Executive Chef Ralph Romano, a Union County resident, has worked all over the world, and is thrilled to be back in his home state creating contemporary American Gastropub fare at Red Knot at Galloping Hill. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Ralph has experience being a chef at global five-star, five-diamond hotels, resorts, and restaurants, including Marriott and Four Seasons properties in London, Mexico, Puerto Rico and New York City. His most recent endeavor was opening up the prestigious Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY, as Executive Chef.
What is your earliest food memory?
I must have been around five years old when I awoke one morning—I always was an early riser and still am—and decided to make biscuits for the whole family. Being the type of kid who disdained instructions—I always threw the model instructions out—I proceeded to make the biscuits without a recipe. I mixed flour and water, made balls, and then put them in the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. You can imagine the outcome!
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
Yes, there definitely was a moment when I consciously decided on cooking as a career. I always worked with my hands—as a musician on keyboards, carpenter, woodworker, fisherman, diver, actor, set designer, bartender, and short-order cook. I was moving to Mexico with my wife; we were just married and saying goodbye to our life in New York. I needed a trade without having to drag a boat, workshop, or stage set with me. A good friend said to me, “You enjoy cooking, why not be a chef?”
Any interesting stories about your early days of cooking professionally?
To be a chef, I went to the French Culinary Institute, so back to New York for six months. And I have a very understanding wife to let me go back to New York after six months of marriage. Master chef Alain Sailhac introduced me to the great chef Fernand Gutierrez, who opened the door to The Four Seasons Mexico City—five stars, five diamonds—and that was my apprenticeship for four years.
What is your cooking style?
Collaborative. Like a band, everyone must gel. When something is off, I look for where the energy is jammed up.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
To travel the world with Four Seasons, Marriott, Renaissance and Ritz Carlton.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had?
Rabbit meatloaf at Chelsea Piers, at a fundraiser about seven years ago.
It’s your last day on earth. What will your final meal be?
Something light; I hate to travel on a full stomach.
What is the best advice you have for aspiring chefs?
Before you spend thousands of dollars on an education, work in a restaurant for a few months and see if it’s the right fit for you.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
An egg. They’re perfect.
What is the one “staple” food you always have in your cupboard at home?
Smoked chipotle chiles from Veracruz, Mexico.
What is your beverage of choice?
These days, water. Chefs used to hit it hard in my day.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
For special occasions, Boulevard Five72 near my Cranford neighborhood; otherwise, picking up a pizza at Santillo’s to talk with Al, the owner—smart guy, old school.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Henry Miller—let him do the talking; Bill Evans—piano music is nice with dinner]; and Thom Hartmann, whom I always read when we reach a new low as a society and culture. He also has been a very successful businessman maybe he’ll pick up the check.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
We’re still in launch mode, getting our name out there and letting people know we are proudly public and not a private golf course! Our newest project is the start of our Classroom. Coming up: pizza, cupcakes and cocktails.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.