For many years if you called out, "Hey, Chef Huntzinger," in a south Jersey kitchen, you could expect three heads to turn your way. Locals are familiar with the name Huntzinger because of the restaurant the three brothers, Jeff, Greg, and Jim ran together for nine years.
The hard working brothers offered American cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a full service bar at Huntzinger's American Food & Drink in Mays Landing. "We were one of the first in the area with a craft beer menu," says Jim Huntzinger.
That was back in the day when the term micro breweries was coming into common usage.
The restaurant, that Hunt-zinger describes as a "from scratch kitchen with only the three brothers cooking," lasted from 1992 until 2001.
When asked if the strong-willed brothers ever fought in the kitchen, Huntzinger laughed and said, "plenty," describing their time together in the kitchen, at times, as a "heavyweight tag team match."
Friends and former customers will understand the joke.
The memories are especially poignant with the recent loss of older brother Jeff this past July.
For Jim, the youngest of the three, the kitchen has always been the place to be. "I've really never done anything but work in a kitchen," says Huntzinger.
Born in Atlantic City and raised in Northfield, Huntzinger has spent most of his professional life in the area.
His eighth-grade teacher was a cook at the original Crab Pot in Margate, when he asked a 13-year-old Huntzinger if he would like to spend the summer washing dishes.
Later, when Huntzinger knew that cooking was his passion, he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., graduating with a degree in 1987.
His first job after school was with brother Greg at the Oceanfront Restaurant and Lounge in Brigantine, where he remained for three years in order to share his education with his brother.
Huntzinger then went to work for the Sutor family, another well-known restaurant family from the area, as an executive chef at the Sutor's Island Inn in Somers Point.
TheTrump Taj Mahal Casino Hotel in Atlantic City was the next stop for Huntzinger. Jeff was already well established there when Jim started work. Jim followed suit shortly after, with each of the brothers responsible for a different outlet on the property.
Working in such large volume was a new experience. "The production kitchen was an amazing operation that really opened my eyes," says Huntzinger.
Huntzinger later worked at the Trump Marina Hotel Casino, leaving as executive sous chef after it changed hands to become the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino.
When Huntzinger applied for the executive position at Harry's Oyster Bar in Atlantic City, Frank Doherty the owner thought Huntzinger, instead, would be a better fit at the Knife & Fork, also in the resort.
Huntzinger's audition took place at Dock's Oyster House when Doherty asked him to cook a simple plate of linguine with white clam sauce for himself and four other people.
"It seems very simple, but not everyone makes it the same way," says Huntzinger.
Huntzinger also made seared scallops with sweet corn risotto and the deal was sealed.
Employed at the Knife & Fork since the beginning of November, Huntzinger knows enough about the restaurant's history, not to consider making any major changes to the menu.
"The Knife & Fork is so well established, I'm not going to take Lobster Thermidor off the menu," he said.
Instead, Huntzinger has added some seasonal fall and winter dishes with his personal touch, soon to change again for spring and summer.
A separate menu insert includes the use of sustainable ingredients, where most of his seasonal changes appear. Dishes such as the pork porterhouse from Lancaster Farms Cooperative, use pork that is hormone free and grass fed, from humanely raised animals.
His creative plate is served with sweet potato and Brussels sprout hash with applewood smoked bacon and a Grand Marnier gastrique, made with brown sugar, rice wine vinegar and an orange-flavored liquor scented with a rosemary sprig.
"The gastrique helps to cut the richness of the pork," says Huntzinger.
Excited about his upcoming first summer season at the Knife & Fork, Huntzinger has just finished up a busy Atlantic City Restaurant Week and a busy holiday party season before that.
"I'm looking forward to the summer crowds," says Huntzinger.
Knife & Fork Inn
3600 Atlantic Ave., Atlantic City
Hours: 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays; 4 p.m. to midnight Saturdays; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays