Three-courses, three amazing courses, every Wednesday night, in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey, for two years. This was how I got to know one of my favorite chefs. I was a waiter then. I lived upstairs from a restaurant my sister owned, a popular place, way off the beaten path. This was 1995 and 1996 at The Cafe.
To be frank, she, we’ll call her Z., amazed me. There wasn’t a night I looked forward to more than Wednesday. Each week Z. presented the cuisine of a different country, or province, or village, and every week blew my mind. The flavors expanded the range of my palate exponentially and she was often holding it down solo, I worked the front, she worked the back. That was a long time ago.
Tonight I had the pleasure of catching up with Z., and . . . enjoying her cooking again for the first time in way too long.
Forever humble, she opened by giving a nod to the local Russians, and praising the market where she gleaned the ingredients for the first course. Mushrooms, spring mix, chevre, sherry vinaigrette (am I right?) Click your heals and we’re in Italy, except via Russia. In full stride of conversation, Z. steps away from the table to prepare the next course. Diving deeper into Italian country cuisine, what appears is fresh pasta, tossed in olive oil, with a sunny side egg and a generous dusting of a walnut, basil breadcrumbs. She discloses that there’s more noodles, and the third course arrives atop a smaller version of course two. The teaser, arriving first, is a dish of melted butter, indicating something will be dipped. Artichokes arrive and chat between dipping the leaves, and savoring the hearts.
Poached pears punctuated the evening. . . . and we’d arrived at that the place where two friends, and colleagues, get to hang.