By Don Rosendale
I’m always fascinated by those newspaper and magazine interviews in which the reporter takes a major politico or movie star to lunch. Between observations of monumental topics - “Do you think the North Koreans will actually fire a missile to Guam”- the journalist reviews the meal -“The Dover sole went well with a Chevalier Montrachet.”
So when Barry Kieselstein-Cord said he would only sit for an interview if it was at the newly open Jamaican restaurant in Amenia called Railhead Jerk. It didn’t take much arm twisting, especially when a magazine publisher had told me their ribs were “ethereal.”
The appellation Railhead Jerk, Cord ex-plains, comes from the fact it’s only a furlong or so from the end of the Metro North Harlem Valley line. And “jerk” is a style of cooking native to Jamaica. Cord’s role in all of this is their “creative director” in charge of décor, promotion, the menu and the like. Which is appropriate because Railhead Jerk is the culmination of a dinner table discussion at his home.
As he recalls, Cord was having dinner with Julette Silvera, whose longtime job in the fashion industry had just tanked. Ms. Silvera was wondering what the next chapter in her life would be. So Cord said to her “You’re the best cook I know, why don’t you open a restaurant?” The idea was seconded by Sara Nesbitt, and Railhead Jerk was born by the Fall of 2016.
Per Cord - Kieselstein-Cord is a “brand name” he says, and he’s really just Barry Cord. Being a restaurateur/creative director is a new page in his varied career. I had always thought of him as a jewelry designer famous for his belt buckles, but Cord says his portfolio is much broader than that. Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia describes his empire as “an international award-winning luxury lifestyle brand founded by American designer, artist and photographer Barry Kieselstein-Cord. Their products include fine jewelry, sterling silver jewelry, belt buckles, bronze statuary, leather goods including handbags, eyewear, home furnishings and accessories.
Cord says people don’t just buy his jewelry, they collect it, and the collectors include Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the late Elizabeth Taylor, Goldie Hawn and Madonna.
He says fashion designers like Calvin Klein use his jewelry to “dress up” their own lines on the runway.
After graduation from the Parsons School of Design in New York City his career started as a creative director with ad agencies like Foote Cone & Belding and Papert Koenig where he “won every award you possibly could.”
In 1973 he decided to launch his own fashion jewelry company, and I remember his flagship store on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, not far from Trump Tower. But he says the era of big expensive stores is dead, because the market is “going virtual,” and he now advertises and sells on line. But, because “people have to touch things,” he still has what he calls a gallery in Millbrook, near his Harlem Valley home. Plus boutiques in places like Palm Beach and Aspen, where people who buy $1,500 belt buckles shop.
While designing and photographing, Cord had a successful career as an amateur sports car driver, mostly in a Shelby Mustang, and won every race he entered over an 11-year span.
Railhead Jerk is unfettered by doing things the way restaurants are supposed to do it. Ms. Silvera was raised and learned to cook in Jamaica and has been an Amenia resident for more than two decades. She points out that there are no dishes on a steam table or under warming lights waiting to be plated. Every dish is cooked to order, which sometimes means a long wait. But the ribs live up to my publisher’s friend’s raves.
The basic rib order is $20.95, but for the hungry diner, there’s a full rack of ribs for $24.95.
There are also authentic Jamaican dishes that I have never seen anywhere else, such as Tallawah curry chicken and “run down fish.”
While I was scribbling notes about Cord’s career, Silvera was cooking up a plate of ribs, which on arrival were everything my publisher friend had forecast, and went well with an authentic Red Stripe beer from Jamaica.