If you’ve heard of Kevin Gillespie, it’s probably because of his stellar performance on Top Chef: Las Vegas, where he won the most Quickfire and Elimination challenges in the history of the show, was voted "fan favorite," and was in the final three contenders. But he also happens to run one of Atlanta’s hottest restaurants, Gunshow, which opened in May and has one of the most unique concepts you’ll ever see: dishes are prepared and brought out into the dining room, and guests can choose from them, sort of like dim sum. He also released his first cookbook, Fire in My Belly, last year, which was named a 2013 James Beard Award finalist in the
Cookbooks: American Cooking category.
We spoke with Gillespie about his past, likes and dislikes, and his experience on FX’s Archer.
What was your first restaurant industry job?
It was at the Chicken Coop in Locust Grove, Ga. We made only wings, tenders, and fries. I was 15 years old and seriously, it was the best job I've ever had!
When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it's well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
I always think having someone greet you instantly is a must. I also don't like to see the manager dealing with the staff out in the open. It seems like things aren't going well if she or he has to do that.
Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
I hate to cook she crab soup because when I worked for the Ritz-Carlton I had to make 12 gallons of it a day for years.
If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
I would love for Escoffier to make me peach Melba and explain it to me. I just don't get it.
The service style at Gunshow is certainly unique. Can you explain it, and your inspiration for it?
I just wanted a place where I could cook good food and people could enjoy it as if they were dining in my home.
What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
I feel most successful about how well I have done retaining loyal employees. Many sous chefs and cooks have been with me for a long time, moving with me. And they have continued to grow and become better during this time.
What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
I am notorious for leaving a mess behind. I work really clean while I'm prepping but then at the last stage I leave all the remnants behind. I tend to lose kitchen tools a lot — not forever but for hours and sometimes days.
What was your experience on Archer like?
Those guys were cool as sh*t. It was awesome. If you're gonna be in cartoons you can't take yourself too seriously. The first thing they said to me was, "I don't know if you're willing to say some of this."
What is the most transcendental dining experience you've ever had?
It was very recently at Eleven Madison Park. They completely restored my faith in fine dining.
Are there any foods you will never eat?
I'll try everything once. There are many things I'll never eat again!
Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
I was working at a classy establishment and a guest came in with an entourage and security. She had clear connections to a royal family. I and one other chef were selected to prepare and serve the food. There was a lot of formality. They were very nice people. Just formal. As soon as the meal was over we were all ushered out. A few minutes later the guest of honor came back without her entourage and walked into the kitchen to say thanks. One of the chefs suggested she do a shot with us and she ended up getting sh*t-faced drunk with us on Ricard, the only thing we had in the kitchen!
Kevin Gillespie Drops Out of Bocuse d'Or USA Competition
When Bocuse d'Or USA announced its 12 semifinalists back in December, there was only one shoo-in on the list. Kevin Gillespie, the Top Chef fan favorite, earned his spot during one of the show's elimination challenges. Now, in an interesting turn of events, Gillespie has taken himself out of the competition.
Replacing the Top Chef finalist will be Jim Burke, executive chef at James in Philadelphia. Reasons as of right now are unclear, although Bocuse d'Or expert Andrew Friedman brings up the likely possibility that, with all his recent fame, Gillespie doesn't have the time — and motivation — to train for the event. Somehow, I'm not surprised and always questioned whether his straightforward, rustic approach would jive with the other competition platters.
Are you sad to hear that Kevin no longer has a shot at winning the Bocuse d'Or?
On Tomatoes with Chef Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow
Kevin is a thinking man’s chef. Every which way you could think about food, he’s thought about it. And then some. That organic intellectualism came from his Georgia mountain homeplace, where his close-knit family ate the food they grew. His family's ways of cooking, and his strong sense of identity as a Southerner, inform everything at his Atlanta restaurant, Gunshow. The acclaim the food has gotten is as real as Kevin's Top Chef status, seen on the Bravo network. But when you're not distracted by the cooking, let yourself be distracted by the stories he tells, of places, ingredients, and people.
What’s your favorite way to eat a tomato? Honestly, my favorite way is just to eat a raw tomato. There are some vegetables or fruits that are rarely improved by cooking and I think the tomato is one of those. So for me, a sliced tomato with plenty of salt on it is just about as perfect as you could make it.
