By SUSAN ERICSON
At 33 years old, Chamon says he’s been working in kitchens for more than half his life, starting as a dishwasher at Doris and Ed’s in Highlands when he was 14.
“I always wanted to be a part of the line,” he tells PieHole. It’s like being behind the scenes of something you see in a movie. There’s something about the adrenaline, the rush.”
Servers with Scottish organic salmon served over white cheddar grits and a dish of seared scallops served with sweet potato puree and frisee. Below, the sliced duck with a pot of potatoes au gratin. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
Enrolling in a vocational program at Brookdale Community College, Chamon learned the trade of a pastry chef first. “All the high-end ingredients were available,” at Doris and Ed’s. “My name went on the menu as pastry chef.”
Moving on to jobs at country clubs, including the Rumson Country Club, Chamon “liked to learn to work the good and bad parts of the business. It was seasonal and corporate though,” he explained that the menus never varied.
He moved on to work in the kitchen at Jamian’s in Red Bank for three and a half years, and then decided to go into catering. Fueled by a desire to do organic farm-to-table food, he started the Rollin’ Bistro food truck, but soon found that he wanted a more permanent restaurant. After considering a spot in Belford that would require a new kitchen, he approached Charlie Lyristis at Zoe.
Although Zoe, located in the Markham Place shopping, center in had been on the market and taken off, Chamon says, “a deal was reached, and Zoe changed hands.”
Five months later, the menu reflects his Brazilian heritage.
“I’ve been working for this for 18 years. I’m gonna do it my way,” Chamon says referring to his plan to use pasture-raised animals such as rabbit and lamb. “Ninety percent of the produce comes from local farmers’ markets,” he added. “I’m hoping to separate myself from all of those complacent places.”
The watermelon salad is a good case in point. Chunks of sweet in-season watermelon and fresh Jersey corn served over slightly bitter arugula come garnished with nuggets of juicy, smokey pork belly. It’s dish that showed off what summer is about at the Jersey Shore.
Striking up relationships with vendors at the Sea Bright farmers’ market, Chamon has been supplying his kitchen with pasture-raised pigs and chickens from Green Duchess Farm in Somerset County. A pig-roast tasting menu is one of the featured meals served family style at the enormous half-round chef’s table, which is open to the kitchen and can accommodate a dozen diners. Watching the ministrations of the kitchen staff while dining on great food is gourmet theater at its best.
An entree of sliced duck breast with smoked habanero sea salt, pan-seared and basted in its own fat, came to the table on a wooden board. An accompanying glass of demi reduction was treated with Holly Jolly pomegranate jelly for sweetness. On the same board was a cast iron pot filled with seductive, cheesy potatoes au gratin. To lighten the heaviness, a salad of cold pickled vegetables was included. All of the components of this dish worked together in a most extraordinary way: a little savory, a little sweet, and an intermixture of various textures highlighting the chefs experience.
Specials will change daily, but for now the menu still features some of the original Zoe dishes. Plans for a more Brazilian-influenced menu are in the works. Chamon plans to add Churrasco style barbecue meats to the menu, while bread is brought in daily from Teixeira’s Bakery in Newark.
Zoe is a BYOB open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner is served Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.