Brunch Spreads, Sides, and More at Arts Council Event by Noted Chef
CELEBRITY CHEF: Nick Liberato, a culinary television personality who is soon to open a Jewish deli in Stockton, will host a free virtual tutorial for the Arts Council of Princeton on April 6.
By Anne Levin
Nick Liberato’s roots are strictly Italian. His grandmother on one side was a great cook. His grandparents on the other had three stands in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, where he spent many summer weekends as a boy, weighing fruits and vegetables and learning the trade.
But growing up in Yardley, Pa., Liberato — familiar to fans of television cooking shows such as Bar Rescue and Restaurants on the Edge — had mostly Jewish friends. He went to their bar and bat mitzvahs. He attended their holiday celebrations. At a young age, he became a fan of the culture, especially related to food.
Despite this affinity, opening up a Jewish delicatessen is not something that Liberato envisioned as part of his career path. But his latest venture, the Borscht Belt Delicatessen, is just that. An homage to Jewish culture and cuisine, the deli is targeted for a mid-April debut at the Stockton Market.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, April 6 at 7-8:30 p.m., Liberato will host “Your Cutting Board, Your Palette: The Art of Presenting Sunday Brunch” for the Arts Council of Princeton.
“Never, in my mind, would I have imagined I’d be opening up a Jewish deli,” Liberato said. “But I now really understand the cuisine and the culture. I realized that people can be close-minded about Jewish food. You have to think about all the different cultures and all the different countries that these wonderful foods come from. That’s part of it. Then you also have this beautiful deli scene, which has been dying out. I wanted to revive that.”
Once they settled on the deli idea, Liberato and his two partners in the 618 Hospitality Group decided to take their inspiration from the once popular hotels in the Catskill Mountains area known as the borscht belt. “The hotels aren’t there anymore,” he said. “But we love the stories behind them,” he said.
Opening the restaurant brings Liberato full circle. With his wife and three young daughters aged 2, 5, and 6, he has moved from Los Angeles to the Newtown, Pa. area. Liberato’s wife, who teaches Spanish in the Neshaminy School District, is Jewish, and they are active members of the synagogue Shir Ami. His parents still live in Yardley.
Previously, travel was a big part of Liberato’s job. For Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge, he was part of a team featured in segments at restaurants in need of revamping in such locations as St. Lucia, Austria, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, and Malta. Telling restaurant owners that their food is lousy and business plan is poor is part of the job.
“It’s definitely one of the more difficult parts of the show when I’m doing reviews,” he said. “I have to be direct. The truth hurts sometimes. I’m very limited on my time, so I have to address things that have to be worked on. People take it pretty seriously because they know I mean business. I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people, and some that have been difficult. When you can put your ego aside, the most amazing things can happen.”
Originally, Liberato and his partners thought about opening a high-end restaurant with a liquor license. But COVID-19 intervened. “We wanted to do something that was more pandemic-proof,” he said. “We also wanted to elevate the community and build some more traffic in Stockton. The Borscht Belt Delicatessen is going to build the integrity for the brand, and allow it to be a destination.”
At the Arts Council event, which is free, Liberato plans to demonstrate how to make an alternative to the traditional mimosa. He will talk about his favorite brunch spreads and sides, and will show how to put together a “nosh plate” with garnishes and canapés, using colors and textures like an artist to elevate a dish. Visit artscouncilofprinceton.org for more information.
In addition to opening the deli, Liberato and his partners have been building three different companies and preparing to launch a new app. “The pandemic, if you are lucky enough to have stayed healthy, is a time to build or rebrand or do whatever it is you need to do in order to come out of this thing strong,” he said. “You can talk about how horrible it is, or you can get creative and have some fun.”