Seven Mile Times

Memorial Day 2019

Dishing with the Chefs

By Joanna Heston

Within the seven-mile stretch of land on which the boroughs of Avalon and Stone Harbor are located, there is so much to do … and so much to eat! From acai bowls, pancakes and pizza to fresh seafood, steaks and more, Seven Mile Beach is home to some of the best in dining. With 7 Mile Restaurant Week on tap for June 2-9, you might also be wondering just who is cooking up all your favorite dishes. We met with local chefs to learn more about everything from their culinary experiences and hobbies to what some have in common, such as binge-watching “Game of Thrones.” While you might come to town to enjoy the sun and the sand, you won’t want to miss what these chefs are dishing out this summer.

Chef Josh Romano of Café Loren

with the Beet Infused Whipped

Ricotta with Artichokes.

Chef Lee Finkel with the Carmelized Salmon with Tri-color Carrots in a Chabet Herb Leblanc.

Executive Chef Jim Moran with the Water Star Grille’s Seafood Pasta

with Oregano Garlic Sauce.

Chef Linda Schwartz of Tortilla Flats with the Enchiladas.

Chef Jim Kurtz of Windrift Hotel

Resort with the Seared Ahi Tuna

and Pineapple Sauce.

Chef Jeff Staino of Circle Tavern with the Fried Walnut Crusted Goat Cheese and the G.O.A.T pizza.

Chef Bryan Haines of The Princeton Bar and Grill with the Shrimp and Grits.

Chef John Petela of The Sea Grill

with the Broiled Scallops.

Chef Jay Otton of The Watering Hull with the Conch Fritters.

Chef  Michael Blaszczyk of Yacht Club of Stone Harbor with the Sesame Encrusted Scallops.

Chef Bekim Daku of Polpo Ristorante with the Al Polpo Nero.

Chef August Zimmerman of Kitchen 330 with the Hatfield Prime Pork Chop.

Chef Sidney Gary of Bobby Dee’s

Rock ‘n Chair Restaurant with the Chicken Garibaldi and Crab Lorenzo.

Chef Ian Borgo of Oceanside Seafood with the Clams Fettuccini in Garlic White Wine Sauce.

Chef Joe Sparta of Fred’s Tavern

with the Beach Plate.

Chef Josh Romano of Cafe Loren

2288 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-8228 • cafeloren.com

 

1. Where did you receive your training?

I had my first job at Stewart’s Root Beer when I was 15 years old. Then I went to culinary school and met the old owner of Café Loren and came to work here, where he trained me to be a chef.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

The former owner of Café Loren, Stephen Serano. He taught me the value of hard work when I was a kid.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A rock star.

4. What TV show are you binge-watching right now?

“Game of Thrones.”

5. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

Breakfast Frittata.

 

 

 

Chef Lee Finkel of Avalon Brew Pub

79th Street and Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-2116 • avalonbrewpub.com

 

1. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder.

2. What are your top three tips on running a successful kitchen?

You must have cleanliness, organization and training to run a successful kitchen.

3. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

Tacos with tortilla shells made from scratch.

4. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Home repairs.

5. How do you keep up with current food trends, and is there a specific trend you are interested in now?

I love to talk to everyday people about food from their heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

Chef Jim Moran of The Reeds at Shelter Haven

9601 Third Avenue, Stone Harbor • 609-368-0100 • reedsatshelterhaven.com

 

1. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

As a kid, it always amazed me to watch my mom cook a hot dinner for her six kids every night. The fact that she cooked for a crowd like that seven nights a week was a feat in and of itself, let alone how delicious everything always was. She and my grandmother have always been my inspiration in the kitchen.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A United States Marine or a police officer

3. What are your top three tips on running a successful kitchen?

Stay organized, work hard every day, and surround yourself with a supportive, talented team. Quality is always better than quantity.

4. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

I love enabling guests to enjoy something that they may not get to experience at home. If it’s within reason, I’ll accommodate whatever they request in order to immerse them in a dining experience they’ll never forget.

5. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

I love preparing fresh seafood for friends and family. Living on the coast, we’re so fortunate to have access to the freshest ingredients out there. Add some Jersey Fresh produce, and you have my perfect summer meal.