Is there a variety that you are most excited about right now? Every year I have this debate with myself about which one is my favorite, and it honestly comes down to that year's growing conditions—that determines how the tomato comes out. There are a few varieties that I tend to lean towards. I really love Cherokee Purples. I love the acidity of the Green Zebra, but that one is super temperamental it can be a little mealy. I also really love those small, sun-golden tomatoes – salad tomatoes. Those are delicious. They are so sweet but yet they are deliciously acidic and sometimes your best all-around for flavor.
In Georgia, what months out of the year are tomato months? We tend to stick to the seasonality of everything we use. The thing with tomatoes is that their success has everything to do with how the weather is. Unfortunately, this year, we only had one round of tomatoes from our farmers, the weather just didn't cooperate. Normally, tomatoes are something we might see at the end of May—but we might not see them until the end of June. And then we’ll see them all the way through September. This year that hasn’t always been the case, but usually that’s the trend.
On your menu this past summer, what dish allowed the tomato to shine the brightest? We really got kinda skunked on tomatoes this year, so we haven’t had a chance to showcase them for my new restaurant, Gunshow. In the past, at Woodfire, we did a really good job with our seasonal tomato dishes. My favorite was when we served the cold, or room temperature, tomato—just raw, as I mentioned—well-seasoned, in conjunction with a Southern cream corn, which is hot. I think the hot-to-room temperature, and the savory cream corn that also maintains sweetness, really shows off the best attributes of the tomato.
You mentioned your new restaurant Gunshow. Can you talk about the concept behind it? Gunshow brings the execution and commitment of the stylized dishes you find in fine-dining and eliminates the pretension and pomp and circumstance that goes along with fine-dining. We wanted to create an ambiance that was more convivial, more communal. We chose to serve things dim-sum style, so rather than sitting down and making an order from a menu, you sit down and dishes come out of the kitchen as they are prepared so as that dish is ready, it leaves the kitchen and enters the dining room with the person that actually prepared it. The chefs themselves stop by the table, tell you what they made, and you decide if you want it or not. All the food is served by the person that actually made the food. Whether it’s the chef or the chef’s assistant, you are being served by the person who has a personal connection to that dish.
What inspired that concept? We tried to catalogue what we thought were the successes and failings of my former restaurant, Woodfire Grill, and fine-dining in general (and more importantly). When we took that list of things we felt we could improve upon and we started to tweak them one by one, we realized that trying to affect a total change on the restaurant by manipulating one thing or other was not very effective. So instead we went back and tried to think about restaurants that serve really high-quality, exceptional food but they did it in a way that did not allow for any misconception, any pretensions. We thought about these Brazilian steakhouses, some have produced better meat than your highest-end steak houses. They do it in a fun way, but they actually execute on an extremely high level. We thought about places like Yank Sing in San Francisco where every time you go there, it’s mind-boggling how you can end up with 14 dishes in like five minutes on your table. And every single one of them is done incredibly well. So we felt like we could learn from that more than anything and put our own spin on it. If we're crafting excellent dishes and putting our personal connection to it on display, then we are taking pride in our work, and we wanted to make sure that when you were here, you realized that you were part of our workspace. We went with more industrial-style finishes to remind people that they are part of the work and that we create a dining experience exclusively by our work. The rest of it lands in the hands of the diner. I believe that people in the chairs, out in the dining room, create the ambiance, not me. They decide how the meal is going to be, because they bring the people they want to surround themselves with, and they eat the food that they want to eat. To me those are the two largest contributors to ambiance. Not what you want to hang on the wall.
