Food Network champ Chris Holland’s new Asian bistro is challenging everything you thought you knew about a tako—including the spelling.
If you’re up on the careers of local chefs, or just like to eat at top restaurants, you may have heard of Chris Holland, former chef at the now shuttered D’Vine Bar in Sparkill. He’s a three-time champ of “Chopped,” and has made frequent appearances on other Food Network shows.
But if this is the first you are hearing of Holland, now is the perfect time to get acquainted with his spin on Asian street food. Last October, he opened Kantina—in the same space that once housed D’Vine—as an homage to the food he grew up eating as a kid in Fort Lee, New Jersey. “Asian cuisine has always been fascinating to me,” says Holland. Fort Lee, where about 40 percent of the population identifies as Asian, has a myriad of ramen, dim sum, sushi, and Korean barbecue restaurants. “They use a lot of flavors that you wouldn’t want to eat on their own, but when combined together, it’s beautiful,” he adds.
Melding flavors you’d never imagine would work together is a hallmark of Holland’s style, which relies heavily on molecular gastronomy, aka the science behind cooking. “I began to really dig into the ‘why’ behind recipes and ingredients, rather than focusing on the ‘how’ and it really opened my creativity flood gates.”
He drew upon that knowledge when competing on “Chopped”—which came in handy when he was tasked with creating a dish using turkey testicles. “‘Chopped’ was a wonderful experience. It’s grueling and it’s real: they don’t give you time to think about the ingredients,” says Holland, who has also competed on Food Network’s popular “Guy’s Grocery Games” and “Alex vs. America,” both of which he describes as way more laid back. “I cried when I won ‘Chopped,’ both because the prize was $50,000 but also because I was so emotionally drained.”
With his latest venture, Holland is bringing to life a dream he’s had for years—to open an Asian taco bar—in a space he knows well. “Tacos are an underappreciated vehicle for food,” says Holland, who fills his with everything from porcini mushrooms to Mongolian beef to pork bánh mì. “A taco is my chance to tell you that I want you to eat this piece of chicken with this type of sauce, with all of the flavors there, which is a chef’s dream.” Holland calls them “takos” to differentiate his creations from the traditional food.
In addition to the takos, Holland serves dumplings (shrimp and Thai basil, pork and black bean, and chicken and ginger) and small plates that run the gamut from Laotian larb gai (lettuce cups with ground chicken) to yakitori to cast iron curry. There’s also a full bar with artfully crafted cocktails, like the Matcha Libre—a refreshing mix of green tea shōchū (Japanese hard liquor made from grains and vegetables), house matcha syrup, lime, yuzu soda, fresh mint, and Jarritos tamarind soda.
“Kantina is Asian food done in a whimsical way,” says Holland. “I’d like to show people that there’s a lot more to [it] than Korean fried chicken and Chinese takeout.”