Tag Archives: Craig Shelton

Review: Christine Nunn’s Picnic on the Square

I can count on one hand the number of restaurants I’ve awarded three-and-a-half stars over the last (gulp) 19 years. Nunn, the award-winning Bergen County chef who’s also the author of The Preppy Chef, got me to do it a few years back with her first restaurant, named simply Picnic, in Westwood. What do I allot her latest, Picnic on the Square in Ridgewood? Check out my review in the February issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover feb15

And while I’m looking backward, I’ve only ever given four-star ratings to two NJ restaurants: Craig Shelton’s Ryland Inn and Nicholas Harary’s Restaurant Nicholas.

The Sorry State of Food TV; 2 NJ Slow Food Events; Craig Shelton’s New Gig; NJ & Beard Awards; Mistral Preview

This essay by Andy Greenwald on the state of Food TV is the best I’ve encountered. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with everything Greenwald writes – I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I was gratified in particular by this sentence about Emeril Lagasse‘s role as a Top Chef judge:

“Stripped of his catchphrases and his band, Emeril has revealed himself to be kind, patient and insightful, able to articulate the nuances of food we’ll never taste with expert, understated flair.”

Not only do I agree with that assessment as a viewer, but it reflects the conclusion I came to when Emeril was a guest on my radio show years ago. We did an entire hour show live from Marketfair mall in Princeton.

Pat & Emeril1

I expected lots of bam! and bluster, and instead I got a thoughtful, soft-spoken, gentle man who answered my questions with insight and modesty. It was only when a young boy in the audience shouted out, “Emeril, say Bam!” that he did – and talked about how great it was to have youngsters interested in cooking.

Slow Food Farmers Market (Central) & Expert Talk on GMOs (North)

Slow Food Central Snail

This Sunday, 2/24/13, will see the final Slow Food Central NJ winter farmers market of the season. This one is being held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village along Route 1 in Princeton, from 11 am to 3 pm. There’ll be live music and you can sit down for food and drink at Tre Bar in between stocking up on meats, breads, mushrooms, cheeses, wines, baked goods, and sweets from these vendors:

Beech Tree Farm….Birds and Bees Farm…Bobolink Dairy and Bake House…Cherry Grove Farm…Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms…Donna and Company…Fulper Dairy Farm…Funni Bonz Barbecue Sauce…Happy Wanderer Bakery…Hopewell Valley Vineyards…Judith’s Desserts…Jammin’ Crepes…Pure Indian Foods Ghee…Rocky Brook Farm…Shibumi Exotic Mushrooms…Valley Shepherd Creamery and Woods Edge Wools Farm.

For information, phone 609.577.5113.

Slow Food SnailThen next Sunday, March 3rd, attend an afternoon meeting of Slow Food Northern NJ at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood that starts at 1 pm with a tasting of local foods and includes talks on school gardens and the impact of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on our lives. Speaker for that will be Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, who will “describe what genetic engineering is, the lack of required safety testing, and why you should be concerned.” Click here for info and to purchase tickets ($8 for members; $10 for the public).

Craig Shelton, Consultant

Craig SheltonNew Jersey’s most well-known chef (check out the interview with him I posted here last December) is now consulting at Mediterra in Princeton. Laurent Chapuis, the proprietor of the Princeton Corkscrew wine shop just a few doors down, was impressed with a recent  lunch overseen by Shelton. If you know Monsieur Chapuis, you know he is one tough customer, so his praise bodes well for this match.

Mediterra’s general manager, Carmine DePasquale, says that Shelton will be at the restaurant four to five days a week, mainly during lunch service, for at least the next three months. He isn’t so much behind the stove tweaking dishes or changing the menu as he is, DePasquale says, “showing us a different hospitality factor, a new way of managing how guests perceive things.” He’s working hand-in-hand with Mediterra chef Terry Strong and his sous chefs, yes, but also servers and the management team as a whole. Shelton, DePasquale says, has set his task as observing, commenting on what’s being done correctly (or not), and addressing issues around hospitality and even marketing. “The beauty of Craig,” DePasquale says, “is that he holds himself up to the Relais and Chateaux guidelines, and it’s always good to strive for that with every single person who walks through our door.”

Congrats to 2013 James Beard Awards Semi-finalists Scott Anderson, Joey Baldino, and Thirty Acres

If you call yourself a New Jersey foodie, you’ve likely heard by now that the Garden State receive three nods on the first round of balloting announced this week. Both Scott Anderson of elements in Princeton and Vetri-alumnus Joey Baldino of Zeppoli (his Sicilian restaurant in Collingswood) are among 2o chefs vying to be one of 5 semi-finalists for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Thirty Acres in Jersey City is one of 29 hopefuls for Best New Restaurant in the USA.

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Five finalists in each category will be announced on March 18, and the ultimate sole winners on May 6.