If we could just go back to the tomato for a little bit – you were at the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) event at Chef and the Farmer where Vivian served her now-famed tomato sandwich. People might think it’s a bit ballsy to go vegetarian with your main course. You run the risk of sinking a meal because people are expecting a protein as the main event. What did you think about her sandwich and her decision to serve it at the SFA lunch? First of all, the dish is really exceptional and it shows how if you have great stuff already, your job is not to stand in the way of that. The sandwich proves the point that exceptionally high-quality ingredients sometimes require you to spend more time thinking about how you're going to simply emphasize the natural quality, rather than how you're going to change it. I think that vegetarian food can be very successful with the right mentality. With vegetarian cuisine, we – us meat eaters –too often think about vegetarian dishes as the meat version, substituted with something else. We try to think “Well, I really like this dish and I’m sure we could just do it with mushrooms.” And that is a really ineffective way of looking at vegetarian cuisine. When you look at the world cuisines – Thailand, India, China, Japan - places that have vegetarian or vegan cuisines, they make incredibly robust, successful, and satisfying vegetarian dishes because they start from the ground up, just thinking about making something great. I think Vivian did a really good job of that — she set out with the task of making really a good dish with tomatoes that was vegetarian. She wasn’t trying to make a dish that is normally done with meat and substituted tomatoes. I think it was a risk only in the sense of perception. More than anything it was a calculated risk, because when you serve something like that and it does, in fact, have a ton of flavor and it does, in fact, have this incredibly satisfying quality, it leaves people speechless because they are so surprised, more than if they had been given a meat or fish entrée.
You yourself are a member of SFA. Can you tell us about it and how you came to belong to it? Five or six years ago, my friend Angie Mosier, who has long been involved, encouraged me to look at it. I wasn’t aware of what the Southern Foodways Alliance was, so I started to do research on it and realized that their most important mission was the preservation of the history and culture that identifies us as Southerners so much of that surrounds food. Food has been an incredibly important part of our society for a very long time, but we ran the risk of losing that culture if we didn’t think to ourselves, “we need to keep this in place.” So I felt a passionate need to reach out because I come from a long line of proud, born-and-bred Southerners. When I first began working with the organization, spending time at their events, it wasn’t “hey, let’s get together and go eat somewhere.” They were preserving stories and the overwhelming, lasting impression that food leaves on us. It was more than good dishes, it was the people we ate that dish with and the events that make us who we are, as Southerners. The moments that we think of as important to our history are surrounded by food. So I’ve been proud to do what I can to help, whether it be through fundraising or in events. It’s always a good time, and it’s time spent with people who are really excited about sharing our history with others.
Could you elaborate on your own Southern history and how that personal identity informs your food? My family — my grandparents, my father, and all of his siblings — was the center of my life growing up. My whole family lives on one street, my grandparents purchased all of this land that is connected. So I grew up with my grandparents, all of my aunts and uncles, all of my cousins, and we all lived as one family. We cooked and ate every meal together, and that was an extension of where my grandparents' families were from. They are from the mountains of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, where that ridge runs through the three states in fairly short order. For a long time, those societies relied on one another and you really kept your family close. Although my family has now moved out of the mountains and is located south of Atlanta, that mentality hasn’t changed. As children they always told us where our traditional family unit was from, and we constantly went back and visited our other cousins and our great aunts and uncles. Food was sustenance, we all enjoyed it, but food was also the backdrop of our close-knit family unit.
That’s not something you hear very often anymore. It’s very rare. As a child, I was almost unaware I was part of it, I thought it was kind of weird that we all hung around each other all the time. Sometimes I idealized my friends and their families who went out to eat all the time. They seemed to do things that were more fun and interesting. Now, as an adult, I realize that although we obviously did not have a life of privilege economically, I was privileged to actually know my family very, very well, and I had this incredible support network. Plus I ate really great food my whole life. We grew a ton of it, if not most of it. And I think it’s helped me as a chef because I’m able to recognize the quality of ingredients. I also appreciate the importance of the story. What is the story behind this — not just this dish, but what’s the story behind this ingredient? What makes you excited about it? I think that that passion and that storytelling can make or break dishes and I have relied on that curiosity for pretty much my entire career it’s certainly something we depend upon tremendously here at Gunshow.
Our show has been called a reality television show and I know that you’ve had your own reality television experience, could you talk a little bit about that? How real was it? It seems to me is that reality TV is made up of two very distinct styles. There’s reality TV that is documentarian, what we used to call a documentary, where we watched the events of someone's life unfold. The film crew is simply an observer. Then there is reality TV that is "sculpted." That doesn’t mean it’s scripted. There’s a difference between the two. But "sculpted" TV brings realities forth that we can predict. The analogy I like to use is this: I don’t have to tell you that if you hold your hand over a flame, you’re going to jerk away and go, “Ow!” But if I want to watch you say “ow," what easier way than to produce the flame? I don’t have to tell you to do it. I just have to put you in a position where I know the outcome. So a lot of the reality TV that we watch these days is sculpted in this manner. And the difference with what you guys are doing is that you are following Vivian's life. You are trying to be a part of this journey. You are not trying to choose the journey for her.
