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Food FaceoffTwo finalists have outcooked the competition. Now they go head to head for the title of South Jersey’s Top Chef.

by Photo by Douglas Bovitt

Two finalists have outcooked the competition. Now they go head to head for the title of South Jersey’s Top Chef.

Five months ago, kitchens across South Jersey began heating up when 15 chefs squared off in search of culinary supremacy. Each month, the chefs were tasked with a different challenge that put their cooking ability to the test. They showcased signature dishes, brought gourmet ingredients to the grill, and cooked under the pressure of the clock. Now only two remain.

Chef Jack Connor of Café Madison in Riverside and Chef Mark Berenato of Tre Famiglia in Haddonfield outlasted the competition to meet this month in a heavyweight showdown. Connor made a name for himself cooking in kitchens from Atlantic City to the Baha­mas, feeding many notables along the way. In 2006, he brought his refined skills to Café Madison and has been delighting local diners ever since. Berenato has been making guests feel like family since Tre Famiglia opened its South Jersey location in 2005. Combining generations-old recipes with his own techniques, he turns out spot-on renditions of classic Italian cuisine.

For this final round, each chef has prepared a one-of-a-kind, three-course holiday menu. The dishes will be featured in the restaurants so that you, the readers, can determine who will be crowned this year’s top chef. Be sure to visit both establishments to sample the dishes (we did!) and then visit to get the recipes and cast your vote. The winning chef will be revealed in our December issue. Bon appétit!

Café Madison

Scallop with Roasted
Acorn Squash Agnolotti
The fresh dayboat scallop is encrusted in tri-colored pepper and seared. It sits atop squash-filled wonton skins, a unique twist that Connor prefers to traditional homemade pasta.

Holiday Mixed Grill
For his entrée, Connor serves a tasting menu combining caramelized Muscovy duck with autumn risotto, Wyoming baby lamb chop with braised vegetable ragout, and blackened Mediterranean bronzini with fingerling potato and andouille hash.

Apple Galette with Vanilla Ice Cream and Butterscotch Glaze
The mix of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples from Hunter’s Farm in Cinnaminson makes this dessert evocative of the season. Homemade vanilla bean ice cream and a butterscotch glaze finish the plate.

Tre Famiglia

House Made Chestnut Gnocchi
Berenato complements the pillowy pasta in this dish with jumbo lump crabmeat and braised local fennel.

Grilled Veal Porterhouse
The thick cuts of veal are grilled for six minutes per side before being finished in the oven. Mashed sweet potatoes garnish the plate with braised escarole and pancetta.

Pumpkin Panna Cotta
Pumpkin puree imbues this Italian dessert with the essence of the fall season. This dish is chilled overnight, and served in its pure form. At home, you could top it with your favorite sauce.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 8 (November, 2010).
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