He favors denim overalls, wears a "Save the Farm" cap and speaks with a thick West Virginia dialect. But Jack McDavid is no country bumpkin. His two Philadelphia restaurants, Down Home Diner and Jack's Firehouse, are temples devoted to serving America's finest, freshest foods.
When McDavid opened the Firehouse a year ago, he earnestly set out to create "the best" restaurant in the world, which sounds like the plan of a country boy who's been breathing too much city air. And perhaps McDavid is mad. He works 100-hour weeks in a fanatical attempt to provide the freshest food possible. To this end, McDavid makes everything from scratch. ...everything.
He churns his own butter; makes his own ketchup, jams, and ice cream; smokes and dry-ages his own meats; grows shiitake mushrooms in the basement of the Firehouse; grows herbs and vegetables in a greenhouse on his roof and grinds flour to bake bread. McDavid is also "invested up to my hip boots" in a number of area farms that provide him with venison, wild boar, pheasant, buffalo, bass, trout, and salmon. "I have 80 local farmers growing for me, and it's all organic and grown to my specification. The trout we serve is so fresh customers send it back to the kitchen saying it has a funny blue color. They don't know because they've never eaten trout this fresh," he says.
Before opening his two restaurants, the 35 year-old says he's worked in 115 restaurants, (that's not a misprint, folks), including La Cote Basque in New York, Lion d'Or in Washington D.C. and Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. He has combined his French background and down home experience to come up with a cooking style he calls "haute country cuisine." It's a style that places black-eyed peas and hog-jowl soup on a menu along side capon with warm fig compote. Elaine Tait, restaurant critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, describes McDavid as a fox in sheep's clothing. "You'd never guess it, but Jack McDavid is one of the most sophisticated chefs you'll ever come across."