 

 

 

Chef Linda Schwartz of Tortilla Flats

2540 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-5658 • tortillaflatsavalon.com

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

We’re celebrating 35 years at Tortilla Flats this year.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother and my father. My father was an executive chef.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a school bus driver, but I got into food at an early age so I always knew I wanted to be in the restaurant business. I worked at my father’s restaurant for years as a kid.

4. What TV show are you binge-watching right now?

“Game of Thrones.” I don’t watch a lot of television, but I just have to watch “Game of Thrones” every week.

5. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

It’s usually a stir-fry with fresh vegetables – either Mexican style or Asian style.

 

 

 

Chef Jim Kurtz of Windrift Hotel Resort

105 80th Street, Avalon • 609-368-5175 • windrifthotel.com

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

About 8 years in Avalon/Stone Harbor, but growing up my family owned a restaurant so I don’t think there has been a year of my life since I was 12 years old that I haven’t cooked.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A baseball player for the Boston Red Sox.

3. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

The Chilean Sea Bass. It’s simple but delicious. It’s been on the menu about five years.

4. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

It’s mostly centered around my kids, so cheesesteaks because it’s about the only thing we can all agree upon. Mostly cheesesteaks and cheeseburgers.

5. What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?

Fish is always my favorite. It takes on any flavor and you can do just about anything with it.

 

 

 

Chef Jeff Staino of Circle Tavern

2008 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-3456 • princetonbar.com

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

Nineteen years.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A professional hockey player (too small and too slow).

3. What are your top three tips on running a successful kitchen?

Dedication, quality and consistency.

4. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Hanging with the family, concerts, road trips.

5. What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?

Probably fresh garlic and fresh herbs. They’re both versatile and aromatic.

 

 

 

Chef Bryan Haines of The Princeton Bar & Grill

2008 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-3456 • princetonbar.com

 

1. Where did you receive your training?

Johnson & Wales University.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An architect.

3. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

Currently, it’s the shrimp and grits, but also any time I can create a special because it allows me to be creative and have fun.

4. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Hanging out with family and friends, fishing and going to concerts.

5. What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?

Seasonable ingredients, because when they are in season you are able to make the most out of them and create fresh and delicious meals.

 

 

 

Chef Jon Petela of Sea Grill

225 21st Street, Avalon • 609-967-5511 • princetonbar.com

 

1. Where did you receive your training?

The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a chef and started working in the industry hand-squeezing lemonade at 9 years old.

3. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

Usually it’s something on the special board because that’s where I get to be a little creative; other than that, the prime rib or the prime New York strip.

4. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

At home, it doesn’t matter what I’m cooking as long as I get to cook outside over an open fire using a Dutch oven or other cast-iron cookware. It’s a lot more work but also a lot more fun.

5. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

I spend a lot of time doing chores usually, lots of gardening, but I prefer to go surfing or hit the skate park.

 

 

Chef Jay Otton of The Watering Hull

261 96th Street #202, Stone Harbor • 609-830-3106 • thewateringhull.com

 

1. Where did you receive your training?

On-the-job training, having worked as a chef in Avalon, Stone Harbor and the Bahamas for 25 years.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My mother.

3. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Fishing and spending time in my garden.

4. What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?

Fresh fish, because there are always new and evolving ways to cook it.

5. How do you keep up with current food trends, and is there a specific trend you are interested in now?

By traveling to various states and countries.

 

 

Chef Michael Blaszczyk of Yacht Club of Stone Harbor

9001 Sunset Drive, Stone Harbor • 609-368-1201 • ycsh.org

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

I’ve been a chef for more than 30 years, but going into my 12th year as a chef on the island.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

I used to watch “The Galloping Gourmet” with Graham Kerr as a child, and I loved how fast he moved and how he made cooking seem so fun.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I had a lot of thoughts, but mainly to be a pro hockey player with the Philadelphia Flyers. Or maybe on the Phillies.

4. What are your top three tips on running a successful kitchen?

An executive chef must encourage teamwork, everyone in the kitchen must exhibit patience, and the key to a good dish is the execution – flavor, temperature and plating a design.

5. How do you keep up with current food trends, and is there a specific trend you are interested in now?

A current trend is to feature lighter, healthier dishes, which I find a lot of inspiration through the local selection of fresh fish and produce, and of course online has a ton of great ideas to lighten up a summer menu.

