FOR THIS JERSEY CITY KITCHEN VETERAN, “FOOD TASTES BEST WHEN YOU LET THE NATURAL FLAVORS DO THE WORK”
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZI
Chef Ken Trickilo is a big believer in simple, fresh ingredients naturally seasoned proteins, sprinkled with a dash of salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon. He points to an effortless braised chicken served with a side of seasonally roasted veggies.
“I just think food tastes best when you let the natural flavors do the work,” Trickilo noted. “When you have quality ingredients, it can be ruinous to smother them in sauces and marinades. I love it when the star of the dish can simply speak for itself.”
Painting his culinary canvas with a palette of fresh fish, tasty tenderloin, and other farm to table favorites, the executive chef at the Liberty House Restaurant in Jersey City has been perfecting this philosophy for decades. After working as a dishwasher and bus boy for a small private restaurant and country club when he was in high school, one of the chefs there let him work the line as a prep cook, and Trickilo was inspired to get kitchen educated.
“A couple of the chefs suggested I go to culinary school,” he recalled. “So I abandoned my plans of becoming an architect and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. The kitchen was more exciting for me…it just seemed like the right fit.”
Trickilo did his externship at The Globe in Cape May under the tutelage of Chef Michael Colameco, best known for the long running TV series on PBS, Mike Colameco’s Real Food, in which he tours world famous restaurant kitchens. “He placed great emphasis on international cuisine,” Trickilo said. “It was a great learning experience and when I graduated, he asked me to come back for another season.”
After completing another summer with Colameco, the young chef took a position at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville.
“I prepped and plated veggies for six months and worked my way up, one station at a time,” he said. “From entremetier to poissonier to saucier. Within about a year and a half, they asked me to become chef de cuisine.”
Trickilo worked there for four and a half years before accepting a position as sous chef at Panico’s in New Brunswick.
“I wanted to learn other cuisines and food,” he explained.
In 1999 he obtained a sous chef position at Napa Valley Grille, where he eventually trained to be its head chef. There he traveled around the country opening new restaurants for the company and perfecting his farm to table technique, using fresh, seasonal and if possible local ingredients. In 2011, he became executive chef at Liberty House, where he applies those same methods to create a unique dining experience.
“The menu here is so diverse peppered with French, Italian, even Spanish influences,” Trickilo said. “And everything is seasonal: I love working with ingredients when they are at the peak of freshness.”
At home, Trickilo spends at least one day each week cooking with family, making a pot of meatballs and possibly some homemade ice cream.
“It’s very high energy at the restaurant,” the chef said. “During our peak catering season, I’m sometimes cooking for 1,500 people a day, so it’s nice to take it a little slowly at home.”
“It’s hard to make everyone happy with food,” Trickilo concluded. “That’s why I keep it simple; if you have a quality dish with great ingredients, you can’t go wrong.”
Liberty House Restaurant
76 Audrey Zapp Drive, Jersey City
201.395.0300 / libertyhouserestaurant.com