Justin Antiorio and Dana Cohen became fast friends despite being rivals on Season 10 of the popular competition reality show Hell's Kitchen. The two were part of a cast of 18 chefs who competed for a spot at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas. Despite not getting the top job, the two fared well in the kitchen, finishing second and third respectively. They learned life lessons from Gordon Ramsay and earned exciting prospects for their future careers as chefs.
(201) Magazine reunited the two chefs at Il Villaggio in Carlstadt, one of Antiorio's favorite restaurants, to reminisce about the show and to consider the future.
Justin Antiorio is better known as Chef Justin these days, and he's got Hell's Kitchen and the hot-headed but knowledgeable Gordon Ramsay to thank for that. Antiorio, in September, came in second during season 10 of FOX's hit cooking show and, in the process, emerged as not just a chef to watch, but a reality star in his own right. So now the irons are hot and the future is bright for Antiorio, a Jersey boy who was born in Long Branch, raised in Lyndhurst and Franklin Heights, lived for a time in Wayne and then Hoboken, but once again lives in Lyndhurst.
"I'd never done anything like Hell's Kitchen and, on top of that, I'd never watched the show," says Antiorio, whose father and brother are both chefs as well, and who spent five years as a sous chef at the legendary 21 Club. "So, I really had no idea what I was getting into. It was a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster. The highs are high and the lows are super-low. There are days where you're really beating yourself up, you're at the point of depression and just completely miserable, and then you know you've got to go back in there the next day, forget about the past and just move forward."
Antiorio lost to Christina Wilson, but he's not complaining. Getting used to people who see him on the street, calling him by name or asking to pose for a photo, "is overwhelming sometimes," he says, "but it's really cool to have someone come up to you and be a fan."
Another truth is this: It's often better to be the runner-up on such shows, as the winners are beholden to work for at least a year at a Donald Trump property; with music producers chosen by the powers that be at American Idol; or, in the case of Hell's Kitchen, for Ramsay at a Las Vegas restaurant. Antiorio can blaze his own trail, though he probably wouldn't have minded the $250,000 salary Wilson will receive.
"I've spoken to a lot of the runners-up, and if you Google search runners-up compared to winners, it seems that the runners-up are doing better," he says. "All I can hope is that this gives me a little boost and gives me what I need to do for my career."
So what's next for Antiorio? Already he has headlined the 2012 TASTE Philadelphia Festival of Food, Wine and Spirits and presented at culinary benefits in New Jersey and New York. But the window is open wide. Antiorio has his moment and can take his best shot. Leveraging his newfound fame and exposure, where does he go from here?
"Actually, I'm speaking with investors right now," Antiorio says. "I'm looking into getting my own place somewhere in the area, actually Bergen County, but maybe Hudson County, maybe Hoboken. Also, my resume is out there. I'm thinking about a couple of offers. We're trying to make the best decisions that we can possibly make."
Dana Cohen is just starting to taste fame – and she likes it. "In the beginning, it was a little weird," Cohen, a River Vale native who finished third on the recently concluded 10th season of Hell's Kitchen, says. "Now that it's been several months, we've all gotten used to it. It's kind of funny; I was actually out with [fellow chef-contestants] Justin [Antiorio] and Christina [Wilson], and we were sitting in a bar, and somebody came up to me specifically and said, 'Weren't you on Hell's Kitchen?' I don't know if it's because I got a lot of face time or what, but it seems like people really recognize me maybe more than anybody else on the show. But it's cool. People want to ask about the experience. They ask, 'Is Gordon Ramsay really that mean?' It's fun. It's all part of the whole experience."
So, is Gordon Ramsay really that mean?
"There's so much to learn from Gordon Ramsay, just from working with him," Cohen says, laughing. "He has so much experience and so much knowledge, so to be able to work with a chef of that caliber is really something in itself. He's a very encouraging person. He may not always seem like it, but you're working in the kitchen under him and if you make a mistake, you're sure as hell not going to make the same mistake again because he's standing over you and teaching you not to do things the wrong way.
"Working for someone else, you might not get the discipline you get from chef Ramsay," she says. "I think if you apply what he teaches you in the kitchen to your everyday life, it will make you a better person. All the yelling and everythingÉpart of that is him trying to see if you can handle the pressure and handle the stress. You can either give up and give in to the pressure or you can go on and try to be successful."
Most of the chefs who participate on Hell's Kitchen try to leverage the resulting fame and exposure – or notoriety in some instances – into the opportunity to open a restaurant. Cohen, however, is cooking up other ideas.
"I actually want to do something else in TV, not reality-based," she says. "I think I've had enough of that. We'll see where it goes. Right now, I have a bunch of appearances lined up and demos at food and wine festivals, which are always fun. I'm trying to keep my name out there. I have some things in the works. So we'll see what happens, if it's a new show or doing food segments or representing a brand. Hopefully, eventually, it'll lead to my own show."
"There are a lot of Bergen restaurants that are favorites for me. Angelo's Restaurant in Lyndhurst is one that I love. Il Villaggio on Route 17 in East Rutherford is a great restaurant. Up in Ramsey, I love Varka. That's amazing. Mostly you're going to get your traditional Italian food in this area, but to have a restaurant like Varka, to put out the most amazing seafood – it's unreal."
