Chef Spotlight: Jon Suarez of HO-HO-KUS INN AND TAVERN
Jon Suarez, Co-Executive Chef of Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Tavern, is in our "Chef Spotlight." Jon grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey. At an early age, he was drawn to cooking when he would put seasonings from his mother's spice rack in boiling water to change the flavor of his pasta and fill the air with a savory aroma. Upon graduating high school, Jon was offered an intern position under Chef Michael J. Carrino at a French restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey. There, he further developed a refined understanding of his passion for cooking. In 2010, Jon enrolled in the Italian Culinary Academy (ICC) traveling to Colorno, Italy to study at the ALMA school. He interned in the Italian cities of Carloforte, Sardinia, and Porto Cervo, and returned to the states in 2011. Jon's experiences in Italy laid a strong foundation for his career and contributed to the skill set he needed to grow in his culinary practice. In 2014, Jon joined the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern team studying under Chefs Andrew Rodriguez, Gregory Torrech, and Hank Barrett. Today he works alongside Chef Troy Piegaro. They share the title of Co-Executive Chef as they continue the rich and illustrious reputation of the venue.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
When I was about 12 years old, I visited New Orleans with my father and was able to experience the nation's cultural melting pot. After trying gumbo, turtle soup, and crocodile, I became enthralled with the diversity of flavors, and I became eager to learn to make these types of dishes.
Who were some of your career mentors?
My first mentor was Chef Michael Carrino, Chef/Owner of Pig & Prince in Montclair, New Jersey. He took me under his wing when I was 17 years old and taught me how to enjoy cooking and how to be playful with the culinary arts.
What culinary styles have influenced your career?
I studied in Colorno, Italy and growing up as a Jersey boy my mother's bolognese and angel hair pasta with meatballs drove me to excel in preparing Italian foods, in particular making pasta. My studying under Chef Carrino enabled me to study French cooking, while my visit to New Orleans guided me to create what I believe is the "perfected" gumbo recipe. I like to consider myself a chef with a well-balanced background.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
I'd have to say that my blends of flavors is most distinguishing feature as a chef. When I think of a flavor profile, I can see how the colors and the flavors blend. These sensations allow me to be creative. An example is when I ran a tempura-battered soft-shell crab special with a panang-anglais, clementine salad, pepper hazelnuts and mesculin greens. It was a mixture of sweet, spicy, acidic, hot, cold and crunchy - something I considered rather unique. The special pleased our guests and sold very well.
What is your favorite meal or meals?
Anything my mother makes, followed by gumbo and turtle soup.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Our restaurant was established in 1796 by Andrew Zabriski as a home for his son, and became a Tavern in 1890. It's historic, beautiful and has become a second home to me. Over the years since becoming a Tavern, the owners have changed hands. It was once one of President Richard Nixon's favorite dining spots. In 2009 our owners Gordon and Laurie Hamm reopened the Tavern after a $1.5 million renovation. We're open at 11:30 am every day of the week offering fine dining, a relaxing atmosphere, and a beautiful patio. We also do catering and rent rooms for various types of parties (bridal showers, communions, wedding receptions). We have some of the friendliest staff in North Jersey.
Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Tavern is located at 1 Franklin Turnpike, Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, 07423. Call them at 201.445.4115 and visit their web site http://hohokusinn.com/.
Editor's Note: Stay tuned to Broadwayworld Food & Wine for more feature pieces about Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Tavern.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jon Suarez