You might say John and Amy Manzione have an organic relationship. At least, that's the way John Manzione tells it.
Both the Egg Harbor Township residents are trained chefs, John Manzione a graduate of the Baltimore Interna-tional Culinary College and Amy Manzione, a graduate of the Acade-my of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing.
They met at work when John Manzione was the executive chef at Hidden Creek Country Club and Amy Manzione was working various positions in the front of the house; server, supervisor and assistant food and beverage director.
"We both had the same love and passion for food and service," says John Manzione. "We gelled together pretty quickly."
Married now, with daughter Hayley and son Jonathan, they have carried that organic relationship one step further.
John Manzione and Amy Manzione try to use as much organic foods as possible both at work and at home.
"I believe that our bodies are meant to consume food the closest to its natural state as God intended it to be, " says Amy Manzione.
Having seen the results of children who consume artificial animal hormones and the steroids that non-organic animals are fed, Amy Manzione decided to feed her family a different way. That has become a big concern to her as a mother and as a chef.
At home, that means more frequent trips to places such as Whole Foods where she can obtain the types of food she wants to put on her dinner table.
The couple's interest in organics has led them to organic relationships with local farmers including Matthew Bruckler III at Jah's Creations in Egg Harbor Township which is 100 percent organic and Chris Giordano who practices organic techniques at his Pineybuck Farms in Richland.
"Having Jonathan has been a blessing," says John Manzione. "All he has eaten in the first 8 to 10 months of his life is organic pureed vegetables." The first vegetable he put in his mouth was Matthew's (Bruckler) cucumbers which they would freeze for teething.
Professionally, the Manziones have worked with Bruckler on several farm-to-table functions sponsored by the Slow Food Movement including a dinner held outside on some of Bruckler's prime farmland.
While not certified organic, Giordano practices the organic raising of cattle, turkey, chickens, lamb, sheep and pigs.
"We just got six or seven pounds of hickory-smoked all-natural bacon from him," says John Manzione. "The turkeys we got for Thanksgiving were all natural, with no additives."
As executive chef at a private country club, John Manzione gets to use a lot of ingredients other chefs wouldn't get the chance to use. At the club, John Manzione has purchased a commercial C.S.A. from Bruckler, using as much organic produce as he can provide.
During the summer, when Bruckler grows a lot of different kinds of tomatoes and John Manzione makes his own mozzarella, the two ingredients are served together for the perfect plate. Manzione's menu also features a Garden State Salad, in which every ingredient has been grown in New Jersey.
Two members at the club individually own a produce company in Vineland and a seafood company in Cape May, giving more access to local products of vegetables, scallops and flounder.
John Manzione likes to "reinvent things" especially with great local products.
At the club, the chef has instituted an invitation-only Chef's Table, a club within a club, set in his kitchen where the guests can interact with the chefs if they wish or just enjoy the experience.
Amy Manzione now has her own catering and personal chef service which has the same focus of using fresh, local, sustainable ingredients.
A personal chef is one who comes into your home while you are at work and prepares several meals that you can reheat or freeze for later use. Amy Manzione likes the fact that a staff of one in the kitchen allows more attention to detail and to the quality of the ingredients served.
She even cleans up before she leaves.
Amy Manzione is especially proud of her seasonal pies which use an all-butter crust.
Her company, Stir It Up, is as all natural as it can be, something that is fundamentally organic in the thinking of these two young, talented chefs.
Since John Manzione doesn't get to cook at home much anymore, the two chefs worked on the recipes presented today together, using produce from Jah's Creations and beef and bacon from Pineybuck Farm.
Birch Beer Braised
7 Spice Beef Short Ribs
•5 pounds beef short ribs
•4 12-ounce bottles birch beer
•2 ounces Chinese Five spice powder
•4 ounces olive oil
•2 shallots, sliced
•4 cloves of garlic, sliced
Ingredients for roux
•4 ounces butter
•4 ounces flour
Marinate the short ribs for 24 hours in birch beer. Remove ribs and reserve the birch beer. Pat the ribs dry. Rub with the spice powder.
Get a Dutch oven smoking hot with olive oil. Sear off the ribs very well until they are almost black. Remove to a plate.
Pour off some of the grease. Add the shallots then the garlic to the Dutch oven. Saute for a couple of minutes being careful not to burn.
Deglaze the pot with a little bit of the reserved marinade of birch beer. Scrape all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, then add the remaining birch beer. Allow this to reduce by two thirds.
In a separate pan, make a brown roux by melting the butter. Add the flour and cook until very nutty and a medium brown color.
Whisk in the brown roux to thicken the sauce.
Habenero Cheddar Creamy Polenta
•4 cups vegetable stock, plus more as needed
•4 cups milk, plus more as needed
•3 tablespoons butter
•2 teaspoons salt
•2 cups polenta
•1/3 cup Habenero cheddar cheese
In a large saucepan, bring the stock, milk and butter to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the water and whisk in the polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 to 4 minutes to prevent lumps. Simmer for 45 minutes, partially covered and stirring every 10 minutes, until the polenta is thick, smooth, and creamy. Fold in chunks of cheese until melted.
Shaved Brussel Sprouts
•2 pounds Brussel sprouts
•4 ounces hickory smoked bacon, cut into strips
•4 cloves garlic, minced
•Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Finely shred the Brussel sprouts on a box grater. Render down the bacon until nice and crispy. Reserve. Drain off some of the grease.
Quickly sautee the garlic. Add the sprouts. Sautee until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with the crispy bacon.
Note: Chinese five spice powder can be found at the supermarket or you can make your own by toasting a combination of fennel, clove, anise, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and Szechuan peppercorns. Use spice grinder to make powder.