Annual events have a tendency to become stale and in time mundane. An exception is the happily titled Beer, Bourbon, BBQ, Year of the Chicken, a suburban, backyard food and drink extravaganza that sprang from the minds of Sissy and Rick Norman. That spark of an idea would become an epic conflagration — with the help of Dave Mayhew and his wife Jen — into the 2017 celebration of professional chefs, bartenders, beer brewers, and entertainers seen in the pictures below.
Norman and Mayhew, bartenders at Jamian’s Food and Drink in Red Bank, NJ have acquired many friends over the years and I am fortunate to fall into that category. Their unshakable enthusiasm for trying new and unusual ingredients along with their love of culinary tradition is contagious. So much so that the original party has grown from a handful of like-minded foodies to about 200 people last year, to this years astonishing attendance of 400.
This year, Rick, Dave, and Andrew Rasizer (general manager at B2 Bistro and Bar in Red Bank, NJ) brewed a Brett pale ale at Jughandle Brewery in Tinton Falls, NJ. Named Pink Shorts, the brew with an ABV percent of 4.7 is currently sold at Jamian’s and B2.
Additionally, cocktails were served at the bar by Kacey Corsentino, Michelle Roe, Lauren Mass, Robin Morris, Jason and Anna Norman, and Mike Niosi. Sheri Wilson, owner of the Harlem Tavern, Row House, and Crazy Annies — all in Manhattan — supplied the bar with ten gallons of Sangria, “Hot Enough to Last” jalapeño bourbon cocktails and pineapple mojitos.
Ask any of the guests and they’ll tell you with mouths still full of food that they can’t talk to you right now because there’s something good to taste. And, drink. But it’s also about the live entertainment supplied by Pat Guadagno and Richie Blackwell this year. Separately, each component is extraordinary, but together, this is what “the real Jersey Shore,” is all about. Locally sourced ingredients, recipes prepared by many of the guests as well as the pro’s, and camaraderie that is exceptional.
Food options set up buffet-style ran the gamut from slaws, salads, and rice-based vegan friendly dishes to a sweat-inducing chili made by Bruce Ericson. My contribution was a gluten-free, Cabot cheddar and jalapeño flecked corn bread. Everyone brought their A-game as it takes a heap to impress those in the restaurant industry. Ben Mayhew, Dave’s brother and a professional chef and master gardener at the University of Rhode Island showed up with 300 Salt Pond Oysters. He also roasted the pig in a Caja China Roasting Box.
Enormous, U13 head-on shrimp were grilled on a flat-top BBQ by Matt Cosenzo in a spicy tomato based sauce but it was the addition of African blue basil grown by Ben Mayhew in his community garden that got my attention. It was a pungently noticeable inclusion and a fresh surprise to the dish.
Bob Travis brought “Grandpa’s Chicken,” to the outdoor kitchen. Its aroma elicited a mouth-watering-groan and not to be outdone by the other chefs his wife Lisa told me that he basted the bird pieces with sprigs of fresh mint.
Laercio Chamon — aka Junior — executive chef and owner of Graze Restaurant in Little Silver, NJ took his turn on one of the many grills with a Portuguese rendition of grilled clams, mussels and chorizo. The garlicky mix popped with big flavors. His hyper-local farm-to-table restaurant is a favorite for us. The knowledge of who grew/raised the food the chef prepares is a precious thing. Chamon also contributed braised ribs.
Missing in the pictures are additional dishes such as venison made by Bob Soden, brisket made by Dave Mayhew, Sliders made by Brendan Day (of which my husband Bruce said that was the single most delicious slider he’s had all year) and ribs made by Jessica Parker. Andrew Rasizer made a guava braised lamb leg with barbacoa sauce and Nick Estephan, owner and chef at FIG Catering in Monmouth County, NJ graced the table with a Mangalista rib loin marinated sous vide and grilled.
By the numbers, there were 300 oysters, 400 hot dogs, 100 hamburgers, 200 sliders, 60 lbs of pig, 30 lbs of lamb, 40 lbs of brisket, 40 lbs of chicken, 5 lbs of bacon, and countless side dishes. Three cases of booze, 10 gallons of premixed cocktails, 40 cases of beer, and 1 keg… and over 500 lbs of ice.
