New Yorkers looking for a gastronomic day trip could do worse than to head to Crystal Springs Resort in Hardyston, N.J. The haute cuisine served up by John Benjamin goes a long way to erase memories of greasy burgers at Garden State diners. He tells the Resident what every good chef should keep in the kitchen and about finding hair in his food.
Any tips for entertaining at home?
JB: Have your party planned a day in advance so you can socialize and that means keep it simple. For example: prepare cold hors d’oeuvres in advance and refrigerate
Where is your favorite place to eat in the city?
JB: I have many favorites but my most recent favorite is a place called Kraft in the Chelsea district. The atmosphere from the time you walk in was great and I loved the menu style, a cross between family style and tapas. I liked the range of choices.
What do you cook for yourself at home?
JB: For breakfast I like to make stuffed French Toast or eggs with a touch of truffle oil. For dinner I like stir fry vegetables with some shrimp or chicken.
Which ingredients should everyone have in the kitchen?
JB: A nice chicken stock, even previously frozen stock, eggs, unsalted butter and shallots.
Any tips for getting a good dinner reservation?
JB: Call as far in advance as possible.
What makes a good meal?
JB: The guests you are dining with can really make a meal. I also think that wonderful bread makes a great first impression.
What is the best meal you’ve ever had?
JB: The best meal I have ever had was at Per Se. The presentation of small courses, about 15 in all, offered such a wide range and blending of flavors and wonderful viscosity of sauces.
JB: I am sorry that the worst meal I have had was recently at The Chowder Pot in Connecticut. There was hair in my food, the service was horrible, and everything was cold about it.
Do you have any memorable stories from the kitchen?
JB: I would say that cooking for famous people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Julia Child. Julia tried a special tasting menu I prepared for her that consisted of foie gras and truffles. After her meal she came into the kitchen and thanked me and said she had a great time. I remember how good I felt cooking for someone so famous.
What is the most common misconception about eating out?
That fast service is the most important thing. A good chef is organized, but good food does take time and creativity to come out perfectly every time.
Benjamin’s Milk Chocolate Dipped Kumquats With Chilled Vanilla Mousse
12 kumquats (large)
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup mascarpone
1/4 cup heavy cream
Half a vanilla bean
1 cup milk chocolate chips
Cut off tops of the kumquats.
Scoop out the inside with a small ball scoop and discard the inside.
Boil the sugar water and lemon juice.
Pour syrup over the kumquats, cover, and refrigerate for three hours.
Remove the kumquats from the syrup and let dry on towels.
For the mousse
Whip mascarpone, heavy cream and the remaining three tablespoons of sugar and vanilla bean in a mixer until stiff. Fill pastry bag with mousse and pipe into the kumquats.
Place a toothpick into the kumquats and place in freezer.
While they are in the freezer, melt the chocolate in a small bowl over hot water.
When melted, dip the kumquats half way and place upright so they stand up.
Place back in freezer until ready to serve.