This week is SJ Hot Chefs’ Fall Harvest Week, celebrating the local harvest from the farms and seas of South Jersey. As part of the celebration, we got a chance to conduct a couple of interviews with the chefs that are participating. For this interview, you get two for one: from Anthony’s Creative Italian in Haddon Heights, Chef John Pilarz and Owner Anthony Iannone gave us a few minutes of their time to answer our questions.
EiSJ: What was your ‘a-ha!’ moment when you realized cooking was going to be your passion?
Chef John: I don’t know if I had that kind of moment, but seeing the pleasure people get when eating something you create is a great feeling.
EiSJ: Who in the restaurant industry inspires you right now?
Anthony: Mario Batali
EiSJ: What stereotypes about Italian cooking would you like to be able to obliterate?
Chef John: That everything has garlic in it.
EiSJ: In these tough economic conditions, what have you been doing to keep your customers?
Chef John: We started a two for ten lunch menu that tripled business. We also started a $25 Sunday supper which has really helped. Also giving people a great value for there money in both catering and our regular menu.
EiSJ: What changes in the South Jersey dining scene have you seen during your time at Anthony’s?
Chef John: Infiltration of chain restaurants has made it harder for the independents to survive because we can’t compete with the marketing dollars and exposure, which leads to a lot of really good restaurants going out of business. People forget to go out and dine for a few hours and relax; this is because the chains have them trained to be out in an hour. Remember: great restaurants like Circles, Cinellis, Silver Lake Inn, Tall Pines – these places were special and you got dressed up to go out to dinner. People go out to eat as opposed to people going out to dine.
EiSJ: What do you think of the foodie culture explosion that has taken place?
Chef John: I think it’s great to a point. What I mean is people today are more educated than ever about food because of TV, and this is good because they understand food as a whole. But the bad side is they think some of these shows are how kitchens operate in the real world.
EiSJ: Name on ingredient you think more people should be cooking with at home.
Chef John: People should be using more fresh herbs and spices. I really think people should use more fresh ginger – it’s very versatile whether it’s in a soup, or a fish or chicken dish. I think people are scared of it a little; it’s a weird shape, has to be peeled and smells real strong. I really love it.
Anthony: Fresh spices and fresh produce, because I grew up in an Italian family – always had a garden and fresh fruits/veggies that my mom would cook with, so I was always around it.
EiSJ: How do you try to stand out in an area that is swamped with Italian restaurants?
Chef John: We try to do things that are not typical Italian but with an Italian flair, such as a Burrata over wild mushrooms, arugula, and roasted peppers in a truffle infused oil as an appetizer. We use a prime pork chop and a cowboy rib-eye; these are not typical of Italian restaurant.
EiSJ: What do you enjoy about restaurant weeks such as Fall Harvest Week?
Chef John: It lets me and my staff be a little more creative and do things that we wouldn’t usually do, such as a grilled quail or smoked duck salad. Also, people are willing to try new things and they expect it at Anthony’s.
EiSJ: How exciting is it to have access to local produce and seafood available in this region?
Chef John: It’s great to be able to go to Duffield’s (in Sewell) and pick up produce that was picked that morning, or get seafood like tuna and scallops that were caught the day before. It benefits everyone in the long run; customers know there food is local and fresh and we’re helping out the independent.