Meatless Monday Interviews Chef Josh Bernstein

February 22nd, 2016


Recently Meatless Monday caught up with Chef Josh Bernstein, Executive Chef of The Shannon Rose Irish Pub, which has locations in Clifton and Ramsey, NJ, to talk about the ways he and his team have incorporated wonderful vegetarian and vegan options into the restaurant’s menu offerings, and the decision to get involved with the Meatless Monday movement.
Chef Josh graduated first in his class from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1999, and has been working with food ever since, creating dishes in restaurants up and down the East Coast and working in the highly demanding world of corporate dining. An entrepreneurial thinker as well as a talented chef, Chef Josh launched Behind the Cuisine, offering interactive dinner parties and cooking classes, and opened his first restaurant, 9North, in his hometown of Wayne, New Jersey before working with The Shannon Rose Irish Pub.

Chef Josh Bernstein
If you were to sum up your mission as a chef, how would you do it? What do you bring to the table that makes your work unique?
“My goal is to make people happy with great food, to be responsible to the customer. In today’s world, finding the best possible products and ingredients and using them in a way that brings great food to customers has to be the goal. It’s really important that all chefs think that way. It’s easy to go with big vendors and find a cheap product, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about serving the best possible product at the best possible prices.”

How do you select the vegetables you use for your meals?
“When choosing the menu, seasonality plays a huge part. We’re not going to have asparagus in the winter, or heirloom tomatoes that aren’t in season, or heavy dishes in the summer. Seasonality is what drives the overall planning.”

Lots of popular dishes – especially Irish dishes – seem to focus on meat. Why do you think meatless options have become so popular in your restaurants?
“We’re an Irish pub – you normally don’t think Irish pub and vegetarian! We’ve found that expanding our vegetarian options brings in a niche audience that otherwise wouldn’t have experienced that Irish pub hospitality. Our pubs offer a chef-driven, scratch-made menu that blends Irish pub classics and new tavern favorites, incorporating seasonal, fresh and local ingredients, and our vegetarian options are simply an extension of that philosophy. We get a lot of emails and Facebook posts with people just thanking us!”

In your opinion, what makes it difficult to eat healthy in today’s world – and how can eating inventive dishes like yours help?
“I don’t think it’s difficult – it’s a choice. If you want to follow a healthier diet, you can eat healthy anywhere. The smart restaurants make it easy to find the healthier options. At the Shannon Rose, we use symbols to identify vegetarian and gluten free options. We also provide training to our service staff on the items that can be made vegetarian and gluten free with some adjustments.”

What first got you inspired to cook?
“I always joke I was cooking out of necessity because my mom wasn’t a great cook. A lot of chefs have a story of family cooking traditions, but I didn’t. I had a passion for food from the beginning – innate or instinctual. I grew up watching cooking shows like Julia Child and Martin Yan. I had parents who wanted me to be cultured, and we dined out in NYC and went to shows and museums. Once my parents realized that this was the direction I wanted to pursue professionally, they took me out to more upscale restaurants for the experience and to talk to people in the business. I started as a dishwasher at 15 in a restaurant owned by a friend. I learned every area of restaurant work – after that I had the bug!”

What, if anything, has surprised you about the meals, cooking meatless, and/or customer response to meatless meals?
“There’s a stigma with vegetarian items. In a lot of restaurants vegetarian options mean a salad or grilled vegetables on a panini, especially for Irish Pubs, but it’s the chef and the recipe that makes it so different. You can’t just say ‘it’s vegetarian,’ you have to make good food. That’s what’s more important – just make great food.”
“We added a Vegetarian Sloppy Joe to our menu this past October, and you wouldn’t know the difference, even as a meat eater! We’ve had meat-eating loyalists who have tried it in slider form and loved it. It’s amazing to us that we’re selling as much as were selling, and that people are taking notice of it. It’s bringing in more customers!”
“We are now in the process of expanding on our vegetarian dishes and including them into our core menu. Meatless Monday helps us get the word out even more about these offerings.”
“We have a vegetarian version of the old-school Sloppy Joe, only ours is made with Gardein crumbles. You wouldn’t know the difference, even as a meat eater! We’ve had meat-eating loyalists who have tried it in slider form and loved it. People who are not vegetarians are trying it more and more – and loving it.”
“One of our floor managers has been vegan since 16, and she’s very proud of it. We tested the Sloppy Joe on servers without saying it was vegetarian. They were shocked! By the way… it’s vegan!”

What do you think of eating meatless once a week? Have you considered doing Meatless Monday in your restaurant?
“Taking one day of the week to say ‘I’m not going to eat meat today,’ is one step people can take toward making sure to eat a balanced diet. You can’t live off of one type of food; you need to be well rounded. And a balanced diet is just that.
I think the goal is to bring awareness to the fact that the vegetarian lifestyle can be a healthy choice, even if it’s just choosing to focus on it one day a week to start – it might just make you feel a little bit better!”

 

 

If you’re in the Clifton or Ramsey, New Jersey area and looking for an excellent Meatless Monday meal – or meal any day of the week – come sample Chef Josh Bernstein’s work at The Shannon Rose Irish Pub! The Shannon Rose Irish Pub is located at 98 Kingsland Rd. in Clifton, NJ and 1200 Route 17 in Ramsey, NJ.