasion to gather recipes for some of my personal favorites. Don’t let the Labor-Day-means-the-end-of-summer hype fool you: there’s plenty of NJ harvest time left to make the following fresh, exciting salsas. The folks at Agricola, Princeton’s popular farm-to-table restaurant kindly shared their intriguing entry, anchored by kimchi and heirloom tomatoes. The mango salsa recipe is courtesy of my friend George Point of Lawrenceville, who won awards for it years ago when he competed on the NJ barbecue cook-off circuit.

For a full report on the Slam, read this terrific account by one of my fellow judges, Sue Gordon, who blogs as the Princeton Food Examiner. (Recipes are reprinted from my column in the August 15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

KIMICHI – HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALSA
Pete Maglaty, Sous Chef, Agricola

3/4 cup kimchi
2-1/2 cups heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup spring onion, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
Juice from 1-1/2 limes, separated
4 tablespoons kimchi juice, separated
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

  1. Combine the onion, jalapeno, juice from 1 lime, and 2 tablespoons of kimchi juice in a small bowl. Cover and let macerate overnight at room temperature.
  2. Next day, cut the tomatoes into small dice and chop the cilantro leaves. Mix together the tomatoes, cilantro, and kimchi. Stir in the macerated mixture of onion and jalapeno, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of kimchi juice. Season with salt, cover, and let rest in the refrigerator overnight. Before serving adjust seasoning if necessary with additional salt and lime juice.
    Makes about 3 cups.

MANGO MADNESS SALSA
George Point

2 15-ounce cans sliced mango
1/4 cup crushed pineapple
1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2 ripe kiwi fruit, chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper, or to taste
Juice of one fresh lime
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Puree the mango. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a small bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Makes about 3 cups.

Review: Battello – Ryan DePersio’s Latest, at the Newport Marina in Jersey City

NJ Monthly cover sept 2014The views of Manhattan, the open-air porch on the Hudson, the breezy nautical decor all make Battello a natural for catching the last of summer’s fine weather. The modern Italian seafood ain’t bad either. Read the joint report from me and senior editor Eric Levin, in the September issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Old & Newfangled Turkey Stuffing; Old & Newfangled Carversville General Store

Looking for a Stuffing Recipe? I’ve Got 3!

1) Sausage & Apple, from chef Chase Gerstenbacher of Hopewell’s Brick Farm Market, where the turkeys come from the market’s own Double Brook Farm.
2) Wild Rice – naturally gluten free – from Marilyn Besner of Lawrenceville’s Wildflour Bakery & Cafe.
3) Classic Bread & Herb, the recipe my family hasn’t let me depart from for more Thanksgivings than I care to count. It’s inside the bird pictured here, taken at the first Tanner Thanksgiving. (Not bad-looking for my inaugural bird.)Thanksgiving turkeyThese recipes, below, are reprinted from my In the Kitchen column in the November 22nd issue of the Princeton Packet.

BRICK FARM MARKET’S SAUSAGE AND APPLE STUFFING
Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef

“We will be featuring this sausage and apple stuffing in our prepared foods case this Thanksgiving. I generally stay away from actually stuffing it inside the raw turkey because I find that by the time the center of the stuffing is hot enough the turkey is usually overcooked. If you want that classic look to present your turkey you could cook them both separately and then spoon the stuffing into the bird just before taking it to the table.” –C.G.

1/2 cup melted butter plus 2 tablespoons for sautéing
1 large onion, finely diced
3 ribs celery, finely diced
Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely diced
1 pound sweet Italian or garlic sausage, casing removed, broken up into bite-size chunks
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch dice
1 cup apple cider
1/2 bunch sage, leaves finely chopped
10 cups stale rustic bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 to 3 cups chicken stock

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and celery, season with salt, and cook until the veggies start to become soft and are very aromatic.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage browns.
  3. Stir in the apples and apple cider and cook until the apples start to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle in the sage leaves and turn off the heat.
  4. Add the diced bread and toss together. Pour in the chicken stock and 1/2-cup melted butter and knead with your hands until the bread is very moist (actually wet). Taste to check for seasoning and season with salt. (It probably will need it.)
  5. Transfer mixture to a large, deep ovenproof dish (roughly 9 by 11 inches) and bake until stuffing is hot all the way through and crusty on top.

WILDFLOUR CAFÉ & BAKERY’S WILD RICE STUFFING
Marilyn Besner, Chef/owner

Makes 6 cups.

1-1/2 cups wild rice
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped roasted chestnuts or canned water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook the wild rice with 3 cups water and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onion and celery until softened. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until fragrant. Remove from heat and add the cooked rice and the prepared chestnuts. Season to taste with tamari, salt and pepper.

NEW ENGLAND STUFFING
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

 Makes 12 servings.

