Growing up, Jamie Knott wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue, but he knew it couldn’t be boring. The Baltimore-born, Nutley-bred chef admits that though school wasn’t always his strong suit, he was raised with a strong passion for cooking. After starting out with small restaurant jobs as a teenager, Knott attended the New York Restaurant School and began making his way through the dining scene at some of the most prominent restaurants in New York City. Now, as the co-owner and chef of both The Saddle River Inn and one of Jersey City’s newest restaurants, Cellar 335, the father of three reflects on the path he’s carved into the restaurant world.
Looking back, Knott remembers spending much of his time at his grandmother’s house, where she was always cooking, which sparked Knott’s interest for all things culinary. Devoted to learning the industry, he began working at Nutley’s well-known Franklin Steakhouse as a runner, busboy and bar back during his high school years. He moved on to another restaurant in town, where he was given his first opportunity to cook. From then on, Knott was hooked. “I think it was more of a feeling than anything else. It was the feeling of family and community that my family was always gathered around food or a meal, that kind of seeped into my soul,” Knott explained.
While attending culinary school, Knott spent time working at a French Restaurant,Café Centro, where he worked under Chef Franck Deletrain. “[Deletrain] taught me techniques I still use today, especially the way I think of flavors. He was really hard on me. I was 19 and late a lot, but he saw a lot of himself in me and took me under his wing. He would take me to special events, Rockefeller Center, charities, he always took me with him and I learned a lot. I’m eternally grateful for that.” From then on, Knott moved around to different restaurants throughout New York and New Jersey, including Ryan DePersio’s Fascino in Montclair, Saluté, Asia de Cuba, China Grill, Ed’s Chowder House, Artisanal and within the BLT restaurant group, among others, all based out of New York City.
Four years ago, Knott looked into the Saddle River Inn, and loved it immediately. “I had dinner there that week, and it was basically love at first sight. I couldn’t believe a place like that existed.” The restaurant originated as a sawmill and basket weaving factory in the 1800s, and in 1981 was established as a contemporary fine dining French restaurant on the banks of the Saddle River. “My partner and I put the deal together, and within six months, we got the restaurant. Now, we are in the top 100 restaurants [for foodies] in the country and top 10 in the Tri-State Area. It’s been basically a dream come true.”
Earlier this year, Knott opened Cellar 335 in Jersey City with partner Robert Palmer. Knott’s newest project is broadening the city’s growing food scene, with its progressive American-Asian influenced small plates and Tiki-style cocktails. “We looked at a lot together, and we landed on Jersey City for Cellar 335, not only because Jersey City is the new place to be, but because of the performing arts center upstairs, to be open in January. [Cellar] has been an amazing experience, it’s chef-driven food but more so food I grew up on. We put together a really great team, we really tried to get the best quality possible, and that goes for the people as well. The staff is pretty much everything, they are the heartbeat of the restaurant. They are the people who will build the regular cliente. You can have great food and drinks, but if [the staff] is not engaged and they’re not endearing or genuine, it won’t work. My staff comes to work with a smile and leave with a smile and you cannot fake that.” Through Knotts experiences, a great staff, delicious food and drinks and lively atmosphere are what make for the success of both the Saddle River Inn and Cellar 335, as well as the success he has found as a chef today.