With a recent James Beard nomination and a new restaurant in the works, last season's Top Chef contestant Kevin Gillespie is far from being out of the spotlight. Kevin tells Foodista about his style of cooking, his ultimate comfort food and what cooking trends he sees for 2010.
1. Congratulations on your James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination! What do you hope to gain from this recognition?
Thank you! I have always wanted to be nominated for this award because it is an award given by my peers. My goal is to be well respected in my industry.
2. What new in-house ingredients are you making at your restaurant? Is there anything you are particularly proud or excited about?
Really, everything we do is made in-house and I’m proud of it all!
3. When did you start cooking? What can you suggest for someone just starting out who wants to learn how to cook professionally?
I started cooking as a child and began cooking professionally at 18 years old. My advice is to find the best restaurant in your area and go there and beg for a job. If they’ll give you one (even if it’s unpaid), give it 100% every day. Don’t ever be late and don’t ever complain. That will open more doors than anything else.
4. We all know chefs don’t eat gourmet every single night. What is your ultimate comfort food or quick meal?
My ultimate comfort food is pho. When I want to make something quick at home, I cook breakfast – eggs and grits!
5. What food or restaurant trends do you see for 2010? Is there a certain ingredient that you have recently discovered? Or a meal that inspired you?
I think people have really started to re-embrace pork. And you see charcuterie a lot now. I also think Indian food is a coming trend. It has so many dimensions and even though the ingredients are foreign, the preparation is very similar to American Southern – sit and simmer. I’ve really enjoyed working with smoke steelhead roe recently. It has an amazing quality like salmon roe but a clean, smoky flavor. It works not just with seafood but as a garnish with light meat dishes even.
6. What preconceived notions about the Top Chef were dispelled during and/or after your time on the show? Is it what you were expecting? Do you plan on doing more cooking shows in the future?
I had never seen the show so I didn’t really know what to expect. But in general it was much more of a fight to survive every single day than I thought it would be. I would be interested in doing a cooking show at some point.
7. Most people say that you never stop learning when it comes to cooking, do you agree with that? What is something you recently learned even after all of your cooking experience? Yes, I agree. Just last weekend I was learning from my peers at the Charleston Food and Wine Festival. I recently made up a new dish by accident – 24 hour grits.
8. Who is your greatest cooking inspiration?
Edna Lews, Thomas Keller, Michel Bras
9. Tell me more about the concept and flavors of Woodfire Grill, what can guests expect from your style of cooking?
Our food is micro-regional. We source locally, follow the seasons, embrace the South and create dishes that are unique to Woodfire Grill. Our food is a blend of Southern cooking with French and European cuisines.
10. What local farms, foragers or gardens are you currently sourcing from? I'd love to know if you have played around with any heritage breeds of pork, like Mangalitsa for example. We work almost exclusively with local farmers at Woodfire Grill. The list is way too long but we print the names on our menu every day. We use a lot of heritage pork. I’m a big fan of Berkshire and Red Wattle. When I worked in Spokane, I was one of the first chefs ot buy Magalista from Heath Putnam.
11. I read in Access Atlanta that you were planning on opening up a new restaurant in the near future, possibly with a barbecue theme, can you tell me more about that? What will you do differently in preparation to opening this new venture compared to opening Woodfire Grill?
My business partners and I always wanted to expand our operations and do something new – not replicate the Woodfire Grill concept. We want to do something casual where more people can come. We have not settled on a location yet. This time around is different because before we purchased an already operating restaurant and modified it to make it our own. A new restaurant will be built from the ground up.
Above photo by Fredrik Brauer