Chakra, in Paramus, is about to ring in its tenth year in business. Jersey Bites decided to celebrate by featuring Chef Thomas Ciszak.
Born in Waltrop, Germany, and trained in some of the best kitchens in the world, Chef Thomas Ciszak brings a European sensibility and passion for seasonal, high-quality ingredients to the farm-to-table cooking at Blue Morel (in Morristown) and Chakra’s eclectic Modern American menus.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF CISZAK: Not sure how old I was, but I helped my grandmother clean peas that she picked from her garden. She cooked them with just a little butter. I think that was the first time I enjoyed eating vegetables.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
I was in high school, about 14 or 15, working during the weekend and summer break in a fine dining restaurant, the Rotisserie Stromberg, which was in my town. When I saw the teamwork of the brigade and how passionate they were about food, that really spoke to me.
Any interesting stories about your early days of cooking professionally?
The first two years, I was just helping out at the restaurant and felt like a kid, not a professional. But the third year, the chef greeted me with a chef’s jacket, pants and apron. From that point on I was treated, talked to, and yelled at like a professional cook.
What is your cooking style?
I don’t like to follow any particular style. I think I am somewhat analytical about what makes a dish special or what a guest likes about a particular dish. I try to focus on the essentials of the dish and not add anything extraneous just for the sake of it.
What is your greatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
I was asked to cook at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. when I was a cook in Germany. And I went to Japan to showcase an American degustation menu, but what makes me feel good every time is when I do benefit events. It’s really neat that I can help raise funds for a good cause just by doing my craft.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it?
I am lucky to have had so many amazing meals, from my first three-Michelin-star experience when I was 19 years old, to a Japanese omakase dinner in Kyoto. One of my most memorable meals was at Jean Georges. He cooked a 10-course meal for my wife and me. What was really amazing is that we each got ten different dishes so we were able to taste twenty items. It may have helped that my wife worked with him in the past!
It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Personally I appreciate the most basic foods. I think fresh baked bread and a great cup of coffee would do it.
What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs?
Work in a professional kitchen for a few months before deciding if you want to become a chef.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
I guess honey. I would be around for thousands of years without showing my age.
What is the one “staple” food you always have in your cupboard at home?
A jar of Nutella.
What is your beverage of choice?
Hot coffee or a chilled beer.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Salami and cheese.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
Many! There are too many to single out just one. New Jersey has great chefs and a lot of great restaurants. I try to go out in NJ as much as I can.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Simple answer would be to get my deceased grandparents together. To tell them how much they meant to me. I’m not sure if I told them enough.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
I am working on a new concept but that’s all I can say now.
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.