New chef gets creative at Cree Wine Company in Hampton

Kadon Barnwell believes wine has many dimensions, and as the new Executive Chef of Hampton’s Cree Wine Company, he’s working to prove it.

Whites generally pair well with crudos and fresh fish, while reds generally complement poultry and red meat. But Barnwell wants to “create things that people don’t expect”.

Before joining the Cree team – he took over from AJ Sankofa, who runs ESO Artisanal Pasta in Morristown, in early June – Barnwell worked at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster for four years, as head chef in his final year the low.

As fall approaches, Barnwell is preparing to adjust its seasonal menu. Company owner Chris Cree, who happens to be New Jersey’s only certified Master of Wine, works with Barnwell to pair a tapas-style menu with the more than 100 wines available.

“The plate is your canvas,” says Barnwell. “You have to show the artistic skills you have.”

What changes did you make when you started at Cree Wine?
Kadon Barnwell: I looked at what was working and what needed improvement. There are only a handful of things on the menu that I changed. We do tapas and small plate style wine pairings, so we just try to emphasize that a bit more. Keep things seasonal and rotating too. We are trying to create an identity for Cree Wine Company.

What is the difference between preparing a restaurant menu and preparing one for wine pairings?
At the Pluckemin Inn, there were many mixed dishes which included a protein, a starch, a vegetable and sauces. I always develop dishes that way at Cree Wine Company, but they’re not as complex. It’s a bit quicker because it’s small plates that everyone probably shares.

Did you know Chris before working with him at Cree Wine?
Yes. I didn’t work with him as closely as I do now. Chris was the wine master at the Pluckemin Inn while I was there. He was in front of the house and took care of all the wine. He really is such a master sommelier at that!

What dishes are currently on the Cree Wine Company menu?
One of my favorites right now is roasted baby carrots with tahini, dukkah spices and a little honey. It has that Middle Eastern flair. It pairs well with a Red Car Chardonnay which Chris pairs with this one. It’s a plant-based dish – I’m trying to add more plant-based items to the menu.

What ingredients are you looking forward to this fall?
I want to enjoy lots of spices that people love in the fall. I want to braise more stuff too. I have a feeling that once you’re all comfortable and have drunk some red wine, you’ll want something a little richer. One is a braised prime rib with palm aligo (cheesy mashed potatoes), cipollini onions, candied tomatoes and demi-glace.

Do you and Chris develop the menu together, pairing the dishes with the wine?
Absolutely. We take turns. Sometimes with wine dinners it’s all about the food – the wine will be paired once the food is established. Sometimes we take a wine list and see how we can build a meal around them.

What do you hope to bring to Cree Wine Company?
I’m really excited to learn. Being a chef means understanding that you are there to serve, but also that you want to tell a story with your dishes. I want to stay humble because I’m very lucky to be in the position where I am. I just want to continue!

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Shirley M. Pinder