It can take years for people to find their own career path, or maybe even lifetimes, but Chef Joe Tartamella found his passion as a child.
“All the kids were playing baseball with their dads, and we were connecting through food,” Tartamella says of his father. “That’s where my passion comes from.”
Tartamella’s father was born in Sicily, and his parents owned a bakery growing up. He spent most of his childhood in the kitchen with his father, where he learned how to “love and form a relationship with food.”
Last October, Tartamella joined Montclair’s MC Hotel as the executive chef. The hotel’s restaurant, Allegory, and rooftop bar, Alto, got a total revamp, and Tartamella introduced a new Mediterranean-American menu and weekend brunch. In addition to new menus, Tartamella stocks the hotel’s grab-and-go market with items that are made in-house daily. Guests can find fresh pressed juices, sandwiches, hummus and other treats, including a homemade brownie that Tartamella “can’t keep on the shelf.”
The hotel also has a fresh rooftop garden, dubbed Jersey Roots, as well as two beehives that produce fresh honey.
“We want to make a footprint in Montclair,” Tartamella says of the MC Hotel. “We want it to be a destination.”
What drew you to Montclair and the MC Hotel?
Joe Tartamella: Most of my career has been in restaurants and hotels. I really enjoy hotels and all of their moving parts. There are so many different elements at the MC Hotel, including banquets, the rooftop and the grab-and-go market. And Montclair is such an up-and-coming, trendy neighborhood. Why wouldn’t I want to work here?
What was the process of crafting the new menus like?
I think my style just fits into the hotel and the community. All of our outlets at the hotel were not open. We launched brunch, we launched dinner, and really revamped the menus at Alto and Allegory. Right now it’s Mediterranean meets New American, but I think I’m going to start to lean more into Italian Mediterranean.
What made you want to create Jersey Roots, your rooftop garden?
It’s a nostalgic thing for me. I’m first generation—my dad was born in Sicily and we had a bakery growing up. We always had a garden in our backyard with tomatoes and basil. At the hotel, we’re growing herbs, cauliflower, jalapeños, tomatoes, eggplants and more. It makes the job exciting and it’s a way for me to bring a part of who I am to the hotel.
What did cooking with your dad teach you?
My parents owned a bakery and the most important things they taught me were work ethic and consistency. My dad taught me how to love the food, and taught me if you don’t have a love for it, and don’t put your heart in it every day, it’s not the same. He taught me how to create a relationship with food. I also learned a lot from other chefs in the industry.
What local businesses do you work with?
We offer chocolates from Sweet Home Montclair in our grab-and-go market. We get our pasta from Lo Ré. We get our cheese from Jersey Girl Cheese and oats from River Valley Community Grains. We’re really big on promoting local businesses.
We also worked with Bee Haven Bees, which has two beehives at the hotel. We already harvested two sets of honey and it’s used in cocktails, on cheese boards, and we even sell the honey in the grab-and-go market.
Is anything new happening this summer?
We are working on a “Woof” menu. In the next month or so, we are going to have a program where you can come and have brunch with your dog in the rotunda. We’re partnering up with a local pet store in Montclair called L&B Healthy Pet Markets to get raw, organic dog foods. They’re also going to create an MC doggie biscuit, which we’re excited about.
We are also intending to open for Sunday dinners with a whole different menu than what we’re currently offering. It will be a strict Italian menu called ‘Sunday Sauce.’ It would be a great place for people to come on Sundays and break bread and enjoy home cooking.
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