Sneak Peak of Mistral Menu at elements, Princeton

Mistral-Logo

Speaking of elements, the projected opening of Mistral, the second (and more casual) restaurant by the same team, is now set for April. Those of us who can’t wait for its small plates of interpreted Mediterranean classics can get a smattering at elements between now and then. Prices start at $7 for fennel salad with lemon basil, red onion, and orange and run to $12 for bronzino with potato puree, black olive, and caramelized red onion.

In between are house-cured lomo (Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin) with trumpet royale mushrooms, pimentos, and garlic; pressure-cooked octopus with “papas bravas” (their quotation marks), and caper aioli; and dark meat chicken with yuzu and soy honey glaze.

Interview with Craig Shelton; Slow Food Winter Farmers Market; LA Times’ Devilish Quiz

Coffee & Conversation With Craig Shelton

When I read in an interview in Inside Jersey that Craig Shelton – historically New Jersey’s most renowned chef for his groundbreaking restaurant, the Ryland Inn – had moved to Princeton, my home town, I invited him to conversation over coffee at a local shop.Craig Shelton I wanted to know why and how he had landed in Princeton after a stint in Texas, and what was on his horizon. As always, Shelton was gentlemanly, thoughtful, and unpredictable. I can’t think of any other chef whose responses to restaurant-related questions would encompass: artists ranging from John Singer Sargent to Basquiat, the differences between the British and German banking systems (a discussion that was, frankly, over my head and so is not included here), and the nature of man and the universe.

Me: Why Princeton?
Shelton: The reasons were several-fold. First and foremost, the children. My son, William, is 14 and in middle school. My littlest, Juliette, is at Community Park elementary. (Olivia, my oldest, is soon to be 23. She’s finishing up at Villanova. Her major is pre-med and communications.) Princeton is one of very few locations where you can have an extremely high-value quality of life without needing much money. I lived for many years in nice places that required a nice income. Have you been to the university art museum? I was blown away. I’ve always been a bookish guy. It’s nice to be in a community where you’re not an oddity. Well, I’m still an oddity. I’m probably the only guy in town that’s right-of-center politically.

Me: How has your family coped with the recent changes?
Shelton: My wife fell in love with Texas. We went down without expectations – the rolling hills and horse farms reminded us of Far Hills. People were so lovely, I can’t begin to tell you. We found the area singularly beautiful, quiet, whole, and wholesome. I didn’t see the level of spiritual emptiness that is worldwide. My wife was a shy person, but they embraced her. It affected her in a most beautiful way.

Me: I know you’re consulting with Constantine Katsifis, owner of the Skylark Diner in Edison and other ambitious diners around the state. What else are you involved in these days?
Shelton: Constantine uses me as a kind of Special Ops guy on serious issues. I go in for 90 days, do triage, implement fixes, take a look at finances, marketing – whatever his needs are. I even consult on issues outside his restaurants. But my highest aspiration is to be a bridge between the worlds of finance the restaurant arts. The Ryland was like the canary in the coal mine: it was not in a big city – it was exurban – and it had no big financial backers. It was ten to fifteen years ahead of the others in having to face the current financial and global issues. We have created a sort of Frankensteinish monetary code in the US – very injurious to the working and middle classes –  that makes any kind of traditional business [harder]. Finance and banking trump all other aspects of business, and the government is failing to resolve current issues of financial trust. There’s an unprecedented need for balance sheet work to be done!

Me: Where is the dining world headed?
Shelton: It’s easier to figure out than you think. Like all the plastic arts, it is constantly evolving. But of all the arts it has the greatest latency factor. Just look at any other art form, what you see on the plate will have come out of that. Sculpture, architecture, music – you can map alongside the resulting aesthetic changes in cuisine. What creates beauty? The mind creates beauty based, I think, on the nature of the universe – god and man. Beauty deals with these things on some level. If you take an art history class you’ll see the changes from, say, William Merritt Chase and Singer Sargent to Basquiat and beyond. You see Rothko on the plate today: a smear painted with a brush. Chefs don’t create ex nihilo, they’re a product of their environment. The current worldview is that we have rejected painterly painting, that you see the effect of modernism everywhere. You see evidences of the changes, not just in painting but in advertising, packaging, signage, etc. But I think you’re going to see a psychological need to draw support from traditional beauty with more frequency.

Me: What does it take to have a successful restaurant these days?
Shelton: The guys who have followed me have done so at a nearly impossible moment in time. Their range of choices is driven by economics, as it has been for 25 years. Like when Jean Georges began to use the secondary cuts of meat – really, it was the only economic choice at the time. Why do you think people are into foraging now? The range of options keeps shrinking. A lot of restaurants are going to go under – 20% or more. Of course, there will always be a few geniuses and a factor of luck, like finding the right business partner. A dining room of ten seats can work; anything more than that may be a liability these days.
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Slow Food Winter Market @ Cherry Grove Farm on Saturday

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

At this special holiday market you can, of course, pick up outstanding meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs from these participating farms: Cherry Grove, Cherry Grove Organic, and North Slope. But you can also put a serious dent in your holiday gift list. Personally, these are what I plan to cross off my own:

There will be much more: Organic ghee from Pure Indian Foods, fresh mozzarella and ricotta from Fulper Farms, alpaca wool products from WoodsEdge, Jersey Jams and Jellies, Artisan Tree handmade natural soaps. Plus live music by Bo Child & Anita Harding.

