IN THE KITCHEN WITH: J. Kings

Worker at J Kings preparing sauce for packaging.

Worker at J Kings preparing sauce for packaging.

It’s been a long day. One of those never-ending, nothing went right kind of days. As you sit in seemingly perpetual traffic, thoughts of dinner begin to gnaw away at what’s left of your fortitude. Some days culinary get-up-and-go just cannot be mustered. Cook? Heat up some leftovers…again? Make reservations? Pick up some take out? There exists another option that, heretofore, just wasn’t in our ethos: a ready-to-go restaurant quality meal that can be picked up at your local supermarket. Krazy Cooks Kitchen, a division of J. Kings Food Service, prepares meals that bridge the gap between cooking in and eating out.

Perhaps you have seen their trucks rolling up and down the LIE, or in your hometown. Started by John King in 1974, J. Kings Food Service Professionals, Inc. has been servicing the food industry in more ways than we imagined existed. From delivering fresh produce, meats and poultry to running food handlers classes, J. Kings counts restaurants, bars, hospitals, schools and supermarkets among its more than 2,000 customers. “I do everything from Bagel Boss to the Waldorf Astoria,” says John King, the hands-on boss of this hybrid business.

King, who was born in the Bronx and raised in Nassau County, hails from a large food-centric family. “Mom and Dad were waiters at Carl Hoppl’s [a Nassau County institution in the 1960s and 1970s].” The family redirected themselves into the deli business and, after one of their vendors closed, King began picking up products for the deli while still in high school. King’s brother, Jim, is the owner of the wildly popular Kitchen Kabaret, a gourmet deli that rivals Dean and DeLuca, with locations in Roslyn and Bay Shore. “Another brother is a chef; we are a family of foodies,” says King.

John King, center, with employees at J. Kings.

John King, center, with employees at J. Kings.

King took what he learned from his family’s deli business and created an operation that employs more than 300 professionals at their Holtsville distribution center, Bay Shore processing facility and Grapes and Greens, their Calverton facility for processing, storing and marketing produce and wines from our East End.

Edible photographer Doug Young and I recently spent a day with King at his Bay Shore location. Open 24 hours per day, seven days a week, this ultra efficient operation runs like a well-oiled machine. After removing any jewelry, we don white jackets, hairnets and booties and are given the cook’s tour by King; Andy Murphy, director of the facility, and Chris Neary, J. Kings executive chef.

First and foremost, we are shown the office of the resident USDA inspector. Yes, J. Kings provides an office on the premises for the inspector, who has 24/7 access to the entire operation. “He even has his own bathroom. I am the boss and I don’t have my own bathroom,” says King, half laughing, half not. Even the slightest, most insignificant seeming infraction can shut down the entire operation. “I wish my customers were as fussy about who they buy from as the USDA is about its certifications,” says King. Safety is the first takeaway from the tour.

Crab cakes being prepared for packaging at J. Kings.

Crab cakes being prepared for packaging at J. Kings.

We enter a large climate controlled room, sloshing our booty-covered shoes through some bubbly disinfectant. There is an enormous table piled high with raw chicken. Undaunted, the staff is meticulously placing the breasts into molds that will cut them into perfect cutlets. J. Kings processes more than 60,000 pounds of boneless chicken per week. Some of the cutlets go directly to restaurants. Having J. Kings trim and cut both poultry and beef creates an enormous savings for a restaurant. J. Kings buys the chicken in bulk and, with their clean, state-of-the-art facility, can process it in the most efficient way possible. Each and every cutlet is consistently the same size and quality. Zero waste. One hundred percent efficiency. Takeaways one and two: consistency and efficiency.

Beef is processed in different room. You name it, any cut. J. Kings can deliver to the exact specifications of a customer. Gone are the Rocky Balboa days of shipping full sides of hanging beef. “Why pay to ship bones,” says King. “We cut and ship to order. You will not see and ‘blood’ at the bottom of our packages of burgers, because the meat has never been frozen,” he adds. “Nobody wants to think that some guy in the back of the kitchen, who just put the garbage out, is making your burgers. This is a good safe labor decision for most restaurants.” Again, the takeaways stand out: safety, consistency and efficiency.

Entering through the soapy portals of another room, we find the staff up to their elbows cutting, washing, rewashing, and washing again, fresh produce. J. Kings produce washing facility, with its flumes and shoots, is “like Disney World for produce,” says King. Produce contamination can be a huge problem, and J. Kings takes potential contamination very seriously.

Workers at J Kings breading chicken breasts for packaging.

Workers at J Kings breading chicken breasts for packaging.

Another two rooms are dedicated to prepared meals (those aforementioned dinners). For example, chicken cutlets are breaded, cooked, sauced, packaged and, in lightening speed, sent to the Holtsville location to ship to local Trader Joes, Stop and Shops and the like. With offerings such as braised short ribs, cedar plank salmon, chicken Marsala, etc., a tasty, well-prepared dinner can be on the table in a flash.

Andy Murphy is quick to remind us: “We are not creating processed foods. We are controlling the process for consistency, safety and efficiency.” John King adds, “We are a high-end food manufacturer, which is unusual. Our customers are fussy and demanding. We are not a low-cost producer. We are not for everybody. If the customer doesn’t value it, I am not selling it.”

So, the next time you dine in a restaurant, eat in a cafeteria, take a meal in a hospital or grab a prepared meal to go from a supermarket, know that if the J. Kings brand is behind it, that you are eating the finest and safest food available in our local market today.

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