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Chefs reminisce on eve of Red Horse Steak House closing

June 09, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

What Bill Bullard tries to spice up, his boss, Chris Jefferies, tries to cool down.

Forty years ago, Bullard taught Jefferies how to hold a knife.

On a recent afternoon at the Red Horse Steak House & Anvil Bar, where the two chefs met, Bullard and Jefferies laughed about their differences and reflected on their careers as they prepared to close the Dual Highway restaurant. The steakhouse is to officially close after dinner today.

"We're like friends. You know someone for 40 years ... We carry on and tease a lot," said Jefferies, 56, who started out as a dishwasher in 1967 at the restaurant he has owned since 1972. The restaurant opened in 1962.

"I learned a lot from him," Jefferies said, nodding at Bullard, who was being photographed while he stood behind the grill, which is framed in glass so diners can watch what's going on.

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The 72-year-old Bullard "retired" from the restaurant industry about five years ago, but has helped with banquets at the Red Horse since. He has troubles with his legs from years of standing on the job, and with his cholesterol, perhaps from years of after-work meals of Vienna sausages, chili and beer.

Bullard's 55-year career in the kitchen began in the early 1950s at Anton's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, which was at 2 E. Franklin St., across from Hagerstown City Hall.

Born and raised in Alabama, Bullard said he moved to Hagerstown along with his relatives, who came here to pick corn and apples. He washed dishes at Anton's for seven years before becoming a cook apprentice, which sparked his interest in the culinary arts.

"Anybody can cook roast beef and fried chicken, but I wanted to know if I could cook anything else," Bullard said.

When he first began cooking, Bullard said, he made $1.25 an hour.

Bullard worked at the Dutch Kitchen, then cooked at the Red Horse in Hagerstown when it opened its doors. Over the years, he worked at the Red Horse in Frederick, Md., at the former Shenandoah Downs in Charles Town, W.Va., and at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., through the 1960s and early 1970s. He then worked at Waynesboro (Pa.) Country Club for 21 years before working at Fountain Head Country Club in Hagerstown.

Bullard said he had dreams of opening his own crab house, but he said he wasn't able to afford it.

"I love to cook seafood," Bullard said, breaking into a smile at the thought of the aroma of the fish cooked in "wine, always wine."

His favorite meal, however, is roast beef.

Bullard and Jefferies, who was raised in Virginia, said they cook Southern food for themselves and for the kitchen staff, but the fare didn't always make it to the menu.

When Bullard first learned to cook, he said he needed to properly cut an entire side of beef, which included bleeding it out.

"I used to hate Thursdays," he said, noting that was the day he spent filleting beef and fish at Anton's as a cook apprentice.

Those also were the days when the excess fat from the meat was thrown into the fryer. Jefferies said the Red Horse stopped doing that years ago in response to health concerns from customers.

On the other hand, Jefferies said, he "can't give away" margarine. Despite everything else, his customers continue to stick with butter.

Jefferies said that after his restaurant closes, he likely will help friends prepare food.

Bullard said he plans to truly retire this time.

With the closing date just days away, there was no shortage of laughter from the two men in the kitchen. They joked about how they protect their knives, debated brandy in soups and teased each other about their preferred stove-top temperature.

"He'd love for me to cut a paper box with his knives," Bullard said with a hearty chuckle.

What they both will miss the most about the restaurant business is not the food or the kitchen.

"The biggest thing you miss in a restaurant is the people: The people you work with and the people sitting in the dining room," Jefferies said.

Jefferies said that the restaurant has been "almost too busy" in its last week or so. Old friends returned for their last meals at the establishment.

"People are crying and giving me hugs," he said. "It's starting to get really sad."

The 8,000-square-foot restaurant, decorated like a saloon complete with swinging doors, will be razed and the land sold.

Jefferies said he planned to sell the restaurant's equipment and accessories, including the life-sized, fiberglass red horse that has stood as the restaurant's marker for years.

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