CHESHIRE — New Riverhouse Catering executive chef Van Hurd has proven he can handle pressure.
He’s competed twice on one of the most high-pressured TV cooking shows — Hell’s Kitchen, he’s opened several restaurants, and he’s worked for a few different catering companies putting out meals for hundreds of people at once.
“You learn how to dance in the rain,” Hurd said of the cut-throat competition on Hell’s Kitchen.
Hurd, 37, started as executive chef on Jan. 13. He is in charge of the menu and staff of Riverhouse Catering and “Perfectly Prepared, Gourmet to Go!” — 1410 Highland Ave., a storefront that offers ready to eat meals.
Hurd spent the past few years with Taino Smokehouse, starting at the Middletown location and then launching the new Meriden Taino Smokehouse Prime.
The Texas native graduated with a culinary degree from The Art Institute of Dallas in 2007 and worked in Tex-Asian cuisine and at the Dallas French Room until relocating to Connecticut, where he worked for the Country Club of Farmington and Jordan Caterers until 2014.
This isn’t Hurd’s first time with the Riverhouse Catering Co. He worked previously for the group — then the Belle Terrace at Avon Old Farms — for about a year in 2014, until the opportunity came up to help launch a restaurant in South Glastonbury, called Sayulita.
In between all this, he appeared in season six of Hell’s Kitchen and then again in season 17, an all-star season.
“Catering is definitely my passion,” he said. “I love going to an event, figuring it out, seeing how we're gonna do it.”
You have to be able to think on your feet and be super detail-oriented. A catering job may be in the middle of a field or a museum gallery.
“Despite his very cool and confident exterior, he cares deeply about what he's doing and a lot of thought and a lot of emotion goes into what he's creating, which is something I think you can't find in a lot of chefs out there,” Catering Sales Manager Kirsten Pechout said.
The executive chef has already started tweaking the recipes for meals to go in the Perfectly Prepared coolers, and putting his stamp on things.
“(He’s) raising the quality of … many of the things that we had and new things to come,” Perfectly Prepared Manager Kim Poole said.
Riverhouse Catering is an off-premise catering company serving all of Connecticut and part of Riverhouse Hospitality, which includes The Society Room of Hartford and The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam.
Perfectly Prepared is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Menu items include a variety of chicken and beef dishes — like chicken parmesan, chicken tikka masala, beef stuffed peppers — as well as a variety of other proteins like fish and sausage, soups, vegetables, salads, wraps and pastas. It also serves a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.