In the Town Square Tavern kitchen, where he’s the head chef, he’s known as The Singing Chef. He earned the nickname years ago when he was the chef for a West Hollywood restaurant (Thunder Roadhouse) owned by Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Dwight Yoakam. It was Yoakam who gave King the moniker because the chef used to come out of the kitchen and sing “Happy Birthday” to customers.
King, 57, started his career in the kitchen years before that when he was four years old for his family’s restaurant, Carrie’s Diner, in McGee, Ark.
“It’s deep in the South,” King said.
“Back then, you had to start doing something,” he said. “I helped take plates off tables and stood on the soap box to wash dishes. I started cooking hamburgers when I was eight years old, and it progressed from there.”
Aspirations to “see what California was all about” took him from Arkansas to Hollywood.
After his son passed away 11 years ago, King moved to Jackson. Today, he splits his time working for the Four Seasons and Town Square Tavern.
At the Tavern, he may be known for his Kick-Ass Chili, which won first place in the Chamber of Commerce’s Chili Cookoff in 2012. (It’s served at the Tavern with cheese, sour cream and garlic bread. It also comes in their new breakfast burritos or smothered on top of their Kick-Ass Chili burger).
He recently debuted a new menu of dinner platters, all based on his experience growing up with comfort food (think fried chicken and mashed potatoes; pork spare ribs with potato salad and baked beans; chicken fried steak and pasta primavera).
Being southerners ourselves, at Dishing we’re always on the hunt for a good fried chicken. And we can attest: This one reminds us of home.
Tell me about the fried chicken. It’s your mother’s recipe?
Yes. It’s my mother’s, Georgia King. It’s just good, old, down-home fried chicken. It starts with Southern seasoning: pepper, salt, sugar and garlic. That’s pretty much it. Years ago, they didn’t have all that stuff (like numerous seasonings) they have now. It comes with a basic country gravy that is my own creation. I render the fat from sausage and bacon to make it.
Another stand-out on the menu is the Kick Ass Chili. Tell me the story behind that.
It’s my recipe from 20 years ago. Everything we do is fresh, and I use fresh vegetables in the chili. I believe chili should be made a little bit spicy, but chili shouldn’t be so spicy that you can’t really enjoy the flavors.
What is your goal with the Tavern’s menu?
We want our food to be down-home, good-tasting food. We’re not trying to be fancy. We’re not trying to be fine dining. We’re a place where you can come and get good food that tastes good and looks good and with friendly service. When you leave here, the food you just ate will talk back to you. It’s just that good.
The Town Square Tavern is open for lunch at noon daily and serves a variety of salads, sandwiches, pizzas and burgers (carry-out is available and is a great option if you’re on the go or eating in the office). Dinner platters are only available after 5 p.m. and range from $11.99 to $18.99. Check out their menu here.