Creative expression served at award-winning Café Matisse
In November of this year, Café Matisse of Rutherford was selected by OpenTable, a restaurant reservation website, as one of the best 100 restaurants in the U.S. serving American cuisine. It was also recognized as one of the country’s most romantic restaurants by OpenTable in January of 2013.
These are just two of the outstanding accolades that this landmark restaurant has received over the years. We sat down with Chef Peter Loria to understand the inspiration behind the award-winning dishes served at this local gem.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
From my early childhood experiences, watching my dad and grandfather cooking on Sundays for the family and enjoying my Czech grandmother’s baking and pastries. Also, growing up on a farm, milking cows and working in the fields—all of these things subconsciously may have planted the idea.
Electronic engineering and mathematics were my life’s pursuit in college. I worked in that field very successfully for twelve years. And although I financially prospered, I was not content in my work during that time.
I found cooking to be very relaxing and a great way to entertain friends. l was in my early thirties when I decided to take a hiatus and enter French Culinary in Manhattan. I loved it and graduated in 1986 first in my class. I embarked on my culinary career in the kitchen of Bouley, learning everything I could working closely with esteemed Chef David Bouley.
What is your favorite food to cook and why?
I lean personally towards preparation of fish. It is a much more delicate in texture and flavor.
What dish do you recommend at Café Matisse?
All of them! My culinary creations are all an extension of my creative thoughts about flavors and visual appearance of different types of food working harmoniously together to create a unique impression. Each dish is an expression of my feelings.
What is the inspiration behind the food at Café Matisse?
Henri! Our menu is ‘Artful Cuisine’. Using parodies of Matisse’s works as inspiration, we consider the backdrop of his bold artistic textures and colors, and play that whimsically into the dishes we create in Matisse’s kitchen.
What do you do to ensure the quality of the food going out to your customers?
As the Chef Owner, I control all aspects of food quality, ordering, shopping, prep and cooking are under my strict standards. If I would not eat it, I surely would not serve it to my customers. After 20+ successful years in business, my purveyors know the level of quality I expect. If for whatever reason, they don’t deliver the expected level of quality, the product is returned and never makes to my dining room.
About the Chef
Now approaching his 30th year in business, Chef Peter Loria’s tutelage in the values of working hard and delivering quality began at a young age. These are lessons he brings to fruition every day at Café Matisse in his quest to deliver the best in everything he does.
Peter attended Milton Hershey Boarding School in Pennsylvania from fourth grade through high school. It was there, in school and working on their farm that he gained an understanding of what it means to study hard, work hard and play hard. Prior to this, Peter remembers watching (and helping) his Sicilian father and grandfather prepare a wide variety of delicious cuisines, as well as his maternal grandmother, a Czech native who was an amazing baker. These influences in his early childhood provided key inspirations for his life-long love of comfort food.
After graduating college, Peter went on to briefly pursue a career as an electrical engineer. During this time, he discovered his passion for fine food and enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in 1986, graduating first in his class. Peter began his culinary career with a year in the kitchen at Bouley, learning everything he could as he worked closely with esteemed Chef David Bouley. In 1987, he decided to open his first restaurant; Park Avenue, in Rutherford, New Jersey, a French bistro concept. This space would ultimately become Café Matisse in 1994, evolving after Peter updated the concept and name a few times, including a stint as a popular Italian restaurant called Pasta Tivoli from 1992-1994. In the midst of these years, his tenacity was thoroughly tested when he suffered a brain aneurism and had to spend six months relearning how to speak and walk again. Making a full recovery, Peter has carried on with his life’s passion.
Once opened, Café Matisse has consistently garnered critical acclaim and is now considered a dining destination. To this day, Café Matisse receives numerous high accolades including: The New York Times “Excellent”; New Jersey Magazine 3.5 star rating; a “27” food rating in ZAGAT and a place in their “Top 40” national restaurants; Four Stars and “Most Romantic” in the Bergen Record; and Open Table “Top 10 metropolitan restaurants”. The restaurant has also been a long-time supporter of Rutherford area civic events and charities.
Chef Peter lives in Oradell with wife Jerilyn, his stepson, John, an aspiring musician, as well as their three dogs; Ziggy, Marley and Ginger, all mixed breed rescues. In his spare time he enjoys gardening and producing fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. He also enjoys balancing his work with physical activities such as walking and horseback riding to stay prepared to meet the rigorous physical demands of the culinary industry. Peter also collects wines, focusing on small esoteric vineyards, including those in Napa and Sonoma. He continually reads and dines out to stay up to the minute with trends in the culinary industry.