Chef Keith Jackson uses a pair of tongs to carefully pluck a crisp chicken leg from the pan, plops it on a plate, cuts off a piece and pops it into his mouth.
It sears, but clearly in a good way.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “I’m going with the ranch today.”
With that, the chef confirms the daily special for Nosh Catering & Carryout: fried chicken doused in homemade ranch dressing, battered and fried; Keith’s collard greens, fried potatoes and cornbread.
Barry Turley, who co-owns the business along with his sister, Chelsie Rankin, grabs a bite and gives it a quick thumbs up. Between the three of them, their resumes read like a who’s who of the Charleston restaurant industry: Char House, Daiquiri Cafe, Embassy Suites, Tidewater and Laury’s, to name a few.
“Keith has been with us since day one,” Turley says. “And honestly, he’s incredible.”
Jackson hadn’t tried the ranch version of his popular fried chicken recipe before. On this particular morning, though, he decided to experiment — a luxury he didn’t often find at the bigger restaurants and high profile, corporate gigs he’s held in more than 30 years in the food and beverage industry.
“This lets your creative culinary skills come out,” he said. “Being independent, it just kind of sets you free.”
That sense of freedom was a big part of the dangling carrot, if you will, that led the well-known chef and his longtime colleague and friend to leave the security of that world and take a chance on a start-up catering business a little more than two years ago.
It started in 2017 as a catering business out of Teays Valley. But with a long list of homemade specialties and a willingness to travel as far as Parkersburg, Beckley, and parts of Ohio and Kentucky, the business grew quickly. Nosh moved to Charleston in August of last year, and expanded to include carryout and dine-in.
Now, just over a year later, business is booming. And, “Our freezer has been unplugged,” said Turley. “We freeze nothing. Everything is handmade from scratch.”
Not just the main courses, but everything: croutons, bread, sides, desserts. An apprentice, Nick Kine, is making homemade pepperoni rolls. On the counter: fruit-infused water that customers serve themselves.
Beyond the catering, they handle event planning, floral arrangements and have even been known to help the occasional bride pick out The Dress. They are catering the upcoming Fairness West Virginia gala, and have weddings booked through 2020.
Day to day, with a handful of regular offerings next to rotating daily specials, the Nosh focus is what Turley calls “higher end, down-home style cooking.”
He adds there’s a creative passion that drives the business — which isn’t to say that it’s been easy.
“This is not an easy town to own and run a business, you know? It’s sink or swim. Fight or flight. And, we refused to sink.”
The opportunity came — as they so often do — at an inopportune time two years ago. His mom — “she always said, like, every morning, no matter what, wake up and put a smile on your face” — had recently passed. There was a difficult breakup. He needed to push the restart button on life.
A scripted tattoo on his forearm bears testimony to the tribulations — and the triumph.
“It’s Farsi, and it stands for ‘strength,’” he said.
“When I worked at Laury’s, years ago, the owners are Persian. And they all became family to me and I’m still very close with all of them. And they speak Farsi. And it always just intrigued me; I love the language. And the writing is just beautiful.”
The struggle, he said, has made the success that much sweeter.
“In two years, to be able to come here and pull up every day and know that we’ve created this, and I have prevailed ... it’s a lot,” he said.
“And it’s been worth it. Absolutely.”
Nosh Catering & Carryout is located at 709 Ruffner Ave. in Charleston. The restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. For more information, follow Noshcateringandcarryout on Facebook, email Noshcatering1@gmail.com, or call 304-346-6674.