The “Star” at the stove is Lorena’s Humberto Campos, Jr., while a “Chef to Watch” is Ariane Duarte, chef at Orange Lawn Tennis Club and Montclair’s Culinariane. So says Teresa Politano, whose book, Celebrity Chefs of New Jersey, was published by Rutgers University Press in November. To celebrate his selection as one of “The Stars,” Campos spoke and prepared salmon tartare at Words on Tuesday night.
The timing was ideal, of course, as starting Sunday. Lorena’s has participated in Restaurant Week in past years; Campos describes the experience as fun, and notes that some diners who come for the first time during the week, return as loyal regulars.
Campos prepared a “signature” appetizer, one that loyal patrons of the restaurant he and wife Lorena own, ask for if it’s off the menu. He demonstrated how to prepare salmon tartare while taking questions from the audience. A number of the listeners were regulars at Lorena’s, including Words owner Jonas Zimiles, who described the restaurant as “a jewel of our town.”
The “celebrity chefs” profiled in the book are grouped into “Legends,” “Stars,” and “Chefs to Watch.” But the terms shouldn’t imply red-carpet treatment in the kitchen. Politano wrote that, “the reality of a chef’s life—even one who’s reached star status—is an unforgiving 16-hour days on your feet, fickle customers and razor-thin profit margins. Much can go wrong on any given day, and usually it does, especially in an economy that has humbled some of the greatest chefs in the nation. Those of us who simply eat often take that for granted.”
Campos, a fan of the Greek salad pizza at Village Trattoria, has seen his diners’ interest in the preparation of what they eat grow, as chef memoirs and “behind the scenes” books proliferate. “We see more interest in our open kitchen,” said Campos. “People ask more questions.”
Likewise, Campos himself has read a few such books, including Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. “It’s reassuring,” he laughed. “Like reading my life.”
As to his own selection as one of the chefs profiled in Celebrity Chefs of New Jersey, Campos was “absolutely surprised,” noting that many of the chefs listed under “Legends” were his previous bosses and mentors. “It’s a real honor,” said Campos, to be included in the book.
Campos explained to the audience, which included his parents, that Lorena’s menu changes frequently. “Mother Nature is our inspiration,” he explained, as he and his staff wait “patiently” for spring produce.
A next wave in cooking that Campos foresees is a return to comfort food. “Mom’s back in the kitchen,” he joked, with a nod to his own parents in the audience. Fittingly, his own motto, with which he signed copies of Celebrity Chefs of New Jersey, is “Keep it simple.” The best ingredients possible and great service, he says, make for a memorable meal in downtown Maplewood.
Craig Shelton, The Former Ryland Inn, Whitehouse
David Burke, David Burke Fromagerie, Rumson
Scott Cutaneo, Equus Restaurant, Bernardsville; Claremont, Bernardsville
David Drake, Restaurant David Burke, Rahway
Dennis Foy, Dennis Foy’s (formerly The Lawrenceville Inn), Lawrenceville
Jim Filip, Doris & Ed’s, Highlands
Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken; Zafra, Hoboken
Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton
Anthony Amoroso, Sea Blue, Borgata, Atlanta City
Zod Arifai, Blu, Montclair; Next Door, Montclair
Anthony Bucco, Uproot, Warren
Humberto Campos Jr., Lorena’s, Maplewood
Bill Dorrler, Due Terre, Bernardsville; Due Mare, New Brunswick
David C. Felton, Ninety Acres, Peapack-Gladstone
Corey Heyer, Bernards Inn, Bernardsville
James Laird, Restaurant Serenade, Chatham
Joe Romanowski, Bay Avenue Trattoria, Highlands
Chefs to Watch
Joe Cerniglia, Campania, Fair Lawn
Kara Decker, A Toute Heure, Cranford
Ryan DePersio, Fascino, Montclair; Bar Cara, Bloomfield
Ariane Duarte, Culinariane, Montclair