Behind the Scenes with Chilltown Kitchen

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Part catering company, part supper club, the Chilltown Kitchen is taking Jersey City foodies off the eaten path thanks to their creative pop-up dinners, which offer exclusive and fleeting tastes of chef experiments in an ultra-casual setting. We asked owner Alysis Vásquez to take us behind the scenes at Chilltown Kitchen.

What is Chilltown Kitchen?
AV: Chilltown Kitchen is a Jersey City chef collective and pop-up supper club. We also offer catering and private chef services. Chilltown Kitchen is all about community and creating a space where like-minded people can connect and collaborate. I am the “executive chef” — if you want to put a label on it — but the menus are a collaboration of everyone’s creative best. It all stems from authentic hospitality and integrity in product. The Chilltown Kitchen brand is about passion for hospitality as a whole.

How did you come up with the name?
AV: The name Chilltown Kitchen came about as a way to demonstrate my connection with the community. Chilltown has been my home for six years now and I love everything about it.  Every neighborhood has it’s own character and I’ve met the most amazing people here. The name is a way to speak to my Jersey City people and demonstrate how proud we are to be from Jersey City.

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What are the Chilltown Kitchen Pop-Up Supper Clubs?
AV: As a restaurant employee, rarely is there space or time for creativity. The supper club gives me and my industry friends a space to shine. Every event is literally opening day of a new restaurant concept. It gives both back-of-house and front-of-house an opportunity to own the space, be present in the moment, and show our Chilltown family what we’re passionate about. If I were to host you at my home, I’d want you to be excited to come over for a dope meal, great conversation, new friends, and a really cool vibe. That’s what we do at the supper club. It’s important to me that everyone who comes has an open mind to meet new people, try new food, and feel like they’re party of our family.

How did the idea for the monthly supper clubs come about?
AV: The idea for the supper club came about this past summer. Myself and the other chefs were working at a restaurant and missing a creative outlet. One night we went out for late-night drinks after work and came up with the idea. Instead of sitting around and moping, we decided to be problem solvers and create a space where culinary creativity can flow freely.

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Has it been hard partnering with restaurants for a space?
AV: Initially, it was hard because you have to imagine how outrageous it is for me, a random person, to walk into a space and ask the owner if I can have it all to myself. That means they have to believe in the project and trust that I won’t set anything on fire! Even though we were a relatively unknown business, we conducted ourselves with the utmost professionalism. That shines through and owners have been so great to allow us to take over their space for a day. Chef Brian Dowling from Park & Sixth is the best. We’ve used his space for two events and I’m forever grateful! South House is another awesome Chilltown Kitchen partner. They hooked it up with amazing cocktail pairings for our last event. Ivan Setien, the bartender that developed the pairings, is a mixology genius. His pairings were spot on and paired beautifully with the food.

What’s the next step for Chilltown Kitchen? Is the ultimate goal a restaurant?
AV: The next step is to find a permanent space that we can contract. Then we would get creative and do a pop-up that offers late night bites. The end game is our own restaurant. Everything we do is so that we can move a little closer to that ultimate goal.

Why Jersey City?
AV: I love Jersey City. It’s my home. I rep it so hard. It has a vibe unlike any other city. Each neighborhood has it’s own unique character, but no matter where you go, people are genuinely kind. Especially in the small business community. Everyone supports each other. Instead of everyone trying to compete with one another, there’s a sense of inclusion and mutual support. That’s so integral in creating a community that seeks progress through supporting local. Being a small business owner is the scariest thing in the world. Knowing that your city and neighbors support you is huge and it keeps you going when things get rough.

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What’s in store for 2016?
AV: We are taking a hiatus for the holiday season. I want everyone to just enjoy the holidays without the stress of planning events or having to miss out on a Chilltown shindig because they have an office holiday party. When 2016 comes around, we are going to hit the ground running. I’m currently recruiting chefs and front-of-house people that want to join our family. I’m also back on my grind, trying to schedule venues for future events. Back in July, we just started the supper club and didn’t expect to have such an amazing response from everyone. In order to keep the momentum going, we just kept rolling into the next event. With this little break, I want to have a few months booked in advance before 2016 gets here. I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve and I’m really excited to bring even more value to my guests.

Will we ever see a Chilltown Kitchen supper club in New York or Hoboken?
AV: We’ve been approached by business owners in New York City and Hoboken that dig our vibe and have offered their spaces to us. I can’t get enough of the people that have believed in us from the beginning. The reactions have been so positive from the jump, but we’re still trying to prove ourselves and earn everyone’s love. For the time being, I think we’re going to keep Chilltown Kitchen in Chilltown. Our city is huge! I want to do an event in every neighborhood. The most important thing is that we build a solid foothold in our own community before branching out to others.

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What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
AV: I love the fact that we create a space where people can just live in the moment and be part of something that is bigger than us. The era that we live in is so focused on the individual experience that we rarely have an opportunity to look across the table and connect with a stranger. Even thinking about talking to a stranger feels uncomfortable. That’s because we’ve got it all twisted. Connecting with strangers creates neighbors. Neighbors group together to build neighborhoods. Neighborhoods create a culture of their own and become a community. How dope is it to be the catalyst for something like that? That’s what my Chilltown Kitchen team does. Even behind the scenes, while our guests are connecting and networking, we are in the kitchen forming life-long bonds over something we’re all super passionate about. It’s a crazy fun experience — knowing that we’re all coming together to make that happen is the most fulfilling thing around.

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Where does Chilltown Kitchen unwind after hours?
AV: To be honest, there are no off hours for me! I’m always at it, but when I do get a moment to exist like a normal person I love to chill out around town. Rolon’s Keyhole Bar is my go-to spot for a no-frills drink and to pick Rey Rolon’s brain (the owner) about what’s going on around town. I also like to go to South House, since their cocktail program is so amazing. Plus, shuffle board is my new favorite game and the rec room is pretty dope. I also love Third & Vine — their blue cheese creme brûlée is out of this galaxy. I could sip on a glass of wine and eat that all day. It’s like being in heaven.

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(Images: Chilltown Kitchen)