If you’re a foodie in New Jersey, chances are you’ve eaten some of Chef James Avery’s fun, delicious, and addicting dishes. Over the years, he’s worked with David Burke at Fromagerie, which led him to opening up Jersey Burger, after which he was named sous chef at Michael Mina’s Sea Blue. His talent didn’t get past Gordon Ramsay, with whom he appeared on Kitchen Nightmares and then in 2012, he became the sous chef for the Blue Team on Hell’s Kitchen.
These days, Avery is the executive chef at two of Asbury Park’s most popular restaurants: Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten (pictured above) and The Bonney Read. We were lucky to catch up with him for this Chef Spotlight.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF JAMES AVERY: My grandfather and uncle grilling clams at my grandparents’ beach house in Manasquan.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an aha moment?
I applied to be a delivery boy at a pizzeria at 17 because I wanted some extra cash. I instantly fell in love with the restaurant business, and continued to work in [many] positions. After college I realized that working in restaurants was what I wanted to do with my life.
What was your first professional cooking gig?
Brio Tuscan Grille, a mile from my college.
What is your cooking style?
I am a bit of a health nut, so lighter fare is definitely my thing. I also love ethic cuisine and seafood.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come to you from cooking?
Being asked to work alongside Gordon Ramsay on Fox’s Hells Kitchen.
Describe the most memorable meal you’ve had.
I was visiting Las Vegas with my pregnant girlfriend—who’s now my wife. We ate out every night since partying wasn’t really an option. We went to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and were sat right next to Anthony Bourdain while he was filming No Reservations. We ended up having a beer together at the bar.
It’s your last day on earth. What will your final meal be?
Roast chicken with root vegetables and gravy.
What is the best advice you have to share with young kids interested in becoming chefs?
Work two years in the business then decide whether or not you want to fork out money for school. Be patient and don’t focus on money for the first five to seven years. The money will come, but first you need the knowledge and skills.
If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
An egg. It’s the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen.
What is the one staple you always have on hand at home?
I have an insane collection of vinegars from all around the world. I put vinegar on everything—even desert.
What is your beverage of choice?
Tequila with soda and lime.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Pizza, but I no longer consume grains.
What NJ restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
I don’t eat out a whole lot, but I love Super Pollo in Brick. Great little Peruvian joint that has rotisserie chicken, ceviche, and antichuchos.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased, or fictional, who would they be and why?
Both of my grandfathers, who are both deceased. I took them for granted when they were alive. I’d love an opportunity to get their advice now that I’m older. And Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy just because he’s a badass!
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
I am always working on other projects. My brain never stops. You’ll just have too wait and see where I pop up next.