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Chef Spotlight: Executive Chef/Partner Michael Merida of MONTCLAIR SOCIAL CLUB

Chef Michael Merida of Montclair Social Club in downtown Montclair draws inspiration from his experiences at some of the most acclaimed kitchens in the world, including 3-star Michelin restaurants The Fat Duck (UK), El Bulli (Spain), Le Bernardin (NYC) and Nihonryori RyuGin (Tokyo, Asia's 50 Best Restaurants). Michael most recently served in executive chef and management positions at prestigious private clubs in the NY Metro Area, including Green Brook Country Club (North Caldwell, NJ). He developed the Mediterranean-influenced menu for Mezza (Westwood, which was highly touted by The New York Times. Michael is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and lives in River Vale, NJ with his wife and their two children. had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Merida for our "Chef Spotlight."

What was your earliest interest in cooking?

Around 15 years old I started as a dishwasher at Howard Johnsons. I was intrigued by watching the cooks preparing foods on the long flat top griddle. I wanted in but the GM said I was too young. One Sunday morning, the cook didn't show up. I sat and watched the GM struggling to prepare breakfast. I waited like a wrestling tag team partner for her to tag me in. Once she gave me the nod to help out, I was hooked and never looked back. Before high school graduation, the GM of Ground Round, the popular chain restaurant I was working at during my formative years, saw potential and the love of the business I shared. He asked me to go with him to a college fair and meet a representative from the Culinary Institute of America. Once the introduction was made, I scheduled a tour of the school. After I visited the campus I was never more excited to start my training. Nowadays, whenever I can pay it forward for the next generation, I am eager to help.

Who were some of your career mentors?

For business, Steve Kass, Former CEO of Riese Corporation; for food, Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck), who changed my approach to cooking; Seiji Yamamoto (Ryu Gin), who taught me about quality ingredients and technique; and Ferran Adria, from whom I learned what food can be past its natural state.

What culinary styles have influenced your career?

In chronological order -- Classic French cooking, Molecular Gastronomy, and Local Farm-to-Table.

What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?

My culinary approach touches the lives of my clientele in many ways. Whether it's a celebration, evoking a unique memory, capturing a special feeling, or touching the soul, I always make it memorable. To see the emotions of our guests when the zeppole tree is brought out is remarkable.

What is your favorite meal?

Arroz con Pollo, a simple roasted chicken, The Cheesecake Factory's Barbecue Ranch Chicken Salad! I know, the Cheesecake Factory?

Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.

Montclair Social Club is a Progressive American/ Gastro style restaurant serving an array of multi-ethnic share dishes that satisfy even the most tantalizing palates. Being a social venue with live entertainment, the menu accessorizes our share plates of Social Bites, Harvests, Nibbles, and Shells to name a few. Our menu will change seasonally as local farms' bounty becomes available for the season, so my team and I can create the whimsical dishes we are known for.

Montclair Social Club is located at 499 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042. For more information, hours, and menus, call 973.436.4200 and visit

Editor's Note: Stay tuned to Food and Wine for a feature story on Montclair Social Club and to learn about their "Master Mixologist."

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Merida

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