C.J. Reycraft, Managing Partner and Head Chef of Westfield, New Jersey’s French Brasserie Amuse

Alumni Spotlight: International Culinary Center

A 2004 graduate of the award winning culinary school International
Culinary Center (ICC), C.J. Reycraft, Jr., is the Managing Partner and Head Chef of Westfield, New Jersey’s modern French brasserie Amuse, located on Elm Street. Under his leadership, Amuse has gone on in just two years to receive tremendous acclaim and praise from food critics and dining patrons, and has been named one of the top restaurants in the State of New Jersey. In fact, New York Times food critic Marissa Rothkopf Bates referred to Reycraft as a “thoughtful and passionate chef” of a “first-class brasserie,” and called his restaurant’s signature profiteroles, which are infused with salted caramel ice cream, the best profiteroles in the state. Prior to opening Amuse, Reycraft served as the Chef de Cuisine for Chez Catherine, creating delicious classically inspired French dishes for more than six years.

Reycraft recently became the latest honoree of the International Academy of Gastronomy’s “Prix au Chef de L’Avenir” distinction. He is one of only three American chefs to ever be honored with this global culinary distinction.

Prior to enrolling at International Culinary Center, what were you doing? 

I was enrolled at East Carolina University, working at a Buffalo Wild Wings full time, and yearning to learn to cook as a professional.

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What specifically attracted you to the International Culinary Center?

 The short length of time to get through school. Also the fact that I wouldn’t need to attend algebra or English literature classes. I would be able to get into a kitchen, use my hands right away, and learn the necessary skills to obtain an entry level position in a real kitchen!

What is the most valuable lesson you learned in your training at the
International Culinary Center?

Mise en place! Get everything organized so you’re not running around like a sloppy maniac during service. Everything should be at arm’s reach and you should know exactly where everything is located. The less you have to think about where things are, the better your dishes are going to come out.

What were a few of the standout lessons you took with you from the International Culinary Center? 

Knife skills. The amount of butchering and breaking down fish and poultry was great. I still use that skill every day in my kitchen and have taught many young cooks how to properly hold a knife and safely use it.

Teamwork. In the classes, we had to work together and choose who was going to prep what part of the recipes. We had to be organized and work as a unit to prepare for dinner service.

Efficiency. A great lesson I learned was to be productive and use everything that we could. Every scrap of meat, vegetable, or fruit that could be used in another dish/stock/sauce saves money.

How did ICC’s Career Services department help you land a job or externship after graduation? What meaningful relationships and opportunities did it create for you?

I had a meeting while I was in school with Dean André Soltner. I was living in NJ and the commute to NYC for an internship was daunting. He recommended I contact Didier Jouvenet, the owner of Chez Catherine, and set up a trail, or an audition, for an internship. I did as he suggested and that started me on my culinary journey.

What career advice would you offer recent culinary school graduates?

Stay humble, work hard, ask questions, and remain teachable.

How would you describe your culinary style?

My approach to cooking is based on the classic techniques and styles I learned at ICC. The best dishes are simple dishes. Starting with the best ingredients, creating a balance between flavors and textures, and plating in a way that lets the components stand out. In my opinion, it is much braver to put two or three things on a plate. They all have to taste incredible!

You must be so honored to recently be one of only three, and New Jersey’s first chef to be selected as “Prix au Chef de L’Avenir,” or Leading Chefs of the Future. Talk about gastronomy and what it means to you. 

I am honored and humbled to have been selected to receive this award. The members have eaten at the finest restaurants in the world. To be acknowledged by them is an incredible feeling. The hard work and long hours that chefs put into creating dishes, concepts, and restaurants are what makes up gastronomy. The dedication to the craft of cooking and the artistic minds of chefs are always evolving. There’s always something new to experience in the culinary industry!

To learn more about the International Culinary Center’s award-winning professional programs, visit www.culinarycenter.com or call 888-324-2433.