Interview with Kevin Gillespie
Most interesting things were 1. he didn't want his restaurant to win and purposely didn't use a concept he would really do both because he knew exec chef was at risk, and because he didn't want his concept IP taken (his wife is a lawyer). smart (though backfired here) 2. he made the decision to come back with Bryan V and they are good friends, they go on hunting trips together
I feel he didn’t come off well in this interview. How would y’all have competed on the restaurant wars pitch? Would you go Gregory or Eric’s route and pitch something you feel very strongly about or a throwaway concept?
As Kevin pointed out in the interview, any concept used on the show becomes the intellectual property of Top Chef. So knowing that, I definitely wouldn't want to use something I was super passionate about and had been working on for years. Then after the show I might not be able to use it.
I thought it was more interesting that Kevin was actually shooting for the middle on that challenge—and won anyway. I wonder how many of the other chefs did exactly that.
I think it conveys the point that to WIN is not his primary goal. He cares about conveying a message about a comeback, and about doing something good to his employees. Whether that lack of ambition in the competition is a good thing or bad thing is subjective
i agree i don't think he comes off well in this interview either - the ego, sheesh. he's also a bit preachy to me and we get it .. your wife is a lawyer. i dunno i've always liked kevin but i don't know if i believe that he was aiming for the middle in restaurant wars. that's just not what a "highly competitive" person would do
I agree. I think he comes off as super smug and with a huge ego. But I'll also admit I've never found him as charming as others, so perhaps it's not surprising that I didn't enjoy this interview.
Kevin was like meh in my mind before, but this is so sweet. I hope he comes back and has a second chance. What a good guy.
Some interesting points from a decently long interview, if you are a fan of Kevin definitely give it a read:
What was your reaction when you were extended the offer to come back? Well, I’ve been asked to come back pretty much every season since season 6. Every year I would get my annual call and be asked to participate again. And I would always say that I had no interest in doing it a second time. The only thing that really changed this time was my cancer diagnosis.
You mentioned this episode that you and Bryan Voltaggio tried to work to make it to the finals together. What was it like to reunite with your fellow season 6 finalist? Following our first season of Top Chef, Bryan and I became friends in real life. We spent time with each other we would go on hunting trips together. When we came back, we made the decision mutually. “If I go back, you will too. If I won’t, you won’t.”
**Let’s get into the “Country Captain” of it all. What inspired the concept? Was this idea something you had been doting on prior to your time on Top Chef season 17?**No, not at all. I’m going to tell the least sexy story of all time here. Gregory has been working on his concept for two years now. I’m in the business of opening concepts pretty consistently. I’m married to a very successful and powerful attorney. She read every sentence of the Top Chef contract and pointed out to me before I left that if I was married to any particular intellectual property that I had, I should not use it on the show. It would no longer belong to me.
That being said, I had no intention of utilizing any concept I intend to open in real life on the show. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to get approval to do it. So “Country Captain” was something I never considered, and will never open. It purely came from the fact that, at that moment, as silly as this sounds, I wanted to do something I could do well. But I didn’t want something the judges could pick. It backfired on me.
You mentioned at the beginning of this most recent episode how you and Gregory were debating whether to win the pitch challenge given how much being EC puts you in the spotlight this season. So you never wanted to win it? I never intended to have my restaurant be selected. I didn’t think “Country Captain” was a strong enough concept to win. But I also knew I could make the dish so well that it would be delicious, and I wouldn’t be sent home for it. My goal was to land in the middle of that challenge, and it didn’t work out that way.
Your team of yourself, Bryan, Melissa, and Karen was touted as the top dogs. Did you get that sense at the time? On Gregory’s team, he chose people he knew were open to his vision and doing exactly what he asked them to do. I picked a lot of chiefs for my team. My selections were made purely from a communications standpoint. And I certainly didn’t put a lot of stock into the idea that we were the frontrunners. I still don’t see it that way, because it’s not advantageous in this challenge.
