CHEF: Josh Bernstein
RESTAURANT: Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN JAY
When Josh Bernstein owned his own restaurant, he had only himself to please when creating a new dish for his menu. Now, as executive chef at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton, Bernstein must send each dish to a panel of reviewers for their critiques. If needed, the dish is remade, retasted and tweaked again until it is considered perfect. The process is long and time-consuming—and, says Bernstein, it is fun, creative, and has helped him grow immeasurably as a chef.
“I didn’t love it when I first started. Now I can’t live without it,” Bernstein says. “I wish I had this kind of team when I had my own restaurant.”
Even dishes for special events, such as Spuntino’s charity dinner to benefit Table to Table, a food-rescue program in Englewood Cliffs, are tested by the restaurant’s six-person tasting team, which includes the general managers and executive chefs from both Spuntino locations (Clifton and Westbury, Long Island), the director of operations— who is also a trained chef—and the owner of the Spuntino brand, which is a specialty restaurant of Doherty Enterprises in Allendale.
In honor of the many local farmers who attended the Table to Table dinner, Bernstein created a risotto that pays homage to one of the state’s most beloved farm products—Jersey sweet corn. That corn risotto was such a success that Bernstein and the tasting team agreed it should be added to the menu. Expanding on the original dish, they added lobster and other flavor tweaks to create a flavorful, summery risotto.
Lobster shells introduce a hint of ocean flavor into the risotto stock, while lobster meat increases the risotto’s richness and heft. For a more pronounced corn flavor, Bernstein and his team decided to add a puree of grilled corn, adding a smoky char and additional complexity to the dish. The amount of fresh chili peppers was fine-tuned to give the right level of underlying heat, and chives were introduced to add a fresh, green flavor component. The dish is finished with mascarpone cheese, which adds additional creaminess.
All of these layers, says Bernstein, yield a risotto with great depth of flavor—a result that he credits to a collaborative team effort. “In this culinary field, if you think that you know everything, then you pretty much know nothing,” Bernstein says. “The wise chefs know that you learn every day from somebody.”
SPUNTINO WINE BAR & ITALIAN TAPAS
Clifton Commons, 70 Kingsland Road, Clifton