Cranford Chefs Selected for “Best Chefs America”

Photo credit, Jean Felippe Martin, ATH

Two of Cranford’s chefs were recently named in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America, a book dedicated to exceptional chefs, as selected by their peers.  The book covers all 50 states, with 196 honorees coming from the Garden State!

The two chefs from Cranford are Kara Decker from A Toute Heure and Frank Rizzo from The Italian Pantry.  Both chefs expressed their gratitude over being selected and were happy to bring recognition to their establishments.

Chef Kara Decker of A Toute Heure
Chef Kara Decker of A Toute Heure

Chef Kara Decker grew up in Cranford and has been the Executive Chef at A Toute Heure for a number of years.  She graduated from the French Culinary Institute and found herself at Chez Catherine in Westfield before ending up at A Toute Heure.  She relishes the creative freedom A Toute Heure affords her as the menu is constantly being updated to reflect the changing seasons and local food availability.  Kara and her sous chef, Robyn Reiss, brainstorm every month on what dishes will make up their menu.

As if serving as Executive Chef at one of NJ’s most well-regarded restaurants wasn’t enough, Kara is also working with the owners of A Toute Heure to open another restaurant across the street.  The new restaurant is scheduled to open this summer and will not have a focus on local food, allowing Kara to bring in her favorite ingredients from across the country.  She acknowledges that the next few months will be extremely hectic but she feels that her staff is so strong that they’re more than up to the task.

Chef Frank Rizzo of The Italian Pantry
Chef Frank Rizzo of The Italian Pantry

Across town, Chef Frank Rizzo at The Italian Pantry is offering up his own spin on comfort food with an Italian twist.  Frank was also trained at the French Culinary Institute before taking time to travel throughout Europe.  Once he returned to the U.S. he worked at a number of well-known restaurants in New York City including Esca and Mesa Grill.  When the opportunity arose to open his own restaurant in downtown Cranford, Frank took the leap and hasn’t looked back.

Frank’s cooking is based around tweaking traditional dishes so they’re transformed.  Macaroni and cheese becomes even more delicious with the addition of lobster.  Short rib is braised in root beer and served over vanilla gnocchi.  Onion rings are piled sky high on a hamburger, causing customers to do a double take.  Sunday brunch has become so popular, thanks to dishes like Boston Cream French Toast and Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes, that Frank plans to expand brunch to Saturday also.

Frank emphasizes that he always strives to get the best product possible to serve at The Italian Pantry.  He uses Breadsmith and Vanilla Bean Creamery across the street for their bread and ice cream, respectively.  He also changes up the menu every 3-4 months in an effort to offer a seasonal menu.  Frank acknowledged that when The Italian Pantry first opened customers weren’t quite sure what to make of a restaurant that had Italian in its name but didn’t offer Chicken Parmesan.  Now the restaurant is not only a local favorite but it’s gaining the statewide recognition it deserves.

A Toute Heure
232 Centennial Avenue

The Italian Pantry Bistro
13 Eastman Street

Michelle Stavrou, the Union County regional editor, grew up in Bergen County, then moved to Hoboken (after a stop over in Queens) before finally settling in Cranford where she lives with her husband and daughter. Michelle was amazed to discover all of the delicious food in the Cranford area, which she documents on her blog, What’s Cooking In (& Around) Cranford.