Chef Seth Warshaw’s food is fueled with the intense desire to discover new flavors and deliver them on the plate. Now, this inspired chef shares his signature dishes with Joy of Kosher readers.
It’s 1pm on Palisades Avenue in Teaneck. Chef Seth Warshaw is pulling up to the white stucco front of his restaurant, etc. steakhouse. He’s just come from Restaurant Depot, where he and his partner Yissachar Dov, or “Novy,” went through the cases, picking their own produce. There were no haricot verts there today, but there were beautiful sugar snap peas. There’ll have to be some adjustments to the side dishes—a different vinaigrette to complement the extra sweetness.
Soon, the rest of the kitchen staff has also arrived and the prepping begins. The vegetables are chopped, the butcher is breaking the meat down into steaks, the gnocchi is being rolled. Tonight, there’s fresh pasta on the menu, so the dough is being kneaded and passed through the pasta machine.
Dinner service begins at 5:30, but it’s not until a little later that the restaurant fills up and the kitchen goes into overdrive. Then, you won’t find Chef Seth at the front of the house (though he loves saying hello to his customers)—where many chefs like to make appearances. He’s not expediting, “I tried that and I was bored. I opened a restaurant to cook. So I want to cook.” Seth loves the challenge of using mostly seasonal, and sometimes exotic produce. The menu changes every other week, and every eight weeks, the menu turns over completely. It’s a challenge—but writing new recipes, the creating, putting new food on the plate—it’s Seth’s favorite part of the job. “And having someone tell you it was awesome,” he adds.
“I always had a desire to cook—it wasn’t necessary. My mom always cooked and was there when I returned home from school. But, when my friends came over, I loved cooking for them. In high school, we’d make weird concoctions, using staples like barbecue sauce and mayonnaise. We’d always be barbecuing late at night. My specialty was the “the mega muffin”—an English muffin with ketchup, mustard, relish—whatever was in the refrigerator—topped with American cheese and melted in the toaster.”
That’s hardly the refined fare that Seth turns out of the kitchen at the steakhouse today. But he’d get there. “Before I was married, my wife to be and I decided to make fresh pasta—we hung the pasta to dry all over the house—pasta was hanging from the ceiling, it was everywhere.”
The kitchen was fun, but Seth didn’t yet know it was his calling—until a six-week stint where he filled in for the restaurant manager of Mosaica, a kosher French and Moroccan steakhouse in New Jersey. “Chef Todd Aarons was there at the time—he turned me onto serious food. I loved it—the food, the grind in the kitchen, the service, the internal adrenaline rush, the challenge to always be changing the menu, and to be the best you can be—I was only at Mosaica for five or six weeks, but that stint made a tremendous impression.”
Seth now knew that food was his calling—but real life took hold again, and soon he was back in an office, working in a mortgage business. “I enjoyed it—I really did. But when I was home, I was cooking all the time. I’d make crazy food for my friends. We’d deep fry everything—even tempura deli sandwiches. Those were like a heart attack on a plate. Don’t try it, they weren’t that good. I also did some catering on the side—but as I was sitting behind my desk one day, I realized it wasn’t working. I needed to cook.” Seth left his job and went to culinary school—the acclaimed Institute of Culinary Education. Now he makes Fish and Chips where the chips are made from kale.
“Right after I completed culinary school—I broke myself in working at a restaurant called Fumio in Livingston. They let me run the show—I made the menu and learned to recognize my style in cooking. I figured out—not just how to prepare food—but how to prepare restaurant food. And then I opened my restaurant.”
Seth no longer cooks at home. His wife is back in complete control of the kitchen. “Now, it’s awkward to cook in my home kitchen. I don’t have my knife or cutting board. I don’t know where the pots are. And I don’t know why it takes so long for the pan to get hot.” Indeed, the restaurant has become his second home. And, Seth admits, professional kitchens aren’t immune to the same mishaps and light moments that a home chef experiences. “We can forget the black rice on the stove—or someone can forget to put water in the pot with the potatoes, or the phone can ring and the balsamic reduction gets burned. Then there’s the most common—those toasting nuts that keep going from golden brown to black.”
Which recipe is he most proud of? “I’m proud of all my recipes…and everyone likes something different. But I would say my favorite three are the short ribs, the gnocchi, and the grilled potato salad.” I ask Seth about those short ribs, which contain Coke, Dr. Pepper, Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda, and chocolate. “It was my friends idea to cook ribs in soda,” he says. “The amounts of each came about after a lot of testing and tweaking.” The flavors and nuances, yes, even in different sodas, balance each other in these prize ribs. They’re a symbol of refinement in the balance of ingredients and sophisticated taste combinations, but also a symbol of his beginnings in the kitchen, with his friends, cooking with whatever was in the fridge—even if it’s just cherry soda.
Here is a selection of Chef Warsaw's Recipes for you to try at home:
Originally printed in the Joy of Kosher May/June 2011 magazine.