MEET THE ARCHITECT BEHIND THE ECLECTIC MENU OF THIS BOOMING FREEHOLD CAFÉ AND HIS INSPIRATION BEHIND IT

BY JESSICA JONES-GORMAN PHOTOS BY ALEX BARETTO

In the summer, chef Ulises Nova loves the rich and enveloping flavor of slow braised meats. With a fervor for experimenting with different fruit-infused BBQ sauces and surrounding his protein with heaps of fresh-from-the-farm produce, the executive chef at Metropolitan Café in Freehold simmers a bourbon-maple glazed pork tenderloin for hours each morning, then serves it with roasted peaches and Cajun-dusted sweet potato fries. For the cuisiner, who has been working in the culinary industry for decades, his artistry is the sum of all of the skills and techniques he has acquired throughout his years in the kitchen.

“When preparing a dish, I try to use familiar flavors in a not-so-familiar presentation, always considering texture, color, balance, and most importantly, quality ingredients,” he noted. “A lot has changed over the years in New Jersey; we are now able to get any fish, fruit, meat, or vegetable imaginable, where we use to be limited to Italian purveyors and the basics. I still enjoy changing the menu seasonally and incorporating fresh, local foods into my dishes. We have wonderful peaches, berries, corn, and tomatoes in the summer, which I often buy at local farmers markets.”

Born and raised in Guatemala, Nova grew up learning the intricacies of the culinary arts through his family’s restaurant business. When his older brother moved stateside and began working at numerous restaurants, Nova soon followed suit. “I was just 16 years old when he told me he was finally working for a true chef,” said Nova. “So I came here to learn.”

During the first five years of his culinary career, Nova worked for several widely revered and accomplished chefs studying Italian, Californian, French, and American cuisines.

“My first job in the states was at Café Colore working under Ciro Cutraro who worked at Le Bec Fin and La Padella in Philadelphia,” said Nova, tracing his resume. “I also worked with chef Adam Scott who studied at Johnson and Whales and Le Cordon Bleu and worked at Mumford’s and Fromagerie before opening the renowned Indigo Moon.”

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Nova also found inspiration in J.T. Dunn, a local chef whose resume includes Luchentos, Café Colore, Angelica’s, and Sirena. He also worked with Tim Murphy, chef de cuisine at Wolfgang Puck among other restaurants in San Diego and Saint Croix.

“I have been with my current restaurant group for almost 30 years after owner Rob Kash saw my potential, my desire to learn, and my talent,” he said.

After serving as sous chef and head chef at 75 South in Freehold, which Nova called a “groundbreaking” restaurant for its time, he was offered the executive chef position at Metropolitan Café in 2006. “When I got to Metropolitan Café the menu had a lot of Pacific Rim influence,” he said. “I instinctively added a lot of my Caribbean, Italian, and French influences to the menu and have really created a true fusion cuisine that I can describe as ‘New American.’”

Nova thrives on the satisfaction of receiving great reviews from his diners but has also been the recipient of several local industry awards.

“I was very proud of receiving an award from Best Chefs America a peer review nomination where I am in the company of many of my most respected influences,” he said.

Metropolitan Café
8 E Main Street, Freehold
732.780.9400 / metrocafenj.com