James Gurley used to hate barbecue.
Gurley learned to cook as an adult, but he didn’t take to the grill until he got his first taste of decent barbecue in 2014, enjoying smoked meats that were moist and flavorful instead of dry and bland.
As the Austin native perfected his skills behind the grill, he incorporated his lightning-fast dance moves mastered through his years of making waves in the West Side footworking scene.
Thus, the “FootWerkn Grill Master” was born.
Gurley went viral this summer when a video of him footworking holding a pair of tongs while chicken sizzled on a low fire blew up on the Chicago Media Takeout Instagram page. Chicago names like actor Jason Weaver began commenting on the post, cheering Gurley on as he repped the city’s iconic dance. The video garnered more than 100,000 views.
That groundswell of attention came as Gurley, nicknamed “Beynze,” launched his own catering service, 10 Thirteen Cuisine.
Gurley’s footworking skills are good — but once more people get a taste of his famed recipes, they’ll discover his food is even better, he said.
“In my heart, I’m an entertainer,” Gurley said. ”Whether it’s putting a show on the grill, feeding everybody, hosting a party, performing on stage or dancing at a party, I always want to stay connected to the people.”
‘It’s Like An Urban Hibachi, With Its Own Twist’
Gurley grew up footworking on the West Side, getting down with his big brother, “Pretty Boy Bobby,” in the 187 Footwork Group.
Gurley doesn’t dance for fun anymore, but it’s hard to give up your first love, he said.
“If you see me dancing, it’s because I couldn’t do anything about it,” Gurley said. “I’ll never throw away footworking. It’s a part of me.”
Gurley’s passion for cooking was born out of being a picky eater as a child, he said. His mother would whip up meals in the kitchen, and he’d “jump up and down and scream and holler” because he didn’t want to eat the food, Gurley said.
Gurley learned to occasionally prepare meals to satisfy his picky tastebuds, but it wasn’t until he was 18 and living on his own for the first time that he realized it was time to learn to cook, he said.
Gurley’s brother brought a bag of groceries to Gurley’s new home on his second day there, he said. Gurley “made the best of it.”
As Gurley’s skills grew, so did his love for bringing family together, he said.
Soon, Gurley started serving platters of tacos, spaghetti and fried chicken at family gatherings, he said. His family became his taste testers, telling him what worked and could be improved.
Gurley’s meals became a staple at every family function, he said.
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak crooned on the speaker on a recent night while Gurley navigated three grills filled with hundreds of pieces of chicken links and crispy wings.
It was a family affair, with parents and children scattered on the deck at Gurley’s Westchester home, summertime anthems and grill smoke filling the air.
“I am very passionate about family, and one thing that always brings a family together is good food,” Gurley said.
Before Gurley’s progression in the kitchen, he hated barbecue. Family members would host summer cookouts and serve up “tough ribs that got stuck in your teeth and flavorless chicken,” he said.
Gurley learned how barbecue is supposed to be done when he tried his aunt’s food in 2014. One taste told him he could recreate the flavors — and do it better, Gurley said.
Gurley started with jerk wings made with “a little bit of elbow and wrist in it to make it good,” he said. Next came a lemon pepper wing with sauce drizzled on the chicken before being tossed in a bowl.
Last up were the sweet heat wings, a recipe Gurley could “taste in his sleep” before he shared it with the world, he said.
“I woke up one day in the middle of the night and realized I wanted to make the sweet heat sauce,” Gurley said. “I didn’t have the name, but I woke up with the taste of it. I measured and measured in my kitchen that night until I created it.”
Gurley launched his catering business in June. The “passion was always there,” but it took him time to mature before he could take the work seriously, he said.
After days of contemplating a brand name, Gurley’s partner suggested he use his birthday: Oct. 13. 10 Thirteen “felt right,” he said.
“I’ve always felt like I was born for the people,” Gurley said. “I don’t do anything for me. Everything I do, I do it for everyone else. The name just made sense.”
Gurley’s schedule is booked and busy for the summer, he said. He’s got a car show and the Chicago Caribbean Carnival on his calendar, he said.
But Gurley’s already got bigger plans, like opening a chain of sports bars where he can get “up close and personal with people,” he said.
For now, Gurley will keep serving up his jerk, lemon pepper and sweet heat wings, he said.
If you catch Gurley at an event, you might see him footworking “if the vibe is right and the music is good,” he said. Every outing is an opportunity to perform his act live and “get people food that is fresh and hot off the grill.”
“It’s like an urban hibachi, with its own twist,” friend Alexander Davis said. “You can’t grill, dance, and give a home experience … he’s bringing it to you!”