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

I’ll also be purchasing exotic mushrooms from Shibumi Farm to make wild mushroom mac ‘n’ cheese for a holiday dinner party I’m hosting. If you haven’t encountered the spectacular fungi of Alan Kaufman and company, like the lemon oysters, pioppinos, and king oysters show here, you’re missing out on something special.

The Central NJ Slow Food Winter Market runs from 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday, December 15 at Cherry Grove Farm on Route 206 in Lawrenceville. For directions and a full line-up of vendors, click here.

Jonathan Gold’s Cooking Weights & Measures Quiz

I am not going to tell you what I scored on this clever multiple-choice test; it’s embarrassing. Hopefully you’ll do better.

Jersey Wins Big at the James Beard Awards!

Maricel Presilla, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ariane Daguin all strut their stuff at this year’s awards

Congratulations to Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama in Hoboken who was named Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region at Monday night’s Beard Awards. She beat out chefs from leading restaurants in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Alexandria, VA. She is only the second Garden State chef to be so honored. The first, of course, was Craig Shelton of the Ryland Inn. Presilla, with her partner Clara Chaumont, is also behind two other Hoboken establishments: the more casual Zafra and a gourmet food and goods shop, Ultramarinos.

Gabrielle Hamilton – a scion of the Lambertville restaurant family – was awarded the Writing & Literature prize for her biography, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. This is not the first time Hamilton, the chef/owner of Prune on NY’s Lower East Side, has been honored by the Beard Foundation. Last year she was named Best Chef: NYC. The James Beard Book, Broadcast & Journalism awards were given out last Friday.

Although Ariane Daguin of D’Artagnan, the Newark-based purveyor of gourmet meats, wasn’t up for any awards, she deserves a medal for fortitude. She distributed a pin with this message at the event, and it showed up on the lapel of Wolfgang Puck, for one:

As you probably know, California’s ban on foie gras is due to go into effect in July.

Congratulations to all three of these Jersey gals. Check out the complete list of Beard winners here: 2012 James Beard Award Winners.

Two Posts in One Day? Must Be Important News!!

Here’s the scoop: The new executive chef at the Ryland Inn, which is expected to come back online this summer, will be Anthony Bucco. Bucco, formerly of Uproot in Warren and for many years before that Stage Left in New Brunswick, happens to be one of my favorites, so I could not be more pleased.

Here is a reprint of what I wrote about my first visit to Uproot early in 2010, when it was still new and he was still in charge of the kitchen. (It may still be just as good, but since I haven’t been there since he departed, I can’t say.) Anyway, congrats to everyone involved. Those are big shoes to fill (those of Craig Shelton, of course), but I am very hopeful.

UPROOT YOURSELF

When I learned that Anthony Bucco, longtime chef at Stage Left in New Brunswick, is the executive chef at Uproot, a new restaurant in Warren, I wanted to check it out pronto. This meant not waiting to dine there in my official capacity as restaurant critic, but rather as a civilian – one of a group of six friends out for an evening on the town. What follows is a report on my experience, which differs from the norm because the folks there knew I was coming, there was no need for me to don the disguise I have used in the past, and I dined there on my own dime.

The name of the restaurant has both literal and symbolic meaning. Uprooting himself is exactly what Bucco has done. And the exciting design of the restaurant includes a whimsical take on an inverted tree suspended overhead. Amazingly, the tree isn’t the most dramatic element in this sleek, sophisticated space that manages to be inviting and comfortable as well as ultramodern.

Service is pretty sleek, too. I sometimes forget what it feels like to have your every want and need anticipated, but was reminded of that here. As, too, when a restaurant pays attention to every last detail, including good, crusty rolls, an intelligent cheese plate, and excellent coffee.

Other pluses here: adult cocktails and an interesting wine list. Sommelier/general manager Jonathan Ross (formerly of Anthos in New York) found some impressive vintages within our $60 cap, including a 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape and a 2002 Alsace Riesling.

Every dish on Uproot’s modern American menu peaked my interest. Even the amuse bouche provided excitement: crostini topped with elk tartare. Chef Bucco has a very special way with fish, so I ordered the special appetizer of local fluke with onion marmalade followed by black cod poached in grapefruit-accented broth and, in between, my tablemates and I shared a portion of lightly seared tuna. I smiled contentedly through all three courses while the meat-lovers in my group extolled the venison with rutabaga gratin and huckleberries.

Other dishes, while still good, didn’t quite match the ‘wow’ factor of the above. Pear and bitter greens salad, gnocchi with Surryano ham, and roast chicken with root vegetables, for example.

These days, it is heartening to see a restaurant open that doesn’t stint on style or dumb down its menu in deference to today’s economic conditions. With seven out of ten entrees under $30, the folks at Uproot “get” the economy while providing a welcome respite from the currently ubiquitous “upscale” burgers, mac and cheese, and short ribs.