Craig Shelton is chef for Science, Society & Dinner, where he illustrates and amplifies guest lecturers’ interdisciplinary topics — from agriculture forecasts to trade disputes between France and the US — through specific hands-on lessons in cooking and dining. Shelton meets with professors in advance to review lecturers’ points, then with them, creates companion dishes and menus. In class, he teaches basic (and not-so-basic) thinking skills and techniques using his Good Taste Principles.
Shelton’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of haute chefs — Joël Robuchon, Paul Haeberlin, Gaston LeNotre, David Bouley, Eric Ripert, Ferran Adria — and of legendary restaurants: Ma Maison in L.A., Le Chantilly, La Côte Basque, Le Bernardin, Jamin. But it was the chef’s nearly 20-year tenure at The Ryland Inn in Whitehouse that established his stewardship of farm-to-table fine dining on the East Coast, put New Jersey on the national culinary map, and educated many of the region’s top chefs.
Shelton’s relentless quest for perfection at the bucolic inn and from its three-acre organic farm, informed by time at the table with his mother’s restaurateur family in France, earned him the first-ever “Extraordinary” (4 Stars) rating from The New York Times for a suburban restaurant.
Other honors while there include a James Beard Award for “Best Chef – Mid Atlantic”; a place among 20 colleagues on the PBS series, “Great Chefs of the East”; a “Top Ten Restaurant in America” ranking by Gourmet magazine; “No. 1 Top Table” in the USA by GQ magazine; and a “Four-Stars” rating from Bob Lape of Crain’s New York Business. Mr. Shelton was named a “Relais & Chateaux, Relais Gourmand Grand Chef” in 2006 – then, one of only 10 in the nation.
He reluctantly shuttered the restaurant in 2008 after having weathered sequential economic downturns and completing structural repairs, only to discover a winter water main break that had flooded the restaurant’s wine cellar and caused extensive damage to the historic property.
Shelton, who holds a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, in 2010 again garnered the highest ranking for a suburban restaurant in The New York Times after being asked as a consultant to “redefine the American Diner” at Skylark Diner in Edison.
After maintaining the 5-star rating from Forbes Travel (of only 22 across the country), for the Washington, Texas, Inn at Dos Brisas, where he was executive chef and managing partner, he returned to New Jersey – and to a fine foods and catering partnership with Constantine Katsifis, former owner of the Skylark. In late 2012, he was named managing partner at Aeon Hospitality Holdings, a company that invests, manages, operates and advises hospitality companies.
With seed funding in 2013 from Katsifis, Shelton and Karla Cook, a veteran food journalist and former restaurant critic for The New York Times, created and produced “Flavor Lab: A Sense of Place on the Plate,” a series of 14 local and organic dinners at Mathey College, as a pilot for part of a larger academics-based food literacy concept. That experience helped inform the work now under way on Science, Society & Dinner, a multi-disciplinary freshman seminar course that had its debut in Spring 2016 under the leadership of Associate Professor Kelly Caylor, a specialist in soil, agriculture and water, and others at the University.