{ CHEF PROFILE }

With Chef Mareyja Sisbarro

By VANESSA WADE

Coming from humble beginnings, Executive Chef Mareyja Sisbarro was always driven to excel. Her Italian-American heritage has played a significant role in her culinary outlook, and her New Jersey roots just add that extra dimension. For more than six years, Chef Mareyja has been at the helm of Brockton Villa. Having gotten her foot in the (kitchen) door as Sous Chef at Beaumont’s, she was thrilled when she was offered Executive Chef at Brockton Villa.

When did you realize you wanted to become a chef?

During my sophomore year of high school, a friend and I took a cooking class at the local college. Since it was a class geared for teaching moms how to be better cooks, we were the youngest students. We had such a blast … loved it! Believe it or not, I still have those recipes! By junior year, I knew I wanted to become a chef. So, after high school, I enrolled in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. 

How did you start out in the restaurant world?

My first job was in fast-food (don’t discredit these restaurants!). Like boot camp in the food industry, you learn a lot of practical skills that aren’t taught in school, like working and cleaning efficiently in a very fast-paced environment. After my stint in fast food, I “graduated” to Diamond’s Oceanside at the Jersey Shore. The owner’s mother, Antoinelle, ran the kitchen. She was a tough, Italian grandmother … someone I really admired in my “green” days!

Was there a turning point in your career?

Moving to San Diego. I first worked at Blue Point Coastal Cuisine as Sous Chef with Executive Chef Jonathan Hale (now Executive Chef at The Prado in Balboa Park). Together we opened Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge. This was a really good experience that taught me what it takes to get a place up and running.

Your culinary philosophy?

Most important are taste, and satisfaction after the meal has been eaten. Some places put a lot of effort in beautiful presentation—which is important—but if it doesn’t taste incredible, or if you still feel hungry afterwards, what’s the point? When my food is served, it not only looks great, it’s memorable and substantial. Not too much, not obnoxious, but just right.

Your must-have ingredients?

My kitchen is always stocked with fresh lemons. I incorporate them into everything. Also, onions (any onion will do), and a good red wine vinegar … that’s my Italian roots coming through!

Your go-to comfort food?

Sandwiches with red wine vinegar. Tuna, Italian, turkey … whatever, I’m in! My favorite bread is the Italian loaf from Bread & Cie. I could eat that bread all by itself!

Your favorite time of year?

My favorite season is spring because I love eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, especially tomatoes. I really enjoy coming up with different salads and light, seafood-centric dishes. There’s always room to experiment with the fresh and colorful produce of this season.