One of the issues the judges had with your menu was the number of courses. How much did you consider editing down your dishes versus keeping your initial concept? It’s a traditional thing. It’s not something we fabricated. The idea was that in classic Southern households on days when you’re celebrating, the meals are very formulaic. There’s a course of hors d’oeuvre, a course of relishes, and stuff like that. It would then have a main dish, followed by desserts, candies, and cookies, followed by coffee. I was trying to stick with what would be considered the appropriate coursing, historically and regionally speaking. We knew we couldn’t do all of it, so we trimmed it down. But if a person watching the show was actually from that area of the South and we made a one-course dinner, they would say it’s not how they do things at all. I was concerned with authenticity.
@50m, During the episode Kevin said he considered editing some dishes out and he probably could or should have, but the internal monologue inside of his head was his grandma saying "you give them everything you possibly can and then give them some more.." Tom then appeared to accept that philosophy from a cultural standpoint and said maybe the number of dishes wasn't the problem, but the other factors instead. Judges cited: texture all felt the same, platters should have been larger and included multiple dishes, some dishes had way too much content for a side.
Speaking of that initial concept, the judges seemed confused by your decor, calling it more feminine and formal than the pitch. How do you respond to that feedback? I guess they weren’t listening very well! I thought it was interesting that they commented on that. It made me realize they don’t know anything about Southern culture. This concept is not particularly inventive. It’s just me trying to show what a formal Southern meal looks like. So the decor matches what would have been prevalent and considered stylish in that area of the world.
It’s clear that timing was an issue when it came to “Country Captain.” Describe to me what the experience was like from your end on that day. It really started the day before. We had a serious problem that I wish we had been able to remedy. Unfortunately, the way the rules of the challenge worked, we couldn’t. The “Country Captain” dish requires a very specific set of ingredients. I was allowed to purchase those ingredients for the pitch. But then I was not allowed to purchase them for Restaurant Wars. We ordered the right stuff, but the wrong stuff came. That threw a kink in my plan immediately. I initially said, “I’ll just do another dish.” But we had already printed the menus. We ended up having to do the dish, even though we didn’t get the right chicken or spices. I already knew that wouldn’t go over well.
Not sure what he means by "not allowed. ordered the right stuff, but the wrong stuff came." I have no doubts the judges would have asked him why he couldn't make the spice mix or use one of the other 60 vinegar brands (see Pitch Perfect) but since judges table was only a few minutes long it must have been edited.
What about the service itself? The biggest issue was that we didn’t have professional servers. The people who were working with us were more like movie extras. They don’t have particular skill sets. We were leaning on the idea that we were going to be given a more seasoned group of people who could pull some weight.
Now that the result of Restaurant Wars and your ultimate decision has aired, how do you look back on it? I actually haven’t watched it myself. But I know what happened since everybody in my life has watched it and told me. I completely stand by my decision. As a leader, you shouldn’t blame your team. You should blame yourself for not doing what it takes to either inspire, guide, or teach your team.
Tidbits: Revival’s Kevin Gillespie shares recipes on CBS
Revival and Gunshow chef and owner Kevin Gillespie was featured on CBS This Morning Saturday to discuss his book “Pure Pork Awesomeness.” The former “Top Chef” contestant shared some of his signature dishes with the hosts, including Coca-Cola glazed pork shoulder and overnight grits (the recipes are on the CBS website). Gillespie, who was recently nominated for a James Beard award, explained how he came up with the name of the book. He had the hosts in stitches during the five-minute interview. And when asked who he would want to share a meal with if he could sit down with anyone, Gillespie said “Homer Simpson.” Here’s the full interview:
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In other Gunshow news, the restaurant announced the chefs participating in the 2016 “Hired Guns” series. A lineup of guest chefs will join Gillespie in the kitchen to whip up their own signature dishes. Here’s the lineup:
Bad Dog Taqueria in Emory Village has a new name. It is now Dankbaar Taco. What Now Atlanta reports “there is a new management team” in place. The general manager told What Now that the “current owner” is still on board “as a creative cultivator.” Tracy Mitchell, owner of Bad Dog Taqueria, was arrested in a deadly hit and run last November. Her charges include homicide by vehicle, hit and run, and reckless driving.
Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards released a new weekend brunch menu, according to Atlanta Eater. It reports, “the expansive menu covers a variety of dishes, including a granola and yogurt bowl, shakshuka and naan, corned beef sausage hash, and a house bagel with cured salmon.” Eater says Twain’s is also rolling out new lunch and dinner offerings.
Cakes & Ale’s wine and beverage director talks wine philosophy with Atlanta Eater at both the Decatur restaurant and Bread & Butterfly in Inman Park. Jordan Smelt said he and chef Billy Alin enjoy talking about wine and push each other to improve the food and wine menus.
Root vegetable soup
8 ounces pancetta or unsmoked bacon, cut into ¼-inch dice
2½ cups onions cut into ¼-inch dice
1¼ cups rutabaga peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
1 cup celery cut into ¼-inch dice
⅔ cup carrots peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1¼ cups sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) cut into ¼-inch dice
1¼ cups turnips peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 cup parsnips peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced on a mandoline
6 cups chicken stock (recipe above)
1 teaspoon espelette pepper
1 bunch baby turnip greens sliced into chiffonade(thin strips), about 4 cups
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
¼ cup fresh chives, very thinly sliced
1. Heat a large enameled cast-iron pot or other soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta, stir, and cook until the pancetta is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the onions, rutabaga, celery, and carrots and cook until the vegetables start to soften and the onions become translucent, about 6 minutes, stirring now and then. Add the sunchokes, turnips, and parsnips and cook for an additional 8 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the chicken stock, Espelette pepper, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cut the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. The vegetables should be just tender.
2. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the turnip greens and about 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Taste and season as needed with additional salt and lemon juice. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the parsley, chives, and celery leaves.
PREP TIP: Don't be tempted to mince the garlic here. It should be sliced. If you mince it, the small pieces will cook faster and develop a bitter taste. The slices also contribute to the texture of the soup. If you want to make the soup ahead, prepare it up to the point of simmering the vegetables in the seasoned stock. Cool it down, and refrigerate it for up to 2 days. Then reheat the soup and add the greens and lemon juice just before serving and garnishing.
Interview with Kevin Gillespie
I. don't know where the got the lofty expectations for the servers. When has anyone ever gotten good servers who could expedite for Restaurant Wars?
That’s a very cool interview imo. He comes off well. Funny that he had no interest in being EC. Bet a lot of people thought that way.
In non all star seasons, you get young people who want to prove they can do it or very few who know how to do it, so the ones who can step up. Here that doesn’t play.
It’s also pretty cool him and Brian are close. They honestly seemed like pretty similar types of people from vastly different worlds in 6
His comment about competing alongside Bryan Voltaggio was very telling to me. I think the producers were thinking the exact same thing. When I saw both of them were cast it seemed like a Bryan / Kevin finale was inevitable.
“. we just said it would be great if two friends could share that moment a second time. It’s a crazy idea to think that you can end up in the finals with the same people again. That would be a very special moment.”
I really hope this doesn't happen b/c having them both in the finale means neither Melissa nor Gregory makes it ☹️
I wanted a Kevin v Melissa finals match up.
Wonderful article and Kevin comes across so well. I particularly like that his wife read through the contract and they considered the intellectual property ramifications!
I love Kevin and loved how he handled his loss. That said, I definitely cringed when he said the restaurant would be serving 'plantation south' food. I was like, bro, let's just go ahead and not use the word plantation while describing what's good about your food, m'kay?
Yeah. I like him a lot, and I give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not thinking slavery when he's thinking about plantations, but I think for a lot of people, that's where our minds go when we think plantations and south in the US.
Yep. Couldn’t agree more. Of all the adjectives.
Yeah that definitely stuck out to me too. I do wonder how other people described that era/cuisine? Antebellum?
Fingers crossed that he pulls off LCK.
I really liked his advice about “narrowing your focus” regarding how to support the restaurant industry while acknowledging that his restaurants are better positioned than most.
In hindsight, I now totally see how he thought his dish would never be chosen. I wonder if the others were thinking along those same lines.
So far theres no one I don't like in this season which makes it a bit boring. Even Lisa and Carol came off much nicer in this show than in the past. Its hard to see anyone leave at this point. But I think Melissa seems like the stand out star in this season so far with Gregory not far behind.
I don’t dislike her but LeeAnn definitely annoys the hell out of me
He came off like such an asshole on the show, constantly saying small negative things. Most of the stuff he said to Nini was just negging.
