Chef John Greeley is bringing his background with locally grown produce to his new position as executive chef at Crystal Springs Resort. The Ridgewood native was raised on the fresh food of his Italian, Irish and Polish family. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and has since gained experience with Southern cooking working as sous chef at 45 South. Before joining Crystal Springs, he served as top toque at New York City’s iconic ‘21.’ We checked in with Greeley to learn about his history, his cooking style and his son’s creative cooking.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF GREELEY: Spending my allowance on Pop Rocks and Chocodials, and picking fresh peas from our small garden and eating them raw.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
Yes, pretty much when I was cooking on my free time and watching great chefs on TV to learn new recipes—this was in college when I was studying art.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
Moving down south to Savannah and walking into a kitchen with my skateboard, looking for a job. I knew no one and nothing and the whole place stopped with this hip-hop skateboarding kid all of a sudden in this southern kitchen. It was an incredible time for me, full of adventure, food-wise. Chef Dasher was very patient and allowed me to experiment on specials, and taught me some southern staples.
What is your cooking style?
American Coastal. I really like to use local ingredients and seafood is my first love, with wood-fire cooking a close second.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
Traveling around the world and experiencing ingredients you can only find in certain areas of the world. Peru blew my mind and I really love Africa.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had? What did you eat and where was it?
My son Hudson made me a protein shake with all different juices, berries and lollipops—absolutely no protein but really creative. Besides that, the dinner I had at Atlas when Paul Liebrandt was there early in his career. Caramel-coated cod with Maine sweet shrimp foam, hay confit chicken leg. Really next-level stuff and he was like 24! Also when Rocco DiSpirito was at Union Pacific, I went there and had all the “little dishes” on the menu. I knew it wouldn’t last long (that part of the menu) so I ordered every single one, with the Taylor Bay scallop with Uni, tomato water and mustard oil as my starter.
It’s your last day on earth. What will your final meal be?
I’ve been reading a few books on the last meals of prisoners and I have a similar idea on my final meal. Homey, simple food, fried chicken, chess pie, butter beans, grilled whole bass with lime, habanero and tomato, and a wood-grilled porterhouse steak!
What is the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming chefs?
You will sacrifice a lot so be prepared to deal with a world that operates on a different schedule. Write down all your ideas even if they seem crazy—it’s always good to refer back to old notes.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
What food is a staple in your home kitchen?
A variety of fresh vegetables to make late night soups, pasta or quick pickled snacks.
What is your beverage of choice?
Water, espresso, Pacifico, Mezcal. In that order.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Chicken noodle soup—it fixes anything.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
Brasa Grille in Chatham, real charcoal Portuguese cuisine.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Chuck Close, Run, and Alva all because they have influenced me in some way and it would be a really interesting dialogue.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
Skateboards, barrel-aged hot sauces and hand-drawn cookbooks.
Crystal Springs Resort
3 Wild Turkey Way
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.