He sleeps two to three hours a night. Doesn’t like to have his picture taken (which we figured out right away) but when you put the camera down he’s quick with a joke and a sly smile. Chef Cesare (Chez) De Chellis is the executive chef at B2 Bistro + Bar in Red Bank. In its third year, B2 is a favorite spot for local foodies. Known for his love of all things pig, Chef Chez is as likely to be spotted hosting a local pig roast as he is in the kitchen cooking up perfectly prepared pork chops and house-made porchetta. He’s passionate about sustainable, local everything and giving back to the community. All great reasons for an interview with Jersey Bites.
JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?
CHEF CHEZ: Sitting on the couch with my dad eating pepperoni smashed in between two pieces of white bread, while the aroma of tomato sauce permeated the air.
When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career?
I’m not sure when it hit me—things just always seemed better in the kitchen. Growing up in an Italian family, that’s where we spent most of our days. I was able to take some time off from school and live in Italy and cook at a couple of restaurants. This was one of the best experiences I could ask for, so I would have to say that was my “aha” moment. Walking the farms in the morning, milking the sheep and making cheese in the afternoons, and spending hours upon hours kneading pasta dough.
Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
Nothing too interesting, [but] when you’re a green cook you see a lot: cooks doing lines mid-dinner shift, taking a hit out of their one hitters, or someone going into their lowboy to take a shot. Students who finished their externships would get a bucket of sardine purée dumped on them then doused in flour and tossed [with] a steam kettle filled with ice water. This was usually the last hoorah for them—a quick messy thank you and goodbye from the chef and his sous.
What is your cooking style?
I like cooking rustic: whole fish, pigs knuckles, uneven cuts, torn bread, sea salt and olive oil. It keeps things interesting. I challenge myself at times to cook and plate a little more elegantly and [use] discipline when mentoring my staff.
What is the greatest opportunity that has come to you as a result of cooking?
The gift of travel and being able to experience cultures from around the world through the food and wine we share. Every day of travel is a new experience to gain inspiration to create a new dish, to tell a story.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat, and where was it?
I went to Naples a few years back, visited this winery on the side of a volcano. Spent the early afternoon foraging for asparagus and mushrooms and whatever else we could get our hands on. Brought them back to the kitchen where this older woman starts to tell us a story of life as she prepared this meal. From homemade sheep milk cheese just made and served warm with sea salt and some volcanic ash, to the homemade bread baked in an underground oven, to the lamb they had just slaughtered that morning and roasted in a wood-fired oven, to the grape crackers made from spent grapes after they made wine. The food, the story, the company made it one of the most memorable and hypnotizing meals I have ever had.
It’s your last day on Earth: what will your final meal be?
Beautiful vine-ripe tomatoes, sea salt, buffalo milk mozzarella, my grandmother’s olive oil, and fresh basil. Oh, yeah, and a great ribeye steak.
What is the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming chefs?
If family, holidays, relationships and good mental health are important to you, then don’t do it. If good food that makes people smile and brings them back to a childhood memory, or changes their world, means something to you, then do it.
What is the one staple food you always have in your cupboard at home?
What is your beverage of choice?
Depends on my mood. Old fashioneds and paper planes.
What is your favorite comfort food?
What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
The Grand Tavern in Neptune.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
We recently achieved 100% sustainability through the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program. Very proud of that designation.
And I’m looking to do private cooking classes or demos with people if they want to learn something new or just have a fun night out.
B2 Bistro + Bar
141 Shrewsbury Avenue
Red Bank, NJ 07701