The way Tina Jones often winds down after work on Fridays has nothing to do with happy hour, the clubs or dinner and a movie. The energetic 38-year-old Capitol Heights resident tunes into the TV One cable network so she can watch Gerry Garvin cook. He's the self-proclaimed "boy holding it down in the kitchen."
Garvin is "a black chef who's comfortable in his own skin. You don't see that often on TV," says Jones. The Los Angeles chef and restaurateur peppers his weekly "Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin" series with "Yeah, this is how we do" as he prepares dishes such as bourbon barbecue wings and seared peppermint tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes. Garvin's a hit with Jones's 13-year-old son, Denzel, as well.
"His recipes stay in touch with soul food but [are] not limited to our traditional ways. . . .The recipes are usually quite simple. If you get your pen and pad and [are] ready to start jottin', you can get it," Jones says.
Then again, Mona Spratling of Upper Marlboro admits she's never tried Garvin's fare, content just to watch while he cooks: "He's down to earth. I think he's so fine."
Garvin, 36, is used to creating a buzz with his signature style, which Jones calls "the G. way." He's got no problem being called "Big Sexy," the nickname he picked up in his home town of Atlanta, but he does mind a bit when people tell him he looks like rapper LL Cool J. ("People bother me with it all the time.")
For him, it's all about friends, family and food. "I like to think of myself as being universal in style," he says by phone from Los Angeles. "I can cook whatever. I don't pattern myself after anyone, but I learn from everyone." That attitude broadens his show to emphasize menus that would be at home on almost any American table.
Raised by a single mother and surrounded four sisters, Garvin has been cooking in hotel and restaurant kitchens since he was 14. Four years later, he was sent by the Ritz-Carlton chain to help open its Rancho Mirage resort in Palm Springs, Calif., where he was the youngest cook in the kitchen (and the only black cook there at the time).
"I was able to work on my craft in a way that allowed me to do everything -- good Italian food, good American, good French," he says.
That spurred Garvin to move to Europe at age 19, working in Paris, Hamburg and Warsaw. When he returned to the States, his broad experience helped him get jobs as executive chef in popular restaurants such as Morton's in Atlanta and Reign in Beverly Hills, Calif. He has served as executive chef for the Academy Award fete hosted by Vanity Fair at Morton's in Los Angeles and has catered for high-profile clientele including former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
By 2001, he had a West Coast restaurant of his own, G. Garvin's. Celebrities and actors such as Orlando Jones and Regina King like to close the place down. Word about Garvin's interest in doing a DVD cooking series made its way to executives at TV One, and a show soon followed.
Garvin's show, in its second season, is a favorite on the fairly new cable network, which hopes to expand its range of lifestyle and entertainment programs to an ever-widening adult black audience and is just starting to be rated by Nielsen.
It "hears more viewer feedback and gets more viewer requests about G. Garvin than any other original series on the network," according to Lynn McReynolds, TV One network spokesman. New episodes run on Friday nights, but viewers can catch the half-hour show two times a night, Tuesdays through Fridays and on Saturday mornings (locally, on Comcast, Cox and Starpower).
When asked whether he thinks black audiences are underserved in the current crop of TV cooking shows, Garvin says diplomatically, "I believe all audiences are underserved, whether it be movies, the news, entertainment, sports. . . . So yes, absolutely."
While his first season featured a high-energy approach, Garvin says he has "slowed down a bit this time. The recipes are more informative, and we spend more time talking about the food." His cook-along celebrity guest list includes Seattle Seahawks linebacker Kevin Bentley and actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Lisa Raye. There's talk of a "Turn Up the Heat" cookbook.
Garvin likes to keep the dishes "super simple," as he's fond of saying -- which cooks at every level can appreciate. Some might find themselves cutting back on the amounts of oil or butter he calls for, but he'd be the first to say that's okay. He comes across as a meat-and-potatoes guy, McReynolds says, but "he probably personally cooks more seafood dishes than anything else."
"I absolutely salivate over his stuffed pork chops" says Jones, who had never eaten fennel before. A friend, Aisha Richardson of Bowie, saw Garvin make the pork chops on his show and thought they'd be perfect for a special dinner. On Mother's Day, Richardson made them for Jones and two other friends. Sure enough, she says, "People are still talking about them."
Shaune Jackson Hayes, who tries a new recipe every week, is a layout editor for the Extras sections of The Post.