Ray Ray’s Granville Restaurant Pivots to Focus on Private Dinners and Chef Showdowns
Chef James Anderson has overhauled his conventional barbecue restaurant, transforming it into a supper club featuring private dinners and “Chef Scrap” competitions.
It’s fight night, but it’s not Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The arena is Ray Ray’s in Granville and a pair of local chefs—Damian Ettish of Fetty’s Street Food and Justin Gottschalk of the eagerly awaited Harvest Pizzeria in Granville—are ready to throw down in front of a live audience and a trio of judges. After a brief tour of the kitchen and its provisions, the chefs ready their knives as the mystery ingredients are revealed and the competition begins. Each chef must prepare an appetizer and entrée using a whole chicken, cipollini onions, golden beets, apples and oranges. This is still Ray Ray’s, so smoke and fire are also essential elements.
Minutes into the matchup, any skepticism about chef showdowns being as choreographed as professional wrestling is immediately settled, as Gottschalk’s palm meets the business end of a mandoline. He bandages himself up and returns to the bout.
A little friendly competition, discerning judges, a raucous crowd, creative cuisine and, yes, a little blood: This is the new Ray Ray’s Supper Club.
Though chef James Anderson, founder of Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, has an impressive collection of ink and accolades, his latest pivot in Granville from a sit-down “meat-and-three” restaurant, which closed last August, to an even more complex concept, one that combines a barbecue carryout with an experiential dining venue, was an unexpected departure.
Except, it really isn’t. That’s because this new endeavor is all about celebrating Ohio chefs and purveyors, just as Anderson always has dating back to his first food truck more than two decades ago in Clintonville. The new concept is also a product of the challenging time we’re in.
“The decision was driven by staffing,” Anderson says about his pivot away from his meat-and-three restaurant. “Running a restaurant six days requires a roster of 25 people. The drive-thru operating Thursday through Sunday only takes four. The supper club and events like the Chef Scrap are different than the daily grind. Staffing immediately became more sustainable, and we only select the highest caliber people.”
Winnowing down the meat-and-three menu, which offered a slew of Southern-inspired sides, also became essential, with familiar Hog Pit favorites such as baby back ribs and collard greens making the final cut for the drive-thru. “[The Meat + Three menu] was way more robust, probably three times as large. You can’t sell food that needs to be served hot on a plate [in the drive-thru],” he says. “We had to pare it down to the items that traveled well.”
But the open-concept space at 1256 Columbus Road was destined for something more. When the restaurant was first remodeled ahead of its opening in 2021, a wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was removed, Anderson says, making it an ideal exhibition venue for the eventual supper club, featuring multicourse chef’s tasting menus. However, it also made it the perfect arena for culinary competition.
“It’s very interactive compared to a traditional restaurant setting, much like a food truck but even more so. You’re seeing everything, sitting in the kitchen or at the counter for supper club,” Anderson says. “At the Chef Scrap, you have standing room right at the edge of the kitchen, so everyone has a complete view.”
For those unfamiliar with Chef Scrap, imagine Iron Chef—the wildly popular Japanese television series in the ’90s that soon inspired a worldwide cult following and countless imitators. Renowned chefs known for their mastery of various cuisines are required to prepare sophisticated dishes from surprise ingredients in a limited amount of time for a panel of celebrity judges. The setup is deceptively simple—but the execution, done well, is absolutely enthralling entertainment.
Though fiercely protective of the Hog Pit brand, Anderson is unpretentious and conspicuously supportive of our local food scene. Through Chef Scrap and the supper club’s collaborative dinners, he steps out of the spotlight and invites colleagues and other local chefs to showcase their talents and businesses instead. The lineup of competitors past and pending isn’t a who’s who of barbecue. Rather, it’s a mix of established local chefs—like Jack Moore (former Watershed Kitchen & Bar executive chef) and Dan “Hungarian Butcher” Varga—and emerging ones who share his humble culinary spirit, no matter their specialty.
The Chef Scrap, in which extemporaneous fare is prepared under the intense attention of a captivated crowd, is a creative counterpoint to the refined multi-course dinners, and other events that round out Ray Ray’s Supper Club. During the December competition, while chef Gottschalk was bandaging his hand, emcee John Reese, owner of Black Radish Creamery, coyly tried to distract from the mishap by asking the judges to share their own kitchen scars and close calls. Chef Sebastian La Rocca of Fyr, Spark and Stories on High rolled up his sleeve to show a string of stitches as fellow judges Scott Wilkins, co-owner and operator of Three Tigers Brewing and Mai Chau Kitchen, and Columbus Monthly contributor Nicholas Dekker, of the eponymous Breakfast with Nick blog, visibly winced with the audience.
Though there are cameras and televisions positioned to help capture the action up close, unlike most cooking shows the head-to-head contest is also face-to-face. In true Columbus fashion, competitors were handing utensils back and forth throughout and watching the other’s preparations to prevent burning or boiling over.
Gottschalk was first to present his final dish, togarashi-spiced fried chicken with smoked beets atop an onion and apple slaw, finished with a black garlic vinaigrette. Ettish answered with a South African sweet curry with fried chicken thighs, smoked beets marinated in orange juice, then flambéed in local moonshine he’d quietly pinched from behind the bar.
It was close, but Ettish’s stealth ingredient and ingenuity appeared to pay off, earning him the win. Being a food truck owner who’s accustomed to tight kitchen quarters probably didn’t hurt. “On a food truck, there’s limited equipment and storage space,” Ettish says. “But neither of us knew who the judges were before tonight, so we couldn’t really appeal to their tastes. I just came in with the idea of Asian or Indian flavors, and whatever was in the mystery basket, because that’s what I know.”
Though Ray Ray’s recurring Chef Scrap is consistent with Anderson’s aspirations to highlight Central Ohio’s credible culinary chops, it’s also indicative of a larger trend in Columbus and beyond, where product and service converge to create an immersive experience, one that strengthens customer loyalty in an age of commodities.
“We’re looking for executive chefs in the Columbus area to compete, and as it grows, we’ll have chef versus chef and sous versus sous scraps,” he says, noting the audiences for the supper club, kitchen showdowns and drive-thru may be distinct, but the authenticity they crave is identical.
“[Every chef] comes in with what they know best, but it’s also a culinary playground,” Anderson says. “We’ve had a couple people from out of town apply, but I want to generate excitement about local competitions before opening it up to all of Ohio and additional states, so local chefs can compete against some of the best chefs in the country.”
Ray’s Ray’s Supper Club1256 Columbus Road, Granville,740-920-9103, rayrayssupperclub.com
Upcoming Ray Ray’s Supper Club Events
Feb. 3: Seven-course Italian dinner featuring chefs James Anderson, Aric DeAngelis and Adam Fleischer
Feb. 6: Chef Scrap No. 3
Feb. 10: Valentine’s Dinner No. 1
Feb. 17: Valentine’s Dinner No. 2
Feb. 24: Three-course barbecue and bourbon dinner
This story is from the February 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.