BACK OF THE HOUSE: chef readies for first restaurant
May 25, 2012By Alison Lee Satake
Wilmington chef James Doss, 34, readies to open his first restaurant, Rx, a hip, soulful blend of old and new. He and co-founder Josh Novicki work steadily to open doors at the former Hall’s drug store on the corner of Fifth and Castle streets.
Inside, master carpenter Patrick Arnold has built the restaurant’s bar from wood salvaged from Novicki’s grandfather’s barn. He also handcrafted 16 custom tables from rich walnut, maple, red oak, cypress and purple heart wood. The grain and color of each piece creates a different intricate pattern.
On the rooftop, chef Doss plants a vegetable garden of tomatoes, corn, squash, zucchini blossoms and herbs to supplement the locally sourced seafood and meat for his menu.
“It’s a tribute to North Carolina, what’s local and what’s available,” he said. “I’m not the first to do it, by any means. So many people are going back to support small farms, local fishermen, stuff like that. That’s what I really want to do.”
His philosophy stems from a return to his roots.
“When we would come to the beach as kids, we got shrimp from somebody selling on the side of the road. Whatever fish my dad caught is what we ate. When I started working, I was like, ‘Why are we thawing out shrimp that came from Indonesia?’” he said.
Doss got his start in the food service industry while working at a country club his grandmother managed. While an Eagle Scout, he was the Quarter Master in charge of the grocery shopping, menu and cooking for his troop.
Then, as an economics and finance major at UNCW, he began cooking part-time in restaurants around town including Dockside, Portland Grille, Bridge Tender and Elijah’s. He left the university before graduating, but continued to work his way up in the restaurant business. His friend and fellow chef, Scott Grimm, recruited him to Chef James Bain’s former restaurant Harvest Moon.
“[Scott] and James took me under their wing and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a chef. I learned how to really cook and not just turn and burn and feed the masses,” he said. “They threw me the French Laundry cookbook the first week I was there, highlighted for me to read.”
From there, he moved to Charleston, S.C. to work under James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock at his restaurant, Husk. Last year, he began searching for opportunities to return to the Port City and open his own shop.
In the weeks leading up to the restaurant’s opening (the owners are shooting for June), Doss plans to hire five to six cooks and chefs, three to five servers per shift and one to two bartenders.
“I think a well-rounded cook is better than a specialist,” he said. Rx bartenders and managers will be expected to be able to double as servers when needed.
He plans to serve lunch, dinner and late-night food.
“You’ll be able to get a drink at 1:30, chicken wings or a cheese burger,” he said.
He describes the menu as upscale southern cuisine, but strives to have something for even the most discerning palette - several locally caught seafood dishes, chilled soups, fresh salads, burgers and vegetarian options, to name a few. He plans to have new daily specials, depending on what’s fresh and available. Rx is located at 421 Castle Street.