By SUSAN ERICSON
For Chuck Lesbirel, now presiding over the kitchen of Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, it starts with an impressive résumé that goes back to a 14-year-old kid washing dishes at Palate Pleasers in Keyport.
Working in restaurant kitchens, Lesbirel watched and learned the chef business with stints at a kosher restaurant, a few small places, an educational rounding-out at the Culinary Education Center at Brookdale, and then a big jump to sous chef at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson.
Wanting to find his own culinary style, Lesbirel found an executive chef position at the Raven and the Peach in Fair Haven, where he worked until Ama was rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“I’ve been here since they opened, and I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
The Stavola family, owners of the Ocean Avenue beach club and restaurant, offered Lesbirel the experience he was looking for. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Among his favorite dishes to prepare is linguine with Jersey corn crema, littleneck clams and green onions. “Locally sourced, daily-delivered produce” goes into the recipes, said Lesbirel.
His menu also boasts a salad of Jersey tomatoes, Jersey white peaches, lobster and cucumbers from the owner’s garden. It’s a luxurious and elegant dish filled with sweet lobster and peaches off set by a crunch of fresh cucumber – with a hint of acidity coming from the tomatoes.
The most requested dish in the restaurant is the Shaved Baby Artichoke appetizer ($14). Raw artichokes soaked in lemon and water are molded into a salad laced heavily throughout with tangy Parmesan cheese, making this dish a little crispy, a little creamy and full of fresh artichoke flavor.
The restaurant is open 5 to 10 p.m. weekly, until 10:30 on weekends, and 4 to 9 on Sunday. A prix fixe menu and no corkage charge on Sunday means you can bring your own wine if you like. Ama’s bar – managed by Beau Keegan, who PieHole profiled last month for his Jersey peach martini – is open for happy hour all night on Thursdays and on Friday from 5 to 7, offering specially priced cocktails and a bar menu.
Ama’s calendar boasts food and wine pairing dinners in the future, the first on September 9. Called Superstars of Italy, it offers six courses coupled with wine from Gaja Vineyards and Planeta Vineyard. Seating is limited to 48 and reservations must be made in advance.