Before becoming executive chef at The Kitchen at Grove Station in Jersey City, Chef David Viana held posts as chef de cuisine and sous chef at several other restaurants in the Garden State. Jersey Bites recently caught up with Chef Viana for this Spotlight, in which he reveals his favorite coffee, an embarrassing—but memorable—moment, and advice for aspiring chefs.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF DAVID VIANA: My earliest food memory is my mom teaching me how to make scrambled eggs. I remember loving to whip them until they were frothy and how accomplished I felt. Even at the age of 8, I was already making better scrambled eggs than my mom.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
There was never an “a-ha” moment, so to speak. After college, I was at Union County Probations and found myself day dreaming about culinary schools. After four months, my criminal justice career ended and my culinary career began.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
There are always explosive arguments, catastrophic accidents, and even the occasional x-rated happenstance. One particular story that’s of the mild mannered anecdotal variety takes place during my trial at Restaurant David Drake. Chef is an über-talented idol of mine. I started my trial in the early morning and right before the service chef had seen enough and informed me that I could leave if I wanted. I then proceeded to insist that I stay and offered Chef Drake (a one-handed chef) an extra hand. I was mortified and relieved as I thought my stupendous blunder went unnoticed. After service was over chef invited me to sit and discuss the prospects of me working there. He started out by saying—very dryly I might add—”Thanks for the hand.” Ouch!
What is your cooking style?
New American, seasonal, contemporary.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
I spent six months in Europe staging at one of the best restaurants in the world. Traveling is an unknown perk of the profession, and to me, there is no better experience in life than living in another country, experiencing another culture.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat, and where was it?
I had the privilege of having dinner at the original Bouley.
It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
That’s a tough question! I’d want to have a meal I’ve never had before. Alinea perhaps.
What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs?
Be humble! Work for the best, no matter how little they pay. Learn great habits. Take diligent notes. Read, read, read in your free time. Taste, taste, taste EVERYTHING!
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
An egg! I, like Anthony Bourdain, am an egg slut. There is nothing a runny egg won’t improve. And it’s everywhere. Versatile and essential to so so many things. I’d want to be the omnipotent, all-powerful egg.
What is the one “staple” food you always have in your cupboard at home?
I make my own Piri Piri [a Portuguese hot sauce] at home.
What is your beverage of choice?
Modcup coffee! Extraordinary roasters, with a commitment to freshness. They are vigilant with dating their roasts and never serve a drop that’s not been roasted within 14 days. I’m spoiled by Modcup.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Really bad Chinese takeout! So good.
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
There are a lot of great restaurants in New Jersey. Jersey City alone has three noteworthy restaurants I frequent quite often. Thirty Acres, which put Jersey City on the map, always challenges its diners to think outside the box and then blows up the box with taste explosions. Razza perfected the art of the pizza pie and always uses the freshest local produce. Finally third & vine is the quintessential wine bar: excellent wine and masterful cocktails, all with perfectly prepared bites of food.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Harry Truman, Marco Pierre White, Walt Disney. I like to surround myself with greatness. All three are astonishing men, visionaries who came from humble beginnings. Each one is representative of things I’m passionate about and the level of greatness anyone can achieve. They are my inspiration and daily reminder of how small things can lead to great ones. Standards, pride, honor, and hard work.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
Just opened The Kitchen at Grove Station. All my time and energy is channeled into every plate and every diner’s experience. Come in and visit! We as a team are truly committed to building something special.
The Kitchen at Grove Station
299 Marin Blvd.
Photography courtesy of David Viana.
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.