1 large loaf day-old country white bread, crusts removed and cut into enough    half-inch cubes to measure 12 cups
1/2 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons dried sage
1 tablespoon salt (or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 cups minced onions
1 turkey liver, minced (reserved from bag of turkey organs)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 cup minced celery
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Spread the bread cubes on baking sheets and toast in the oven until lightly browned. Allow cubes to cool on baking sheets.
  2. In a very large bowl combine the cubes with the parsley, sage, salt, pepper, thyme, and marjoram and toss the mixture well.
  3. In a large heavy skillet melt the butter and add the onions and turkey liver. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of bread cubes and add the egg, chicken stock, and cream. Combine well and let the mixture cool before either stuffing the turkey or baking it in an ovenproof pan until heated through and crisp on top.

Call Central Casting: Max Hansen Carversville Grocery is Ready for its Closeup

Photo courtesy of George Point

Photo courtesy of George Point

I can’t decide what I like best about the recent takeover and revamping of what for decades had been the Carversville General Store in rural Bucks County, PA. Is it the fantastic breakfast and lunch sandwiches and other prepared foods of accomplished chef and caterer Max Hansen? The genuinely friendly demeanor of Max and his staff? The idiosyncratic collection of groceries and household goods stuffed onto the shelves? Or perhaps the fact that the Carversville post office is still located inside the store?

Exterior, Max Hansen Carversville Grocery

Exterior, Max Hansen Carversville Grocery

Well, all of the above, plus the store’s picturesque bucolic setting on Fleecy Dale Road. Yep, Fleecy Dale. I stopped in earlier this month during the store’s Customer Appreciation Day. Here are just a few of the impressions I took away – including an unexpected, on-the-fly interview I snagged with a bona fide TV celebrity. Let’s start with that.

Max Hansen lives just down the street from the store, but just around the corner is the antique toy emporium of Noel Barrett, the mustachioed, pony-tailed gent we all recognize as the toy expert on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.”

Noel Barrett & Max Hansen

Noel Barrett & Max Hansen

“I moved here 28 years ago and the general store was just opening,” Barrett told me. “It was big on plumbing supplies. I’ve come here through six iterations and four owners. It’s been a long wait for the best.” With a twinkle in his eye he added, “We’re very blessed, but the downside is it will bring more people into this tiny little town!”

Note the slow smoked pig in the smoker behind Max

Note the slow smoked pig in the smoker behind Max

Above is Hansen at work fixing barbecued pork sliders using the whole Berkshire pig he had slow-smoked earlier that day. It went well with his smoky baked gigante beans, mac & cheese, and sautéed broccoli rabe.

Carversville Grocery 021

Hansen is most renowned for his smoked salmon – he even wrote a cookbook of smoked salmon recipes. Tasting his salmon made me realize how I’ve been settling for inferior versions. His is subtle – not overwhelmed by salt or smoke, and rich but not oily. You don’t have to take my word for it: Hansen supplies Thomas Keller’s restaurants and, closer to home, Agricola in Princeton. A package is in the rear right, above. If you look close, you’ll also see charcuterie from Porc Salt.

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A real charm of the store for me is the high-low mix of products juxtaposed on cluttered shelves. Porc Salt salami, yes, but also Taylor ham. Cracker Jack next to chia crisps. Boxes of Jell-O pudding and burlap bags of Virginia peanuts.

Everywhere you turn you encounter beautiful, interesting, and delicious sights. Here’s just one tableau (the post office counter is at the rear):

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In his off hours, Max Hansen carves wooden spoons. Here’s a sample of his handiwork:

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Growing up, the Hansen family was close with Julia Child’s. He counts her as a major influence, and among his prized possessions are two of her knives, which he still uses. Ask him for stories when you visit Max Hansen Carversville Grocery. By the way: the store is located across the street from another Carversville institution: the excellent Carversville Inn.

Carversville Inn

Carversville Inn

Chefs’ Last Meals

Because my final Princeton Packet column of 2013 ran on December 21st, I decided to ask Princeton-area chefs and food pros what they would choose to eat and drink for their last meal, and who they would want to share it with.

English: Mayan calendar created by a modern cr...

English: Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their responses are as diverse and diverting as their culinary output. Here’s who participated: Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan of elements, Josh Thomsen of the highly anticipated Agricola, Beth Feehan of NJ Farm to School Network, master baker Jen Carson, Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, and Mark Valenza of Za. (Valenza even managed to bring Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain to the table.)
Here’s what each had to say:

Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Kingston. My last meal of 2012 would be cheese fondue, one of my favorite winter dishes, especially in front of a fire with some good vodka and great company.  I mean classic traditional fondue, made with emmental and gruyere – although the Rosedale from Cherry Grove might make it in there, too. Plus good, crusty bread and vegetables like fried artichokes and broccoli rabe. Apples and Asian pears, mushrooms too. Riesling would have to be a part (in addition to the vodka). This meal may not seem too crazy, but after all the craziness leading up to New Year’s, I’d just as soon have my most comfortable meal. As for who would be there, it would definitely include my daughters and a few other good friends, but once the kids were in bed, the storytelling and reminiscing would be the life of the evening.

