A dozen years after ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ celeb chef Van Hurd takes on fried chicken and doughnuts

Van Hurd, a “Hell’s Kitchen” alum who moved to Connecticut 12 years ago, is heading up Citizen Chicken and Donuts in West Hartford.

In the 12 years since he first settled in Connecticut after his appearance on the sixth season of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” Southern-raised Van Hurd has cooked cuisine he didn’t necessarily expect to prepare up north: tacos and elevated Mexican fare at Sayulita in South Glastonbury; barbecue at Taino Smokehouse in Meriden.

For his next move, he’s doing “good old proper Southern fried chicken” — with a side of doughnuts.

Hartford Baking Company president Scott Kluger has tapped Hurd to lead the bakery’s new project, Citizen Chicken & Donuts, which will replace the original HBC location on New Park Avenue in West Hartford.

“Scott told me about this new concept, and I was all over it,” he said. “There’s so much you can do with doughnuts.”

Citizen will open in the next several weeks in the New Park space, featuring a menu of doughnuts, egg sandwiches and coffee in the morning that will give way to fried chicken, chicken sandwiches and hearty sides for lunch and dinner. Hartford Baking’s two other locations, in West Hartford Center and Glastonbury, will remain open.

“People are getting excited about it. I think it’s going to be a hit,” Hurd said.

The concept is new to Connecticut, but has popped up around the country in recent years. Hurd noted an East Coast chain, Federal Donuts in Philadelphia, which has multiple locations throughout the city and features classic and “fancy” doughnuts with chicken meals, wings and sandwiches.

Hurd, who has lived in Georgia and Texas, befriended his co-contestant Kevin Cottle on the cooking show in 2008 and moved north after the show wrapped, joining Cottle at the Country Club of Farmington. His career led him from there to Jordan Caterers, Sayulita and Taino, and he took a position with Riverhouse Catering in early 2020.

But COVID-19 ground events to a halt in March, and he found himself without a job for several months. The layoff wasn’t all bad, he said, as he was able to spend valuable time at home with his newborn son, who arrived in July. By the time Kluger came calling about the new project, he was ready to get back into a kitchen.

Citizen is still finalizing its menu, but Hurd said guests can expect “good old comfort food”: chicken accompanied by sides like collard greens, mashed potatoes with gravy, mac and cheese and cole slaw; housemade pickles and Parker House rolls. He expects the menu to be ideal for family-style takeout, with sides served by the pint or quart and chicken available in buckets.

Sandwiches will be served on brioche rolls with pickles and zesty mayo-based “comeback sauce,” and Hurd’s even planning fried cauliflower as a vegetarian substitution. Gluten-free fried chicken will also be available, coated with rice flour and cooked in a dedicated fryer, he said.

Doughnuts are new for Hurd, he said, as he’s always had a pastry chef as part of his team, but he’s embraced the challenge. Citizen will offer cake, brioche and yeast styles.

Hurd said he never expected to be in Connecticut as long as he has, but he’s thrilled to keep taking on new projects in his adopted home state.

“I’ve been so blessed to come up here,” he said. “Now I’m getting to do fried chicken. I’m just having a blast.”

Citizen Chicken & Donuts will open at 625 New Park Ave. in West Hartford. Visit facebook.com/citizenchickenanddonuts for updates.

Connecticut Media Group