He was my #1 in all my top chef fantasy leagues. This just screwed my whole bracket.
He’s not making it out of LCK.
I think he will! They usually bring them back to Top Four? So he needs to knock out 7, 6, 5, 4. Not to be disrespectful to the other chefs, but there’s easily 4 people there I could see him beating in the next few weeks. Seeing him actually get to the final meal is less likely but still plausible, he was a front runner before this.
I also always wonder if there’s an unconscious element to who Tom or the other judges want to see move forward and how that effects their judging. I think Tom would be interested in seeing him in the finale.
Watch Kevin Gillespie's Culinary Journey
The latest episode of Culinary Journeys by CNN International aired last week following chef Kevin Gillespie as he traveled to the countryside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to learn about the traditional asado method of grilling meat.
In the episode, the keen meat and BBQ enthusiast, who runs a number of restaurants that serve Southern style American dishes, learned about open fire cooking techniques and the idea of letting the meat shine. No rubs, spices, or special sauces - just perfectly cooked meat with what he calls a "complex brine".
It’s a top episode that follows a wide eyed chef in search of knowledge. You can now watch the whole episode online with the three clips below, plus read our interview with Gillespie as he discusses what he took away from the wonderful experience.
Tell us about your Culinary Journey.
"I honestly think that the best part about it was watching this passion for a style of cookery that we in the Northern American portions share with our cousins in South America. We learned it from the same people and to watch that style of open fire cooking, whether we call it BBQ here and they call it Asado, just seeing the similarities you realise that even though we live thousands of miles apart we really share a lot of the same culinary heritage.
"I believe that chefs inherently are drawn to some of these older ways… there’s a piece of us that’s just rooted in our humanity and as human beings we are naturally drawn to the essence and power of fire. And when you look at the food world that we’re in these days with places that offer more style than substance, how could you revert back to more substantive cooking than to return to cook with fire? When people now are trying to find a way to differentiate themselves, as funny as it is, returning to the most archaic method possible almost makes you unique.
"One of the things that I noticed is how simple they make the seasoning. For example, when they’re cooking meat, they don’t cover in a lot of various spices or rub it down with anything, they essentially make a complex salt water brine and they use that liquid to baste the meat as it’s cooking. It seemed a little peculiar to me but what I realised is that their goal is to focus on perfect cooking. I think they feel that the more simplistic they can do it, it’s a show of prowess and that’s a very brave way of cooking - one that I applaud and although I’ve been saying it for many years, it really energises you to going home and focusing on doing things in the most simplistic manner but executing them perfectly".
What’s one culinary journey you really look forward to taking?
"For me it’s actually something that we have been trying to cook for years, it’s the traditional open pit BBQ of The Deep South. It’s a whole hog cooked in a manner where it is just seasoned with salt and cooked over coals. It sounds very simple but almost no one does it any more because it’s a very difficult technique to execute. There’s only two places near my home that do it, one is seven hours away and one is nine hours away, and I frequently drive to both of those places just to eat lunch because I love that food so much.
"I look forward to waking up early in the morning and getting on the road, drinking my cup of coffee, watching the sun come up as I'm already driving, finally arriving at this place in the early afternoon and having that meal, that eight hours of build up is one that gets you so excited about it and it never disappoints".
What’s one of the highlights of your own career journey.
"One of the largest highlights I ever had was that, when I was 17-years-old I said I was going to own my own restaurant by the time I was 25 and all of my peers and mentors told me that was not going to happen, they wanted to squash that idea out of my head but I wouldn’t let it go. I bought Woodfire Grill, my first restaurant, on September 24th of 2008 and I turned 25 six days later. I felt like I’d accomplished a goal that I wanted, for me it was one of those huge marquee moments where I felt that the at least the journey I was trekking I was doing at the pace I wanted to".
If you could take a culinary journey anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
"I would go to India. The reason for that is that I’ve been working on this research from the past 10-years or so regarding how the food of the Southern United States of America and the food of Western India parallel each other.
"The reason it exists is that the route of slaves and spices in and out of India produced a parable cuisine. We use a lot of the same ingredients and techniques that they do and then we apply our own personality to them. I brought in an Indian chef into one of my restaurants a few years ago and we each created five dishes and asked people to tell us which chef prepared which course and they couldn’t tell.
