118 June 2015 NJMONTHLY.COM
(Continued from page 107)
menu or larger tasting menus; an open
kitchen visible to all tables; and dishes
brought to the table not by servers, but
by the cooks, who can explain them.
A potential flashpoint: All tables will be
assessed a 20 percent “service charge” in
lieu of tipping. “Legally speaking, that’s
how we are able to have the chefs par-
ticipate in some of the money that comes
out of the service charge,” says co-owner
Stephen Distler, the team’s business brain.
“It’s a trend across the country, though it’s
not really here in a big way yet.”
Distler has had a trying year himself.
“Making major alterations to an existing
building is a very complex process,” he
says. “If we could have built from scratch,
this might have gone faster; it definitely
would have been cheaper.”
Surprisingly, neither chef longed to eat
at, let alone do a volunteer kitchen stint, or
stage, at influential restaurants. Early in their
careers, ambitious chefs often take every
opportunity to learn by staging, but Ander-
son, 40, and Ryan, 35, are well beyond that.
“We realized,” says Anderson, “we
didn’t necessarily want to be influenced
by what other chefs are doing. And if
you stage, it’s inevitable. We want to
be influenced by each other and by the
ingredients around us.” They had long
since sworn o; looking at restaurant
websites and feasting their eyes on food
pictures. “It gets into your brain, it comes
out in your food,” he explains.
Elements was to reopen in January, so
the chefs dreamed up winter dishes. Delays pushed the opening to Valentine’s Day,
then to spring. The chefs finally gave up
on menus. They foraged in autumn, then
the long, cold winter shut them in, cutting
them o; from farms, streams, the things
that inspire them. They su;ered a kind of
whiteout. No thoughts of food at all.
Anderson rallied by baking bread
at home. “I made things I never made
before,” he says, a touch of wonder in his
voice. “I made a lasagna—from scratch.
To have a one-dish meal is kind of cool.”
At deadline, Elements expected to re-
open just after Fourth of July. “For most
chefs, two weeks is about the most you
can relax, then you start getting antsy,”
Anderson says. “Now I’ve been antsy for
like eight months.” In that new kitchen,
the fireworks will be of the heart. ;
118 June 2015 NJMONTHLY.COM
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