John Rivers, Orlando business owner, chef and headwater of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, is on his way to New York where he will cook in the prestigious James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The dinner, Thursday, August 1, is sold out. Even better, most of the tickets were purchased by New Yorkers intrigued by the barbecue-centric menu and not by locals looking for an excuse to travel to the city. That means a chance to show Beard members and other foodies that Orlando has some serious cuisine going on here.
So does that make Rivers nervous?
“It’s excitement,” he says. “I know myself, and when I’m nervous I don’t eat.” But, he says, he’s been eating a lot lately.
Mostly so he can perfect the menu that he’ll be serving at the townhouse on West 12th Street, which was the home of the cookbook author and culinary educator.
Some of the things he’ll be offering include a chicken tamale, fried chicken and biscuit, Low Country shrimp and grits, and, of course, hickory-smoked aged angus brisket, a favorite of the 4 Rivers chain. (And yes, it’s now officially a chain with locations in Jacksonville and, soon, Gainesville.)
Rivers told me that it was the salad course that makes him most nervous, um, excited. “We don’t do salads at the Smokehouse,” he explained.
As with others from Florida who are invited to cook at the Beard House, Rivers wanted to showcase the produce and products of Central Florida. He and his crew debated the logistics of getting the ingredients delivered — and sweating their on-time arrival — or driving a van to New York. So Rivers is driving to New York with his associate Jeff Palermo and his culinary manager. Other members of his team will fly to New York and then they’ll all fly back together after the event.
Besides the ingredients, Rivers is taking newly acquired cutting boards branded with the 4 Rivers logo for the brisket to be served on. He said that all the plates at the Beard House are white, and he wanted something that would enhance the barbecue experience. “The encouragement that they gave me was to be creative,” he said of the House staff. The Florida corn that he’ll be taking with him will be served on baked corn husks.
Although large by Manhattan standards, the kitchen of the Beard House is still somewhat small. Rivers said he has been trying to explain to his crew that they will be working in cramped quarters. So to give them an idea of what to expect, he had them over to his house on Monday to cook the menu in his kitchen as sort of a dress rehearsal.
When he returns, Rivers said he will concentrate on getting the Gainesville store open and then work on his fried chicken concept, called The Coop, which I told you about earlier this month.
His full-service restaurant, Cowboy Kitchen, that he had hoped to have open before the trip to New York, has been placed on the back burner.
It’s not like he doesn’t already have a full stove.