Coffee with the Chef: Chef Chris Tarta

The Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 26, 2014 | Go to article overview

Coffee with the Chef: Chef Chris Tarta


Due and Bella Campania Ristorante, Ridgewood and Hillsdale

Like most executive chef/owners, Chris Tarta has a hectic schedule. But the 35-year-old father of two (with a third on the way) must juggle two restaurants, Bella Campania Ristorante in Hillsdale and Due in Ridgewood, which opened in June. Tarta, a new Wyckoff resident, admits to growing pains at Due (it received two out of four stars in this newspaper; Bella Campania received two and one-half in 2010), but says the problems are getting fixed. He recommends that you head to Bella Campania for a family dinner, while saving Due for a special occasion. Here, Tarta talks about his daily mozzarella-making, his grandmother and Swedish meatballs.

The difficulty of owning and cooking at two restaurants: The time that it takes. I'm not as hands-on as I'd like to be in Ridgewood. When I'm there, I'm more in the dining room with the customers, and not as much in the kitchen. I wish I had more time to be there. I'd like to clone myself, but it's not possible.

Due vs. Bella Campania Ristorante: We try to keep both restaurants to a traditional, wholesome Italian meal. We're not reinventing Italian cuisine. In Hillsdale, we're a little bit more Americanized Italian. We feature chicken Parmesan, penne vodka, thin- crust pizza. We have many old-fashioned recipes -- veal saltimbocca, chicken saltimbocca, marsala, Francaise. In Ridgewood, it's a bit more of a sophisticated Italian menu. We cook over wood there, so we have many items that are wood-grilled. We have a wild salmon, a sage- cured pork chop. A skirt steak. Things that I don't really feature in Hillsdale.

Besides mine, my favorite local restaurant: I don't dine out often. But when we do go out, my oldest daughter loves the Organic Tofu House in Ridgewood. She loves the bean sprouts and the potato pancakes. We go there often.

Favorite local stores: Produce-wise, I love the Market Basket in Franklin Lakes and Wyckoff. I also like Whole Foods.

Favorite dish to cook: Fresh mozzarella. I make it every day. To me, it's almost like a form of therapy.

Favorite dish to eat: Usually either veal saltimbocca or veal osso buco. It's old-fashioned, traditional Italian comfort food. Growing up, that's the type of stuff my grandma would make. Sunday gravy and things like that. I also love, over the wood-burning grill, a medium-rare steak. Basically any type of steak.

My inspiration to become a chef: My grandmother. I didn't even realize it. I would cook with her. I went to college and I couldn't stand sitting in class. …

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