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In The Kitchen with Casey Pesce

By Lori Draz

Connected, collected and chill, Casey Pesce is the owner of the long-time favorite D’Jeet in the Shrewsbury Commons and the Apple Street Kitchen in Tinton Falls. Pesce grows much of the produce used at the restaurants, something he learned from his father. 

“I grew up around food. My grandfather was a butcher in Staten Island, and I learned about meat from him,” he said. “My mom and grandmother had a small catering business as well. Food was a part of our family’s daily life right down to the farm-to-table produce from my father’s garden. He was way ahead of the farm-to-table trend. I keep that tradition alive in my garden at Apple Street.” 

Casey doesn’t stop at produce; he’s also an oyster farmer. “Three of my friends and I run this small hobby/business out of Mantaloking. We grow enough for us to eat, for the restaurants, and we sell to a few local restaurants. I grew up on the Barnegat shore, boating, clamming and fishing. The water is a second home to me.”

Professionally, Pesce started at the Grenville in Bayhead and moved onto the original Fromagerie when it was owned by Marcus and Hubert Peter. “They really helped me perfect my classic French cooking techniques.” He moved on to work with Chris and Debbie Mumford at Mumford’s which is now Apple Street Kitchen. After five years of working in restaurants, he decided to pursue his teenage dream of restaurant ownership. “My original location was in Middletown, then The Grove asked me to move in and now D’Jeet has been there a little over 14 years.”

He added, “I’m a naturalist with food. I would call it ‘clean.’ I use simple, quality ingredients, and we run almost eight specials a day, so we can work with the best available ingredients. All our stocks are made from scratch and so are our pastries. They’re long days for sure but very rewarding.”  

What is your favorite way to relax on a day off? I mentioned I love the water so a day spent fishing or time with my wife and three boys at the beach is a really great day off. I’m always up for a game of beach volleyball too. I also play drums, guitar and bass. I recently put together a little trio called the Fungiis, with my father who plays guitar and sings and my cousin who plays banjo. 

Do you have a favorite ingredient? Salt and extra virgin olive oil. They are the foundation of the meal. Each one starts and finishes the meal. I consider salt not just important in cooking but as an essential overall ingredient for life. Whether it’s a soothing Epsom salt bath or salt rub for your skin, salt goes way further than the kitchen. I use Kosher salt and Himalayan sea salt in my kitchen. I also love gardening and our Apple Street garden is complete with 80 fig trees and tons of tomatoes – both are favorites too.

What is your favorite item in your kitchen? I love my Le Crueset Rondo five-quart pot. It’s good for braising, sautéing, making soups, stews, short ribs and meatballs. I’ve had my Le Crueset collection for more than 10 years. I also use rubber spatulas and wooden spoons. They reduce damage to your cookware, and the spatulas make getting every drop out of the pot much easier. 

Anything else you want to share? I want to send a big thanks to our loyal customers. We’re doing a big remodel at Apple Street, which is targeted for completion in June. We’re putting on an addition, revamping the garden and kitchen which will allow us to host some ala carte dinners, plus private events and parties. Speaking of those figs, you can buy our homemade fig jam at Apple Street. I also want to thank my wife, friends and family for their tireless support. And home cooks, don’t be afraid to experiment. Use what you have on hand and try. Just cook; it seems like so many people don’t cook as much, so get in that kitchen and make something wonderful.    

What is your favorite at-home recipe?  

Braised Short Ribs

Yields four servings

1 white onion, small dice

2 celery stalk, small dice

2 medium carrots, small dice

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 1/2 lbs short ribs, trimmed

1 1/2 cups of decent red wine

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 bouquet fresh herbs, rosemary, thyme, sage.

2 bay leafs

6 cups beef or chicken stock (or water)

salt and pepper to taste

Place a Dutch oven on the burner to medium high heat. Add vegetable oil. Season both sides of the short ribs with salt and pepper. In batches, sear the short ribs on both sides until lightly caramelized and browned. Make sure not overcrowd the pan. Remove the short ribs and set aside. Next, add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Continue to sauté until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste and cook until deep in color, not burned. Deglaze the pan with red wine. Cook until the alcohol has evaporated out. Add the short ribs and cover with stock of your choice. Add the bouquet of herbs and bay leafs. Bring to a boil and skim off any excess fat or foam. Lower to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours. Check every 20 minutes to stir and continue skimming. To check for tenderness, insert a skewer or toothpick. It should easily penetrate the meat. The short ribs should be intact but shredded easily with a fork. To finish the sauce, remove the bayleaf and herbs. Reduce the sauce to desired thickness. Enjoy!

*Note: to enhance flavor, add a dash of balsamic soy, and molasses to your braising liquid.

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