Chef Kara Decker joined the Local Roots Group in late 2007. Most recently, she headed the kitchen as Executive Chef at A Toute Heure and now focuses her efforts primarily at 100 Steps as Executive Chef while she continues to oversee the culinary endeavors of the Local Roots Group.
Much lauded in her field, Chef Decker was named a Best Chefs America in its inaugural edition in 2003. Inside Jersey Magazine featured Chef Decker her as one of the top 5 “Hot Chefs” of New Jersey in 2008 and, in 2010 Decker was declared “one to watch” in Celebrity Chefs of New Jersey, by Teresa Politano, and released by Rutgers University Press. Chef Decker has been recognized for her innovative approach to simply delicious food and her committed to the use of local, seasonal sources. A native of Cranford, Kara resides locally with her partner.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF KARA DECKER: My grandma’s spaetzle. I can remember my mom, aunts and uncles fighting over it like kids and I couldn’t understand why until years later. It was awesome, way better than mine.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
No, not really for me. I loved cooking, and my grandfather was a successful chef in Europe and then here in the States. Culinary school just seemed like a good plan, and I had enough confidence that I could do well and be good at it.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
Making tête de veau with my first Chef, Michelle Bordeaux, was awesome. Made me realize I learned absolutely nothing at culinary school and I knew that day that I had chosen the correct career path. Who doesn’t want to pick apart a giant calf’s head? He also used to lock me in the walk-in daily and force me to drink baking soda when I wasn’t feeling well!
What is your cooking style?
I guess New American, but I also like to try a bit of everything and experiment—it’s how I teach myself.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
Probably cooking a dinner at the James Beard House.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it?
Had some great meals out in Napa, CA, with Andrea and Jim [Carbine], and every April Bloomfield spot.
It’s your last day on earth: what will your final meal be?
Dinner at The Spotted Pig, my favorite spot. Oysters, deviled eggs, gnudi, burrata, and anything pig related, then a grilled burger with blue cheese. That would be my order.
What is the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming chefs?
Think long and hard first. Then, forget culinary school. Pick a place and stay there for a while. Cooks these days like to bounce around like idiots to bump up their resumes. You can’t learn that way. Stay at least two years at any restaurant you work at.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
This is silly! Why would anyone want to be food—the whole point of human evolution is you don’t want to be a food item. Okay, I would be a hot dog from 5 points [the Galloping Hill Grill] in Union, the Complete! Only way to order.
What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home?
You can’t only have one staple—I’ll give you a few: box of good pasta, san marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, chicken stock, variety of dried chilis, soy sauce.
What is your beverage of choice?
Non-alcoholic: orange vintage seltzer (has to be Vintage brand). Alcoholic: gin and tonic.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Not a big comfort food fan in the chicken-and-waffles, mac-and-cheese sense. I’d pick a great pork taco, super spicy with lots of cilantro, or really good brick-oven pizza.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
Arturos in Maplewood, other than that I am in the city to eat.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
My grandparents (they count as one!), Marcella Hazan, and Charles Bukowski.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
No, just concentrating on 100 Steps and A Toute Heure for now!
215 Centennial Avenue
A Toute Heure
232 Centennial Avenue
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.