A “SHRINE TO STEAK, CHOPS, AND SEAFOOD,” THE NEWEST CULINARY SENSATION FROM LANDMARK HOSPITALITY SHOWCASES A MARQUEE CHEF EAGER TO PAY IT FORWARD
BY LAURA D.C. KOLNOSKI • PHOTOS BY VIOLET KARYN PHOTOGRAPHY
If you look hard enough and are open minded, you can find the food you want anywhere in the world. Appreciate where you are and what it has to offer.” Wise words from executive chef David C. Felton. He speaks from experience.
A native of Brent, England, Felton has traveled the world and most of America, expanding his culinary knowledge while honing his skills. The graduate of Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales University brings this global experience and more to his current post as executive chef at the recently opened Terra E Mare (“Land and Sea” in Italian) at Port Liberte in full panoramic view of the Hudson River, Statue of Liberty, and New York City skyline. The restaurant is the latest venture by Landmark Hospitality, owned by seasoned restaurateurs Frank and Jeanne Cretella.
The young Felton’s father’s job in finance moved the family to New York when he was a child. He would walk by the neighborhood pizza parlor daily and came to know the owner, whom he “pestered” for a job by age 14. The man relented. One day, a customer made a request. Felton cooked it, the diner said he liked it, and “I knew that this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
“If you look hard enough and are open minded, you can find the food you want anywhere in the world. Appreciate where you are and what it has to offer.
By 16 he was managing the place. After Johnson & Wales, Felton took a job with a hotel company that sent him traveling across the country “I got to see all of America; I learned about regionality and seasonality, and met a lot of farmers along the way,” Felton said. His journeys led to working with award winning chefs including Michael Smith and Debbie Gold, who recruited him as chef de cuisine, for which he was honored as one of “America’s Top Ten Sous Chefs” nation wide. His travels have also taken him to Central America, Europe, and India.
Back in New York, Felton joined chef Gary Robins to open the kitchen at the Biltmore Room, receiving a three star rating from the New York Times. After serving as executive chef at Long Beach Island’s Blue in Surf City, named “Best of the Shore” by Philadelphia Magazine, Felton moved on to executive chef positions at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, followed by ten years at Natirar in Peapack Gladstone. Felton took full advantage of the venue’s on site farm. By 2019, the husband and father of three was ready for a change.
Felton knew the Cretellas previously, so when they opened Liberty House in Jersey City he reached out, looking for a new opportunity.
“We hit it off and are very like-minded,” said Felton, who began overseeing events at Landmark’s nearby Hudson House in 2021. There, he continued emphasizing the foundational farm to table techniques he’s perfected over decades.
“I got to see all of America; I learned about regionality and seasonality, and met a lot of farmers along the way.”
In March 2020, Felton partnered with the Cretellas to launch a shared goal a school and restaurant in resurging downtown Plainfield when COVID 19 struck. The restaurant, housed in a circa 1902 building, was named DJBK for chef David, his wife Jenny, his parents Douglas and Judith, and two late friends Danny and Joseph. The companion Art of Hospitality Path to Success school had begun a hands on culinary arts training program.
“We had 12 students go through the program with the final tests on March 8 and 9,” the chef recalled, adding, “Everything closed on the 13th. We stopped construction on the restaurant, which would have opened that May or June. We are still putting a lot of energy into the school and hope to reopen it in June to address the job shortage and help the under employed learn the industry and get jobs. There are a lot of opportunities in that developing area along the Raritan train line that reminds me of Asbury Park ten years ago.” Terra E Mare and its menu is Felton’s primary focus as summer approaches and more diners seek his signature takes on cuisine.
“It’s me having fun interpreting old world Italian food while reflecting Frank and Jeanne’s desire to have a steak and seafood menu with a nod to classic Italian.” The chef is getting positive feedback on dishes like dry aged meats and salmon, porchetta di testa (homemade Italian sausage made with pork jowls), and the freshest, “most fabulous” selections from local fishermen, from Long Island to Barnegat Light. Felton speaks with his sources daily to procure the raw bar’s diverse bounty of shrimp, clams, crab, lobster, and oysters. He’s also adding his creative flair to pizzas, pastas, and the vegan options he’s famous for.
“I’m a huge believer the world is changing,” said Felton, who has developed a cult like following for his inventive animal free dishes. “Some people don’t eat meat as much, or at all. I want to make something for everyone and will modify dishes to be vegan and vegan friendly.” Chef Felton’s next introduction to the Terra E Mare experience is tableside service, being readied at press time. He was eagerly refining his seasonal menu to make the most of Jersey’s legendary tomatoes and other peak fruits and vegetables. At home in Union County, he can be found growing his own herbs and produce.
“Good food is everywhere,” he added.
Terra E Mare
2 Chapel Avenue, Jersey City / 551.277.0588 / landmarkhospitality.com