Beach Haven Terrace, NJ — Brittany Rescigno was about 4 years old when she scrambled her first egg. She grew up in the house next door to her grandparents’ restaurant, the famous Allen’s Clam Bar in New Gretna, and eventually learned every job there was to do there. Her family still runs it, and her dad is also a chef. It’s in her blood.
Now, at age 30, having recently returned to Little Egg Harbor after a stint in California, where her career really took off, she is the new chef at the Delaware Avenue Oyster House in Beach Haven Terrace. While in Cali, Rescigno helped open and run Nom Burger in Sunnyvale (home of inventive all-natural beef patties, craft beers and organic shakes), won the Food Network’s cooking competition show, “Chopped,” and embarked on her own restaurant-without-walls business venture called Nox Underground.
Back home on LBI, she will expand on the Oyster House’s existing menu, develop dinner specials, help run this winter’s series of five-course wine tasting dinners and improve efficiency of operations wherever possible.
The Oyster House is the sister restaurant of the Terrace Tavern. (Owner Toby Sweeney jokes, “They’re twins, but we don’t dress them the same.”)
Rescigno admits the last several years have been “insane, kinda like a hurricane,” she said, blowing this way and that as she followed her heart, often changing directions, yet staying true to the right path. Yet all of her experiences out on the West Coast “brought out this awesome confidence” in her, she explained. She has never felt more ready for the future.
At Nom Burger, she formed a close bond with owner Regina Chan, herself a young, new restaurateur and the daughter of the proprietors of the Bay Area’s Prolific Oven. Immediately upon meeting Rescigno, Sweeney said she was impressed by her experience and ambition, and that jibed with the theme of strong women lifting each other up. “I love to be a part of the journey in everyone’s careers,” Sweeney said of her (and husband Mike Sweeney’s) wish to see all of the Terrace/Oyster House staff members grow and fulfill their potential.
Rescigno, an unabashed Harry Potter nerd, named her “underground traveling dinner party” Nox after a magic spell that turns out the lights. She envisions opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant someday and naming it Lumos, which is a spell that summons light.
Rescigno believes the strengths that make her well suited to running a kitchen include her work ethic and genuineness. She has never let her gender be an issue in the male-dominated world of commercial kitchens. If anything, she said, her youth has been more of a hindrance than her gender in her efforts to prove her talent and skill.
“I don’t put up with bulls**t,” she said. “I’ve always been a ‘prove it’ sort of person” – as in don’t talk about what you’re capable of; show it.
While her tendency, personality-wise, is to see things as black or white, food is the gray area where she indulges in the freeing and joyful activity of experimentation.
“The kitchen is my playground,” she said, “where I never have to grow up.”
To borrow another metaphor, as an artist, food is her medium.
“I like to cook simply, and let the ingredients shine,” Rescigno said. She is passionate about supporting local agriculture and small farms – a value ingrained by her mother, who was always big into gardening. Her specialty is taking a given region’s raw materials and making them the focal point of beautifully balanced dishes.
At the Oyster House, she’ll be working with shellfish from west and east coast distributors, including the Barnegat Oyster Collective and Island Creek Oysters out of Duxbury, Mass.
Rescigno attended the Culinary Institute of America and interned at Waquassett Resort and Golf Club on Cape Cod.
She sums up her cooking identity as a mix of farm-to-table, seafood and Italian.
Jan. 23 is the first in the series of wine dinners (followed by Feb. 27 and March 26), or, as Sweeney calls them, master classes for gourmands and oenophiles. January’s will focus on dishes and wines from Italy, “comin’ atcha in a little bit different way” – hence the name, “Everything but the Chianti.”
The menu begins with a scallop crudo, complemented by carrot vinaigrette and microgreens; incorporating grapefruit and bright citrus flavors evokes the Mediterranean.
Rescigno said her “goal in life” is to achieve “that ‘Ratatouille’ moment” (a reference to the movie) when the taste of a meal transports someone to another place and/or time. She can easily get sentimental talking about her grandmother’s pumpkin pie, which she still makes from the original handwritten, food-stained recipe.
Gallo Wines’ Ken Goodfellow is the creative pulse of the event, according to Sweeney. Her favorite aspects of these wintertime limited-seating events, she said, are the educational component and the communal vibe, which cultivate in attendees a deeper appreciation and knowledge of food, wine and each other.
“I just love food, man,” Rescigno said.
— Victoria Ford