Chez Ma Tante (90 Calyer St.) is a neighborhood bistro named after a French euphemism that refers to leisure time that is unaccounted for. Since 2017, the restaurant has served unfussy American and French-Canadian-inspired dishes in an understated dining room meant to evoke a friend’s dinner party.
Chef-partners Aidan O’Neal and Jake Leiber, with the help of Chez Ma Tante’s new Executive Chef Oscar Paz, recently launched a breadth of new dishes for the first time since opening. The new menu reflects how the owners like to eat now and what they’ve recently been inspired by.
Select dishes that have gained a cult following over the years, like pig’s head terrine, chicken liver pâté, and pork shoulder with salsa verde and lentils, remain on the menu, mingling with new items like smoked trout rillette and sweetbreads with white asparagus, radish and gribiche.
Greenpointers spoke with Chez Ma Tante’s new Executive Chef about the new menu, the other North Brooklyn mainstays he worked at, and his favorite neighborhood haunts.
Greenpointers: You recently became the Executive Chef at Chez Ma Tante, but this isn’t your first stint in the neighborhood. You’ve previously worked at well-regarded North Brooklyn hotspots, Le Crocodile and The Four Horsemen. How did you end up at Chez Ma Tante?
Chef Oscar Paz: Well, let’s start with how I ended up at Le Crocodile, working with Jake Lieber and Aidan O’Neil. I was coming back from a trip to Mexico, and saw they posted an ad looking for a sous at Le Crocodile. Le Crocodile has always been my happy place, I always enjoyed dining there. By the time I landed at JFK Airport, I had a response from Aidan asking me to come for an interview. After a successful year at Le Crocodile, I was stepping away to spend time with my newborn daughter. After my paternity leave, I was sent to Chez Ma Tante to head the kitchen there, which was a logical step for me because my passion has been for bistro cooking.
Greenpointers: Do you see a lot of similarities between Chez Ma Tante, and Le Crocodile and The Four Horsemen? Or are they very different kitchens?
Chef Paz: The similarities are that in the three places you can find high quality ingredients paired with high quality execution. But they are different in concept. Each restaurant has its own vibe and personality. One is an intimate wine bar, one is a massive operation, one is a bistro.
The food at the Four Horsemen is designed to go well with the wine list, it is a tiny kitchen and team and highly organized. The food at Le Crocodile is classic French brasserie food, with some twists. The volume is intense and you share a walk-in with the three other operations at the hotel, Bar Blondeau and the events.
One of my favorite memories at Le Crocodile was running Thanksgiving dinner — switching a whole new menu for the holiday and doing 300 covers while on the menu at Chez Ma Tante we are doing a more contemporary bistro food, somewhere between French and Canadian, with a strong brunch following.
Greenpointers: Have you always wanted to be a chef? How did you get your start in the restaurant world?
Chef Paz: My favorite part during family vacations around Mexico was tasting foods from other states and noticing how it differs from state to state. I always enjoyed the ambiance of being around the table with my family and friends. I actually studied law, and midway I decided to drop out and sign up for culinary school instead. I was amazed with the energy that you get every day at a restaurant, it felt like a sport. I had the romantic notion that if I pursued a career in cooking that I would eat and drink well everyday. Which is somewhat true — at least on my day off, not so much during the work week itself.
Greenpointers: You and Chez Ma Tante’s owners Aidan and Jake have created a new menu based on how the pair like to eat now and what they’ve recently been inspired by. Tell us about the new dishes at Chez Ma Tante and how you took their inspirations into account.
Chef Paz: The connection with the chefs has been great, they have been mentoring me through this process and the food speaks for itself in terms of good ingredients and technique. The food is not pretentious; it is bright and bold. We do European food in an unfussy way. All of us share some inspirations: St John’s in London is a big one. And we enjoy sharing other places with one another as we create our own language, and continue to get to know one another.
Greenpointers: What are the most popular new menu items right now at Chez Ma Tante?
Chef Paz: One of the dishes that made me fall in love with the two chefs was the “Skate Frites” Au Poivre; it has the comfort of a steak frites without having meat, it is super simple, it is all about the sauce.
One of the dishes I am excited about is the duck. We get whole Pekin duck and butcher them in house and dry them, the set changes constantly depending on the week’s produce. Sometimes we serve the breast, sometimes the legs, focusing on reducing waste. This is the dish I am constantly ruminating about what to pair it with.
Greenpointers: What is your favorite dish to make at Chez Ma Tante or at home?
Chef Paz: To be honest the thing I am most excited about making at home and probably at the restaurant too are salads. There is nowhere to hide with salad. It is all about the freshness of the ingredients but also how it makes you feel. My wife always laughs that I use seven bowls to make one salad but it is worth it. Salad is a great canvas to channel your creativity.
Greenpointers: What are your favorite North Brooklyn restaurants to visit when you are not working?
Chef Paz: I love to have a coffee sitting outside at Espresso Paloma, a bacon, egg, and cheese at Frankel’s, or the lamb tagine or hummus falafel at Cafe Mogador.