Chef, author, video host, charitable philanthropist, local and organic advocate, Rick Gresh, wears busy well. In addition to his position as Executive Chef at David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Hotel, he is working on several new venues there and gearing up for the “second annual” CigarBQue, a charity event he started last year. Gresh sat down with Buedel’s Corporate Chef, Russ Kramer, to talk about that, the restaurant biz and more.
Chef Gresh works in a dual capacity, with renowned Chef David Burke and for the James Hotel where Burke’s restaurant(s) operate. The door to his kitchen office is covered with a blackboard panel prominently chalked up from top to bottom with replacement prices for restaurant settings and supplies. Gresh is fiscally and creatively ingratiated at all times.
Now in its seventh year of operation, Primehouse is a poster child for the new American steakhouse. Chef Gresh attributes this to numerous factors. “Both David and I have fine dining backgrounds, when you apply that kind of background to a steakhouse, you have a chef driven operation. We pay homage to the past, look for new renditions of the traditional and also try to be whimsical.”
Gresh says replacing tired items like simple creamed spinach with alternatives such as spinach gnocchi made with 100% cream sauce, is the type of ‘new rendition’ their patrons find highly appealing. “We’ve never had a plain baked potato on the menu.”
One of his most ‘whimsical’ efforts was the “Junkie Potato” – a bacon wrapped baked potato served with syringes of toppings patrons could shoot into the spud at will. Though well received, the sidecar was eventually pulled from the menu when a patron took [extreme personal] issue with the use of syringes. “We probably shouldn’t have called it, ‘the junkie’.”
The cornerstone of notoriety for Primehouse is heavily attributable to their innovative and dedicated use of USDA Prime Grade, Hand-selected beef. Dishes such as their award-winning 55-Day Aged Rib Eye consistently draw acclaim to culinary artistry and consistency – two qualities synonymous to the Primehouse name. Gresh attributes their ability to produce superior marbleized beef to the dry-aging of high quality cuts from producers such as, Creekstone Farms, in their own Himalayan salt-tiled aging room.
“Our ‘salt cave’ hinders bacteria and helps seasoning – David actually has a [U.S.] patent on the process. When we first started using salt blocks, we wanted to help customers make the connection to the process. We originally brought patrons down [to the basement level] to see the aging room. Ultimately, the stairs, small quarters and a slippery floor proved potentially disastrous to dress clothes, and high heels, so we had to come up with an alternate approach – that’s when we started playing around with the possibility of cooking with the salt blocks – this is how we came about using them for [hot and cold] tableside service.”
Construction is trending at Primehouse. Having just enlarged the front of the house bar from 9 seats to 27, (with small bite menu in tow), two other venues are currently being added under the same roof this summer.
The David Burke Bacon Bar is a “counter feel” casual restaurant where Gresh promises a variety of unique and creative fare from “Chilly Willy” (their version of a lobster roll) to “Handwiches” – not the size of a regular burger but bigger than a Slider. They’ll even offer a Spam sandwich, called the “Big Kahuna”, which Gresh likens to bacon because, “All Spam is, is really bacon.”
An intimate and ultra exclusive high end cocktail bar called, Jimmy, is also scheduled to open later this summer. Inspired by a NY establishment, only those “in the know” will be able to find Jimmy because its entrance doors will be unmarked. (Hint: Look for an unexplainable door inside the Bacon Bar.)
3 Chefs, 1 Charity and a lot of fun could be the tagline for the barbeque brainchild of Gresh and chef pals, Giuseppe Tentori, (Boca) and Cleetus Friedman, (Fountainhead). Gresh says the idea was born from the desire of just a “group of chefs who wanted to get together to eat, drink and have cigars”. Citing “BYOB just isn’t the same”, he says they decided to create an event.
The trio literally picked their charity by “Googling ‘cigar charities’”, and found the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation dedicated to making positive change in the impoverished communities of the Dominican Republic where some of the world’s best cigars are made.
“The event took a long time to get off the ground,” the Chef explains because, “permits are always a hassle, even to smoke outside. We wanted to find a nice venue where we could hold an intimate party – we didn’t want it to be a ‘smoke-out’ either – there’s a big difference between prepping for 200 and 700.”
Looking toward the future, Gresh says, “We all travel a lot and meet so many chefs, we’d like to get CigarBQues going in other cities across the country – but that will take a lot more time – it’s just the 3 of us right now planning 100% of the event.”
Other Irons in the Fire
Accustomed to doing guest cooking segments on TV, Chef Gresh has also played the role of interview host for Chef City, an online video venue where he covered restaurants and food events. He is also one of the co-authors of The Rise, by bestselling motivational author, Greg Reid. Gresh says he’s definitely “not a self-help guy” but had reached out to the author after reading his 3 Feet from Gold book. Months later, Reid approached Gresh to participate in his collaborative book project.
“It’s always interesting to see how people look at life. In the restaurant business, it’s really easy to be negative – you can always do better, etc. Greg’s a very positive guy and I started randomly sharing quotes of his with my staff; everyone truly appreciated it.”
Billed as a compilation of, “simple re-discovery and finding answers to the hard questions sitting in the back of our minds”, Gresh’s chapter in the book is called, Play Up the Limitations. “I wanted to talk about what happens when we miss getting there [reaching a goal] because we’re stuck – it’s so important to be able to take those challenges and work with them.”
Gresh plans on owning his own restaurant at some point and says if he wasn’t a chef he’d be restoring old cars and motorcycles or woodworking because he loves working with his hands – but doubts that would ever happen. “This is the greatest business in the world. I get to wake up and think about food every day…live through my palette…and I get to wear flip flops and PJs to work!”
Interview photos by Jorge Took Your Picture.com