Chef: Kara Decker restaurant:
100 Steps Supper Club location: Cranford
Photography by Joanna Tully
Kara Decker loves octopus so much, she has one tattooed on her forearm. It’s delicious and it’s not easy to cook, so I have respect for it,” says Decker, executive chef at 100 Steps Supper Club + Raw Bar in Cranford. “It makes me want to do the right thing by it.” When developing a new menu item, Decker begins by setting in her mind the foundation for a dish, usually a meat or seafood. She then goes about her busy day confident that preparation ideas will come to her.
“Whenever I get an idea, I just write it down with all the basic ingredients,” she says. “But then I always wind up changing that; I’m always trying to improve myself every time I do a new dish.” As she muses on ingredients that will complement the dish’s foundational protein, she has an eye toward what is in season. And she looks for ways to improve on dishes she has done in the past, such as taking confited potatoes a step further by grilling them until nicely charred.
In planning a new appetizer for her summer menu, Decker applies that confit-char idea to octopus—in this case, that means slow cooking followed by marinating and a quick sear on the grill. “I always want to improve on layering flavors but it has to make sense, too,” she says. “I don’t want to put too much on the plate because I want you to really taste the things that are on there.”
Building the dish in her mind, Decker pairs the octopus with lightly seared gnocchi. An heirloom tomato salad brings in a seasonal touch. And she thinks a creamy yogurt sauce will finish off the dish— adding mint, which, she notes, goes well with potato and tomato. “If I feel it needs some sort of a kick, I will put a little heat in the yogurt or in the marinade,” she says. “It just depends on where I feel it’s best.” After testing the dish, she decides to use chilies throughout— adding heat little by little to create warmth without any one element overwhelming all.
When not in the kitchen, Decker dines out often and reads cookbooks from cover to cover to gain the perspective of other chefs. Her creativity is also inspired by surprise ingredients brought to her from New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket by restaurant co-owner Andrea Carbine. (Andrea, along with husband Jim Carbine, owns 100 Steps as well as the highly acclaimed A Toute Heure, located nearby across Centennial Avenue.)
“I love spontaneity,” Decker says. “For [Carbine] to bring me a vegetable that I wouldn’t normally use, that’s how I learn. To play around—that’s how I grow as a chef.”
215 Centennial Ave., Cranford