Mike Ryan of elements, Princeton. A good bottle of burgundy, sourdough bread, and epoisses. Great mustard and pickles. Scott Anderson of elements, Princeton. A great talk about metaphysics with Thich Nhat Hahn, while eating mushroom-laden macaroni and cheese. [Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, peace activist, and author of more than 100 books.]

Beth Feehan of the NJ Farm to School Network. For my last meal, I’d wish for my mother’s osso bucco. Her version was to grind up onions, carrots, and celery in a food processor and slow-cook them with lots of garlic. She’d braise the veal shanks with a dusting of flour, salt, and pepper and when browned, add them to the vegetable mixture along with wine and canned tomatoes. Basil, bay leaves, and eventually lemon gremolata rounded it out for one of the most succulent dishes I ever loved, cooked in the oven for hours. It is my favorite meal of all time and if I have to go, this is what I’m asking for to ferry me out.

Josh Thomsen of Agricola Eatery, opening in Princeton in early 2013. My last meal on earth would have to be a family-style feast prepared by the people who created the favorite dishes of my life and have meant so much. Since this is the grand finale, I’d want to slow down and taste every morsel. I tend to get excited and eat too quickly, as chefs learn to do out of necessity. The toast before the meal given by Professor Jacques; Bitton Hog Island oysters opened by owner Terry Sawyer; tuna croquettes by Jessica (you know who you are); “steak & eggs” vegan style by Chef Sean Baker; grilled branzino by Chef Geno Bernardo; spaghetti carbonara cooked by my dad; potato latkes cooked by my mom; steak cooked by Italian butcher Dario Checcini; Tres Sabores wine poured by winemaker Julie Johnson; anything Chef Jeff Jake wants to bring (his presence would be enough for me); any dessert by Chef Ed Moro (but I would hope it would be something with chocolate).  Everyone would cook and then sit down to enjoy.

Jen Carson, Baker, Double Brook Farm & forthcoming Brick Farm Market, Hopewell. For my last meal I would have all of my family – I’m talking siblings, parents, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, second cousins- EVERYONE – come over to cook together. We’d make homemade ravioli, which is one of the first dishes I remember preparing with my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mom as a little girl. It is the BEST meal to prepare with people you love because it is so tedious. Bear with me here. It is so tedious and repetitive that funny stories, memories, and laughter will ultimately ensue. Most of the family stories I remember hearing as a kid were told to me while making ravioli. So, ravioli-prep (and a nice glass of wine) with family… that would be perfect. Actually eating the ravioli together with everyone would be the “icing on the cake.”

Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, Princeton. In thinking about what would be our last meal it’s easy to fall into a whirlwind of gluttony. Courses and courses of rare tastes, perhaps? Indulgent sauces, exotic ingredients? Things we haven’t yet tried? All the while chasing – no, hunting – for culinary perfection. While understandable that many might yearn for a bacchanal feast or think of a goose-bump inducing, seemingly never-ending tasting menu from the likes of Thomas Keller, we submit that for our last meal we’d take homemade comfort over goose livers. Nothing seems more satisfying, more fulfilling than the food of our families. The pure food itself, and in particular the food memories created by them is what sustains and nourishes us. It’s the stuff of life! So, we’ll pass on the uni, ortolan, and truffles for this final feast. At the end of it all we know nothing will make us happier than homemade pasta sauces from our Italian-American fathers and sharing with the people we love.

Mark Valenza of Za, Pennington. Last Meal Party Planner, since December 21, 2012 will be our last dinner together (according to the Mayans).  I’ve been busy getting a jump on the end-of-days meal planning for quite some time now. Just what is appropriate for a Once and Only Occasion? Since money and basic accommodations are no object – it being the end and all – I’ve planned to fly in everybody I’ve ever known and loved…so we will be a party of eight. As for the meal itself, I plan a 21-course tasting menu in honor of The Day. I’ll be serving a 1985 Bollinger Brut Champagne, Grand Cru Classe from the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Burgundy, and a Pomerol Bordeaux. I’ll enlist my Za servers to serve my guests under the threat that there may be a tomorrow (but I doubt it).  I’ll start my dinner with a beautifully caramelized seared foie gras cut into the shape of California. As entertainment I will commission Anthony Bourdain to eat a brick and Rachael Ray to just sit quietly. My dinner will be a progression of culinary classics in miniature: an entire Thanksgiving dinner nestled into a Japanese soup spoon, a clay-oven pizza the size of a quarter served with a salt-rimmed test tube of  pepperoni essence, and, for end-of-days expedience, I’ll produce the Christmas Eve seven-course fish dinner layered into one thin slice of multi-colored pate. I’ll amuse my guests with witty restaurant antidotes. “Did I ever tell you about the time Queen Latifah had to have two orders of my goat cheese gnocchi?” Anyway, aside from my scintillating stories, as a parting gift my guest will each receive a leopard Snuggie and a long birch stick. We’ll end it all just as my culinary career began many, many years ago – by toasting marshmallows in the fire. If not, Rachael, Anthony…I love you guys.