From New Jersey, With Love

Chef Kevin Furmanek delights The Cliffs at Mountain Park with cheesecakes from his childhood

Like any other culinary talent worth their salt in the kitchen, Kevin Furmanek — executive chef at The Cliffs at Mountain Park — can readily recall the exact when, where, and how that inspired his longtime allegiance to one of his favorite dishes: cheesecake.

As a kid, Furmanek frequently visited the neighborhood deli in his northern New Jersey hometown. There, he chowed down on regional staples in the form of doughy, boiled-then-baked bagels stacked high with freshly sliced sandwich meat. Each hefty sandwich was followed by the piece de resistance: a thick slice of classic New York-style cheesecake, with a dollop of lavish sour cream topping.

“It was about six inches tall, smooth, light, airy, and probably the best cheesecake around,” Furmanek says, waxing nostalgic about the creamy confection that remains his favorite to this day. “I’ve made many cheesecakes as a chef — all flavors and different styles — and that cheesecake, from that small deli in Butler, New Jersey, is the one I always remember.”


Chef Furmanek decided to emulate a bit of that childhood sentiment when curating the menu for The Cliffs’ award-winning clubhouse eatery, the Cabin at Mountain Park. A traditional New York-style cheesecake was added to the original dessert selection, with other, more daring takes on the sweet treat quickly following as word spread throughout the community. These days, Chef Furmanek’s cheesecake offerings change daily, staying in tune with both the season and the ingredients available locally.

He attributes cheesecake’s enduring popularity to the dessert’s unique crossover ability. It can express a diverse range of flavor personalities with a canvas that can be indulgent without being heavy, simplistic without being plain. The varied cheesecake flavors — crisp peach cobbler, savory cookies and cream, tart cherry, or the good old New York classic — are an authentic expression of Chef Furmanek’s passion for his craft and his wistfulness for the New Jersey deli days gone by.

“As a chef, you must take all the experiences you have gained over the years and make them into your own vision,” he explains. “Always cook from the heart. The culinary world is always evolving, developing new trends, and moving in a forward direction, and I am proud to be in a profession that has a never-ending amount of education and is always ‘recreating the wheel’ in a way that people will enjoy.”

a piece of Chef Furmanek's cheesecake

South Carolina Peach Cobbler Cheesecake

Graham Crackers
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 lb. butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey

1. Measure all-purpose flour, wheat flour, wheat germ, sea salt, and baking powder, and place all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Mix with wire whisk until blended together. Set aside.

2. Using a kitchen mixer, place whole butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and honey in mixer bowl with paddle attachment. Mix ingredients on medium-low speed until well-blended.

3. Next, slowly add dry ingredients to mixing bowl until it forms a cookie dough. Form dough into a round and refrigerate for 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 350.. Using a rolling pin and pastry board, roll dough out to a .-inch thickness. Cut 2×2” squares with a kitchen knife and place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Bake graham cracker squares for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.

Graham Cracker Crust
  • 4 cups crushed graham crackers
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 oz. melted whole butter

1. Place cooled graham cracker cookies in a food processor and grind into crumbs. Place crumbs in a small mixing bowl, add sugar and melted butter. When you squeeze the crumb mixture in your hand, it should hold together; then, when touched by your finger, the crumbs should fall apart.

2. Press crumb mixture in a 10-inch springform pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Peaches and Cream Cheesecake Batter
  • 3 lbs. Philadelphia-style cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 farm fresh eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup chilled peach jam
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and de-seeded

1. In a kitchen mixer, place room temperature cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds in mixing bowl with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until cream cheese mixture is creamy and smooth without any lumps. Increase to medium speed, add one egg at time, mixing between each egg, until all eggs are incorporated. Next, add peach jam and sour cream. Mix
thoroughly. Pour cheesecake batter into graham cracker crust and let rest for 20 minutes before baking. (Letting your batter rest will prevent cracking when baking).

2. Preheat oven to 350.. Place cheesecake on cookie sheet and bake uncovered for 1 hour and 10 minutes. The cheesecake will rise above the spring form pan when baking, then fall down when pulled out of the oven. The cheesecake should rest for 20 minutes after baking, before being placed in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for four to five hours, or overnight, before finishing cheesecake with sour cream topping.

Peach Jam
  • 4 medium-size fresh peaches
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 fresh lemon, juiced
  • 3 Tbsp peach schnapps

First, peel and pit peaches. Next place peaches, sugar, and lemon juice in a small sauce pan, and cook on medium heat. Simmer peaches until thick and syrupy. Next, mash peaches with a wire whisk until broken into a small, chunky jam. Finish with peach schnapps and refrigerate until ready for use.

Sour Cream Peach Topping
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp peach schnapps

Preheat oven to 350.. Place all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and blend together. Next, if your cheesecake is uneven or has cracks, using a latex-gloved hand, push down on the cheesecake to create an even layer. Pour sour cream mixture on top of cheesecake and bake for 15 minutes until sour cream is set to a Jello-like consistency. Refrigerate for least 2 hours, or let cool to room temperature before serving.

This story was featured in Cliffs Living magazine. To read more stories like this one and learn more about The Cliffs, subscribe here.

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