Chef Holderbaum Creates a Food Experience Unlike Any Other with Live-Fire Grilling

“A symphony of food and fire” that is how chef Jim Holderbaum describes live-fire grilling. The passion and excitement in his voice for what he does is undeniable. Live-fire grilling can be simply described as cooking over an open flame, but there is so much more to it. It is an unforgettable experience that brings together two of the most important parts of life: food and the connection between people. 

Although Jim prepares food for corporate events, receptions, private parties and occasional weddings, he doesn’t consider himself a caterer.

“I am lumped into the world of catering because I prepare food, but I am by no means a typical caterer. All of our cooking and all of our preparation is done on-site. I only use quality ingredients, and I buy everything I need fresh from the supplier that day.” 

Range & Reef specializes in seafood boils, lobster and clambakes, and live-fire grilling. Whether it is an intimate event for eight people or a large gala of more than 200, Jim has never once used a warming dish. The act of live-fire grilling is entertainment in and of itself.

“When people hire me, I am the chef that comes to the event. I have a roster of staff that I can pick and choose from to best assist me,” he says. “When we are grilling, we are up front and center. Our guests enjoy watching the show. The grill is my theater, and every performance is the most important one yet.”

The high-end wood-fired grills used by Range & Reef are designed by a company called Grillworks. They can be found in famous restaurants and resorts across the world. Jim brings his portable grills to every single event. He loves to speak with guests and party-goers who come around to see what it is that he does.

“Be curious. Ask questions. What I do is very visual and aromatic. It is something that most people have never seen before.” 

Some of the various types of woods that are used in the live-fire grills are maple, oak, peach, apple and cherry wood. The fruit woods come from orchards in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. The other woods come from local tree companies. He splits all of his grill wood himself. He then brings the chosen wood to the event. 

Jim feels drawn to live-fire grilling because of the challenge and its primitive nature. Although he has lived in Bowie for more than 20 years, he was able to experience the culture and food traditions of many different countries during his time at the State Department. The friendships he formed and the bonds he made remain one of the most influential aspects of his success. 

“I have a Ph.D. in agriculture. I worked with the State Department as an international development adviser for about 25 years on agriculture and rural community development. I spent time in 60 or 70 countries and spent lots of time in rural areas,” he says. “During downtimes, families would invite me to their homes or village and they would cook. Most of it was grilling on natural wood fires. It was extreme traveling and meeting amazing people all over the world. People mostly have this in common; they want to cook great food and gather together with the ones that they love. I have experienced many things overseas that have influenced me. I have tried flat skewers of lamb, chicken and kafta (minced meat) in Lebanon; chicken, lamb and eggplant grilled over a sigri; shashlik pork from Ukraine; sturgeon from Azerbaijan; and much more.” 

Jim shadowed a chef from Harry Brown’s in Annapolis to learn more about the food industry. Eventually, he decided to make a new career out of something he was so passionate about.

“This is our fourth business year, and I love what I’m doing. What scared me the most—more than leaving a lifelong career—was being on my deathbed and saying, ‘God, I never tried this.’” 

What truly fuels the vibrancy behind Range & Reef is the desire to fill each event with the food that is worthy of the celebration.

“I am orchestrating this beautiful creation. I want people to say, ‘This is incredible. I have never had anything like this before.’ I want people at every event to leave with a memory that lasts, bringing family and friends together. My focus is on your event only, from choosing high-quality ingredients to preparing to grilling and serving. I want to make sure it is perfect. When a guest comes to speak with me and tells me how much they enjoyed the food, I love it. That is very rewarding to me.”

To host your own live-fire grilling event with Range & Reef, call 240.476.7291 or visit RangeAndReef.com or Instagram @rangeandreef.

Photo(s) from Petruzzo Photography, Petruzzo.com