Sushi boards (SHOWN) are among the items Rick Gresh has created in his workspace in Round Lake.
David Burke’s Primehouse Executive Chef Rick Gresh may be known for his culinary prowess, but he’s also a craftsman outside the kitchen. After a long day manning Burke’s Bacon Bar (The James’s newest concept, which specializes in pint-size “handwiches” that incorporate bacon from humanely raised pigs), Gresh retreats to his home studio in north suburban Round Lake, where he spends hours carving everything from restaurant serving pieces to furniture.
Before taking the reins at Primehouse in 2007, the 2001 James Beard Foundation “Rising Star” chef began making custom furniture as a hobby, and he eventually turned it into a side business under his RG Global LLC brand. He discovered woodworking when he was investing in real estate and looking to furnish his home. “I went shopping and just wasn’t happy with what I found. The items that I did like were so expensive I figured I could set up a wood shop and build them for less,” he says. “It also gave me an outlet for something creative like the culinary world, just in a different medium. When I look at a piece of wood, I almost see what it wants to become.”
For Gresh, his studio—a spartan space in the basement of his home—offers welcome respite from the fast-paced culinary lifestyle. “When I head to the wood shop,” he notes, “it’s completely my time, with no phone, e-mail, or interruptions.” His projects have included serving pieces like whiskey shot platters and slider plates for Primehouse and other local restaurants, plus cigar humidors, iPhone charging docks—even a boat dock. “I take great pride in creating pieces that perfectly fit the space they’re going to be used in,” says Gresh, who cites furniture as his favorite medium. Among his completed works are headboards, storage trunks, and dining room, coffee, and end tables. His proudest piece, however, is his desk, a caramel-colored work surface with arched sides that Gresh carved out of tiger maple, a wood prized for its distorted fibers, which create wavy, tiger-stripe-like lines. Gresh was inspired by the sleek simplicity of Japanese architecture; he always wants to see the surface of his desk and prides himself on how the uncluttered workspace motivates him. Says Gresh, “I love working at my desk, and it helps keep me productive.”
For this artisan, the finished product is the driving force behind his culinary and crafty ambitions—and he gets just as excited plating a 40-day dry-aged “Greshburger” as he does polishing off a custom coffee table. “I love when someone designs something well,” says Gresh. “It shows when you sweat the details.”