An interesting side note: Working in a hot-as-hell environment over countless grills in the outdoor kitchen, professional chefs and first-rate amateur cooks must have left their egos at home because all we saw was good will and agreeable spirit.
A testament to good taste in friendships forged and combined, the little spark of a pig roasting on the grill has grown to an astonishing day in the suburbs. Our hosts hope to monetize the event next year, planning to raise funds to support a charity of their choosing.
Opinions, ideas, or if I left anyone out, please leave comments to add to this post. Your contribution was appreciated and we’d like to give credit where it is due.
Photo’s and food from last years blast can be seen here.
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Tonight on Food Network, the TV show Chopped will feature two spectacular chefs.
Laercio Chamon Jr. aka Junior, executive chef at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ and Lauren Van Liew, chef and owner of Chef Covas Catering in Red Bank, NJ are just two of the contestants facing off over picnic baskets filled with who-knows-what ingredients.
Not a myth: Chefs tables really do exist. There are only a handful in all of New Jersey but bigger cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles seem to be teeming with them. Monmouth County has two restaurants with specifically designated tables open to or inside the kitchen and a few quasi chefs tables in the form of cooking schools.
Chefs table at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ.
A documentary series on Netflix delves into the lives and careers of half a dozen famous chefs. It’s interesting and entertaining, but not essentially about actual chefs tables.
The Red Bank area boasts two such atypical dining options, one can be found at Zoe in Little Silver and the other at Nicholas in Red Bank. There is a third option in Fair Haven where you can enjoy a meal while getting to know a chef better. Taste and Technique Cooking Studio has hosted many local celebrity chefs often managing to teach a trick or two while impressing a small crowd.
Salmon served over cheddar grits from Zoe in Little Silver.
Those who eat to live probably won’t appreciate the idea of eating a gourmet meal while getting to know the chef in a more intimate setting. But those who live to eat, who collect recipes and equate most of their life experiences to the meal consumed in the moment, who memorialize their lives bite by delectably important bite … these are the people who wind up paying the big bucks to sit at a chefs table.
Smoked habanero salt encrusted duck breast platter with potatoes au gratin and pickled vegetables from Zoe in Little Silver.
So let me break it down for you. A coveted reservation at the chefs table at Nicholas will run you $150.00 per person. Tax, gratuity and booze not withstanding. Pricey? Yes, but the bragging rights might make it worth the money.
Laercio Chamon, known to most as Junior, is owner and new executive chef at Zoe. He’s just getting his feet wet with organizing his chefs table. A few months into owning the place, he is changing things to meet his own desires and expectations which include locally sourced produce and meats. He tells me that he is willing to work with customers to accommodate a chefs table experience based on specific desires. Currently offering a chefs table meal of pasture raised suckling pig with all the accoutrements, the meal will set you back about $80.00 per person. Tax and gratuity again add to the price, however, this is a BYOB restaurant which gives you the option of pricing your wine and beer high or low.
Chefs Lauren Phillips and Claudette Herring, owners of Via 45 in Red Bank demonstrate to about a dozen at Taste and Technique in Fair Haven.
Taste and Technique Cooking Studio offer chef demonstrations that run about $75.00 per person. You will observe the preparation of a complete meal. Usually three or four courses. It is also a BYOB. Although the chef in this case doesn’t have the benefit of home court, every chef I’ve observed in this venue has not only taught me a thing or two, but has thrown together an awe inspiring meal.
A bowl of corn chowder embellished with whole lumpmeat crab cake was a memorable highlight at Taste and Technique prepared by a much missed chef, Joe Romanowski.
The take-away is an unforgettable experience as opposed to just another dinner out. Getting to know how the chef thinks and operates, the possibility of making a connection and being fed an outstanding meal. Life is all about the experiences that we stack up. A meal at a chefs table might just be every foodies dream-come-true. It is a step above the ordinary and worth every extra penny you spend. Book a reservation soon and let me know what you think.
Who brings produce and plants from their garden to an interview just to make a point? Linda Walton and Lynn McKittrick owners of the hurricane Sandy wrecked, River Front Cafe in Sea Bright, NJ wanted me to understand their concept of good food.
Getting a chef to talk about his experience and career is not an easy task, however, every now and then you get lucky. I ran into Zeet Peabody while he was teaching a cooking class at The Flaky Tart in the Atlantic Highlands a few weeks ago.