It’s four o’ clock in the morning. It’s dark. It’s cold. And yet the familiar smell of wood burning in the smokehouse outside of the Cafe is warm and inviting. Loveless Pitmaster George Harvell has already been here for an hour and a half (that’s a 2:30am call time, folks) pulling pork butts out of the smoker and wrapping them in foil, loading it with more wood and prepping the ingredients for his Thursday special (and one of his James Beard dinner contributions): Watermelon Ribs. Geez… leave it to George to make a 4:00am arrival feel like getting to work late.
“By now, I have my routine and it works for me. I’m very blessed to get to do what I do,” he says as he busies himself with prep work.
One thing you start to realize about George and his job is how methodical and calculated it all is. The pork butts he’s wrapping in foil? They’ve already been in the smoker for 8 hours. They’ll go back in and cook for another 12 hours, low and slow. Even before cooking, they get rubbed with the Loveless special dry rub seasoning, which George hand-blends with about 18 different ingredients. Most of us have trouble planning far enough ahead what we’re gonna make for dinner tonight.
“Some days I work up to 11 hours… and I’m not young! But when you put in the time and effort, people can taste it and appreciate it and it’s all worth it in the end.”
When it comes to cooking in the famed James Beard House, some would think that a meat smokin’, country-lovin’, in-bed-by-7:30 guy like George might feel a little out of place. However, you’d be surprised to find that George’s background includes working as a classical French sous chef and a personal chef for celebrities. Talk about diverse! When asked about his back-story as a chef to the stars, George replies humbly that he wouldn’t trade what he does now for anything. You get the sense that the people he cooks for at the Loveless, and who drop by to say hello on their way in and out of the Cafe, are like family to him. And he loves cookin’ for his family.
At 7:00am, the sun is just starting to rise and shed a little light over the Loveless Cafe. George has already loaded a monstrously enormous batch of Watermelon Ribs into the oven to slowly braise with sauce and cubes of fruit. He then takes a few minutes to practice his presentation for the James Beard dinner. The chef can’t decide if he likes them sliced individually before they’re cooked (so that the sauce covers all sides) or if he’d rather slice them afterwards, so guests can see the meat and “how pretty it is.”
This kind of care and attention to detail is why James Beard dinner guests are sure to be impressed. It’s fun to see how each of the chef’s is taking the time to prepare, experiment and ensure that their contribution to the meal is not only top quality in taste, but presentation as well.