— Justin Antiorio
"I started getting into food probably when I was a young teenager, and my parents took me to Café Panache in Ramsey. So that's somewhere I'll still go for a special dinner. I enjoy their food. And I've had a few really good meals at Esty Street in Park Ridge. It's cool now, because it seems like a lot of people are more into local, seasonal ingredients. That's a good thing."
— Dana Cohen
Recipes from the Chefs
Turkey and Roast Brussels Sprouts with Applewood-Smoked Bacon
Chef Justin Antiorio
My biggest pet peeve with Thanksgiving is eating dry turkey. Often the breast gets dry while waiting for the legs to finish cooking. My advice is to cook the breast and legs separately. I choose to confit the legs. That process will result in the juiciest turkey legs (in my opinion) you will ever taste. Brining the breast will also reintroduce juices to ensure juiciness. I use fresh turkey from Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff to ensure fresh turkeys and also to purchase duck fat. Also when I think of Thanksgiving, I think brussels sprouts, so here is my recipe for sprouts with applewood-smoked bacon.
1 (12- to 15-pound) fresh turkey
Turkey breast brine
1 gallon plus 1 quart water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 whole head garlic, sliced in half horizontally
2 bay leaves
2 juniper berries, crushed
Vegetable oil, for roasting
For the confit
12 medium unpeeled cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
4 cups duck fat
2 cups vegetable oil
For the mushroom sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup button mushrooms
1 cup portobello mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 quart (4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth, reduced by half
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
To prepare the turkey
1. Remove giblets and neck and freeze for some other use or discard. Rinse out cavity and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Trim most of excess fat and skin from neck and cavity.
2. Remove legs by cutting where thighs meet the body. Reserve legs for confit and remainder of turkey breast piece (breast and body) for brine.
Brining the Turkey
1. Place all brining ingredients, except vegetable oil, in a large stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove and cool to room temperature.
2. When brine is cool, submerge turkey breast in brine. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
3. To roast, heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove breast from brine and thoroughly dry. Rub skin with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper and then place breast on a roasting pan. Roast in oven until breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. For the mushroom sauce, reserve 1/4 cup pan drippings.
For the confit
1. Place turkey legs on a large platter and heavily salt both sides of each leg. Sprinkle garlic, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns over top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 12 hours or overnight.
2. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Remove salt from legs. Place legs, skin side down, with confit flavoring ingredients (except salt) in a Dutch oven or a large heavy-bottomed pot with a secure lid and cover with duck fat and vegetable oil.
3. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, making sure legs don't stick. Cover, turn off heat and place in oven. Cook until meat is very tender, about two hours.
4. Remove casserole from oven and cool on a rack. If not serving immediately, place cooled casserole in the refrigerator until ready.
5. To brown legs, heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove legs from casserole. Place a large nonstick frying pan on the stove over high heat. Carefully set legs skin side down in the pan and cook until skin is brown, about two minutes. Place in oven and heat through, about 12 minutes.
For the mushroom sauce
1. In a medium frying pan on medium-high heat, place butter and sauté mushrooms in batches; season to taste. Reserve cooked mushrooms in a bowl.
2. Add shallots and cook on low heat for three minutes, then add stock. Add 1/4 cup reserved pan drippings from turkey.
3. When ready to serve, bring shallot mixture to a simmer and add mushrooms, foie gras and parsley. Mix well and serve immediately.
4. Tighten this mixture to your desired consistency with Wondra flour.
Roast Brussels Sprouts with Applewood-Smoked Bacon
8 ounces applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch lardons
8 ounces butter
1/2 cup canola oil
3 pounds small brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved or quartered, depending on size
2 oranges, juiced and zested
Place the bacon in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Cook over high heat until the water evaporates, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the bacon in the fat until it is crisp. Set aside on a paper towel. Add the butter to a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it starts to brown; remove from heat. Heat a large cast-iron pan over high heat until just smoking, add 1/4 cup oil and half the sprouts, and cook for about two minutes until the sprouts start to caramelize, stirring occasionally. When caramelized (a little black on the edges is fine), add half the bacon, half the orange juice and half the brown butter, and stir together. Reduce the heat to medium; cook until the sprouts are fork tender (about four minutes). Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Combine all the sprouts and toss with the orange zest. Season to taste and serve.
Sweet Potato Kale Chowder with Pumpernickel Croutons
Chef Dana Cohen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small leek, white part thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1 small sweet onion, diced (1 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and diced in 1/2-inch chunks (3/4 cup)
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced in 1/2-inch chunks (about 5 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups packed kale, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup light cream
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Ground white pepper
6 slices pumpernickel bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 scallion, green part thinly sliced
Melt butter in a medium stockpot over medium heat. Cook leek, onion, carrot, curry powder and ground ginger, stirring constantly until softened, about 8 minutes.
Add sweet potatoes, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, bay leaf and chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.
Puree 4 cups of the soup in a blender, then return to the pot with remaining soup.
Add kale and light cream to the soup and cook, uncovered, over low heat until kale is tender yet still bright green, about 10 minutes. Add chopped parsley and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim crusts and cut 6 slices of pumpernickel bread into 1/4-inch cubes. Toss bread with 1 tablespoon melted butter on a baking sheet. Toast in oven, tossing once, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.
Top each serving of soup with crème fraîche, scallions and pumpernickel croutons and serve immediately.