Got recipes? Duffy’s launches test kitchen

Posted June 9, 2016 | No Comments.


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A gritty industrial warehouse in Lake Worth hides a secret.

Past dull bays and rows of trucks, two doors open to a hidden but familiar place. Walls painted green. Wood paneling. And big-screen TVs plastered everywhere.

The decor is unmistakable: Welcome to Duffy’s Sports Grill, your neighborhood sports bar and restaurant.

Upon closer inspection, however, something seems different. There are too few tables. The kitchen is on the other side of the bar, right in plain view.

Indeed, the kitchen is the reason for this 3,000-square-foot space, otherwise known as Duffy’s Culinary Arts Studio, a test kitchen and event center meant to replicate a real Duffy’s restaurant.

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The studio is the brainchild of Duffy’s longtime executive chef, Eric Parker, and the late Paul Emmett.

Emmett was Duffy’s president and the man who took Duffy’s from a small local eatery with four locations into a statewide powerhouse now boasting 32 stores.

Last year, Emmett died from cancer at age 62. His death stunned the local restaurant community, where he was affectionately known for his candor and business savvy.

duffy-test Tuna tostadas prepared at the new Duffy’s Sports Grill test kitchen and food tasting facility that executive chef Eric Parker said Monday, June 6, 2016 will soon be on the neighborhood restaurant’s menu. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

Parker said he had pestered Emmett for a decade to build a test kitchen, a rarity for most restaurants, especially privately held ones such as Duffy’s.

Even though Duffy’s serves casual fare not thought of as gourmet, Parker said it’s important to craft new recipes and keep up with dining trends. Gourmet burger joints, for instance, continue to provide competition, he said.

Parker said he wanted a way to teach his chefs new recipes in a dedicated space, instead of having to borrow a kitchen at an existing Duffy’s restaurant, which often is crowded with deliveries and chefs cooking food for customers.

So every year, Parker said he would ask Emmett for a test kitchen.

And every year, Emmett said no.

But about three years ago, Emmett finally said yes. And plans began to form.

Then Paul Emmett passed away, and his son, Jason, 36, took over as Duffy’s president.

The younger Emmett worked to keep the company operating just as his father ran it. This included building the test kitchen.

So a warehouse bay across from the company’s Lake Worth headquarters on Barnett Drive was converted. In went tables for 115 guests, plus a scaled-down version of a typical Duffy’s kitchen.

Today, the $550,000 space is about to open. And it features gleaming new equipment, including a convection oven, fryer, stove and grills.

But a nostalgic item of the past is there, too: Nick Valenti, a leading restaurateur and Emmett’s mentor for 42 years, gave the kitchen an antique butcher block table. On a particular day, a pear, lemon and assorted liquors awaited their combination into a pear martini, a new Duffy’s libation that will be taught to bartenders.

With this test kitchen, Duffy’s will be able to stay “one step ahead of the competition,” Emmett said. The test kitchen will ensure the food prep is consistent, he said, “and as we grow, it’s how we’ll be able to maintain our food quality.”

Paul Emmett’s longtime business partner, Palm Beach real estate investorCarlos Morrison, said the test kitchen will help the company one day expand beyond Florida, perhaps into Tennessee or Georgia. “This is a wonderful place to have so the chefs can practice,” Morrison said.

Emmett said recipe instruction used to require chefs to travel to one place to learn techniques. That’s gotten harder to do as the company has expanded far from Palm Beach County.

But this test kitchen is wired with cameras, which will allow chefs to use videos to demonstrate food preparation, Emmett said.

The kitchen, set for a grand opening on June 23, is believed to be the only restaurant-owned test kitchen outside of Orlando, where publicly tradedDarden operates one, Emmett said.

In addition to rolling out new recipes, the space also will host private functions for top-tier Duffy’s patrons, known as MVPs. These diners, who spend from $1,000 to $3,000 or more per year, will be invited to special food tastings for new menu items, as a way to further reward them for their loyalty, Emmett said.

Other events will feature vendors, such as an October dinner event for Blue Moon Brewing Co. and the Florida Citrus Growers; fundraisers, including for Duffy’s own charity, the Duffy’s Foundation; and seminars with local culinary students.

Morrison, the business partner, is pleased with the job Jason has done.

Not only has Emmett kept the business running, he’s taken care of the staff, Morrison said: “Our 3,500 employees depend on us for their families. … Jason is doing a wonderful job.”

Jason smiled, but there was sorrow in his eyes.

“It’s bittersweet,” Jason said, gazing at the roomful of managers and chefs chatting in the space his father envisioned but never saw open. “He would love this.”

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