 

 

Chef Bekim Daku of Polpo Ristorante

3250 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-741-6155 • ristorantepolpo.com

 

1. Where did you receive your training?

With my dad at the restaurant in Strathmere, La Fontana Del Mare. Growing up, I learned from him in the kitchen.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My dad. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

3. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

Octopus – the Al Polpo Nero.

4. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Watch sports, play sports. Mostly soccer, but I like the Sixers and the Eagles as well.

5. How do you keep up with current food trends, and is there a specific trend you are interested in now?

By reading online and going out to eat and trying new foods. Right now, I am into halibut, which is a popular fish that everybody likes now.

 

 

Chef August “Gus” Zimmerman of Kitchen 330

330 96th Street, Stone Harbor • 609-796-2446 • kitchen330.com

 

1. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My mother; I grew up on a farm and all of the food she prepared was really farm-to-table, so I grew up eating really fresh food and learning from her.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I actually always wanted to be a chef. I caught a buzz for it. It’s an adrenaline rush working in the kitchen. I like to call it coordinated chaos, but I truly love every minute of it.

3. What are your top three tips on running a successful kitchen?

You have to have to right staff and make them accountable, control your food costs and waste, and be sure to have the best product and just overall make sure it is a really happy environment.

4. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

Since we’re off in the winter, I really enjoy making soups and stews throughout our offseason.

5. How do you keep up with current food trends, and is there a specific trend you are interested in now?

I personally think the best way to stay current is to go out to eat and try out new restaurants. I also search around the Internet from time to time. It’s not really a trend, but I just started getting really interested in making desserts. This winter, I tried out ice creams and we are now offering some of these such as cream cheese and coffee ice cream. Once peaches and strawberries are in season, we will experiment with those.

 

Chef Sidney Gary of Bobby Dee’s Rock ’n Chair Restaurant

2409 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-967-3300 • rocknchair.net

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

Going on my second year in Avalon, but in the area, I’ve been a chef about 25 years.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My mother is my inspiration. She was a chef at the Roman Catholic Church in Cape May and I would help her out sometimes when I was growing up, and that inspired me to become a chef.

3. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

I am a creator and an innovator so when I cook at home, I really make every single plate look desirable. I like to work with fresh fish and complement it with greens and tomatoes. I like to give all my dishes an artistic flair.

4. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Art. I just love art. I also enjoy riding my bike and being in nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the beach, woods or mountains. Nature inspires my art.

5. What is your favorite ingredient to work with, and why?

I have a few – tomatoes, basil, chives and herb, and lemons. All of these are very natural and enhance the flavor of several foods and you can incorporate them often.

 

 

Chef Ian Borgo of Oceanside Seafood

2489 Dune Drive, Avalon • 609-368-2114 • oceansideseafoodavalon.com

 

1. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

I’ve always enjoyed just making things and experimenting with things at home. Watching both of my brothers-in-law working as chefs and loving what they do and being inspired by what you can make.

2. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I think the first thing I ever wanted to be when I was a kid was a meteorologist.

3. What is your favorite menu item to make for your customers?

A tie between any pasta dish on the menu and the whiskey salmon off the newer menu just because I love the way it looks on the plate, it’s awesome.

4. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

Cooking at home, I really love Indian food. It’s something completely different than what I am used to, and there is a lot of experimentation involved, so it’s kind of my wheelhouse for that.

5. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

Playing music, I’ve played guitar for about 15 years, and photography.

 

 

Chef Joe Sparta of Fred's Tavern

314 96th Street, Stone Harbor • 609-368-5591 • fredstavern.net

 

1. How many years have you been a chef in Avalon/Stone Harbor?

About eight years. I’ve been here since Fred’s opened the restaurant side.

2. Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

I would say my mother; she always let me participate in the kitchen and help her out when I was growing up.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a lawyer.

4. What is your specialty when you cook at home?

At home, I usually leave the cooking up to my wife. But when I do cook at home, I usually make pressed chicken with broccoli and rice because it feeds everybody and my kids love it.

5. When you aren’t cooking, what hobbies do you enjoy?

I enjoy playing online poker, gambling, watching TV and fishing.

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