"To me that’s the next big journey that I have to figure out how to take. It’s an interesting piece of culinary history and I guarantee that most people here don’t think they have any link to Western India".
Maybe you&rsquove heard Chef Kevin Gillespie&rsquos name from the television show &ldquoTop Chef.&rdquo Or perhaps you&rsquove eaten at one of his two Atlanta restaurants, Gunshow and Revival. If you&rsquove never heard of him, here&rsquos your chance to get to know this engaging Georgia chef who&rsquos making headlines and garnering national attention for his unique and fresh take on farm-raised, artisan food.
Kevin Gillespie grew up in Locust Grove, just south of Atlanta. He began his culinary education at the Art Institute of Atlanta, and then went on to work in restaurants in Atlanta, as well as in Portland, Oregon. It was during his time at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta that his career truly began to take off. Since then, he&rsquos been named to Forbes &ldquo30 Under 30&rdquo list, and has been a James Beard Award &ldquoRising Star Chef of the Year&rdquo semifinalist more than once.
Throughout his accolades, Gillespie has remained true to his Georgia roots, and has developed a passion and notoriety for promoting farm-raised food and locally-sourced ingredients. We sat down with Gillespie to talk about his career, the importance of farming and what makes Georgia cuisine stand out.
Why did you choose to start your career here in Georgia?
I grew up in Locust Grove in Henry County, which is now a suburb of Atlanta. When I was a kid, it definitely wasn&rsquot. It was wide open fields and kind of in the middle of nowhere. As a kid, I wanted to be more in the action, so when I turned 18, I moved into Atlanta and worked there in the beginning of my career but I felt like I needed to see something else.
My mentor suggested that the best thing for a chef to do is to uproot, to go somewhere and see a cuisine that&rsquos unlike what you&rsquore doing here, to try to learn something by being ensconced in the environment. So, I moved to Oregon. After many years of being out there, I found that the food I was starting to prepare had a lot of elements of the South in it, and it didn&rsquot really resonate with folks out there.
This was before the big explosion in popularity of Southern food, and people didn&rsquot really understand the ingredients, they didn&rsquot really understand the approach to cooking, and so I knew that the time had come for me to come back to Atlanta and try my hand at doing my own thing there. It&rsquos one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What&rsquos your relationship with agriculture and farming?
It&rsquos interesting because I married a woman (Valerie) whose brother and father and grandfather and whole family have always been farmers and they still farm. They&rsquore located in Missouri growing crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat. I&rsquove learned the realities of what it&rsquos like to grow these things in massive amounts.
I grew up in a family that grew their own vegetables to feed our family. We had 100 acres, basically a football field-size garden, that my parents and all my aunts and uncles kept, tended and used. We all lived on the same street. So, I&rsquove gotten to see it from two different sides: that very small, almost boutique garden, all the way up to the realities of real life, commercial agriculture.
What role do chefs play in the local food economy?
Chefs have a really important role. One of the first things that people often don&rsquot recognize is that many of the trends &ndash from what is purchased at a grocery store or at a farmers&rsquo market to what the consumer demands &ndash begin their life inside restaurants. The trend for everybody wanting kale started in a restaurant it&rsquos not just pulled out of thin air.
Therefore, chefs have a really big piece in that puzzle of, what are people wanting to eat? What are they searching for? Chefs have a responsibility to provide to their guests something that they know is available locally, that is in season, and that is the best version of something that they can possibly get. It&rsquos sort of a give-and-take relationship, I&rsquod say.
It&rsquos important to do your due diligence as a chef by building relationships with the places that you&rsquore getting your food from. Ideally, in our world we love to purchase directly from the farm. We like to make that possible, but it&rsquos also very difficult. There are a lot of elements that go from crop in the ground to being a sellable commodity. We&rsquove been fortunate in Atlanta that we have folks who specialize in filling that void, who go around and pick up stuff from the local farmers and allow us to have availability of things that are hyper local and hyper seasonal.
What are the benefits of buying directly from farms?
Buying direct has a lot of benefits for both sides. Obviously, there&rsquos an economics component to it. Theoretically, it saves us money. When put into practice, I don&rsquot know if that&rsquos actually the case because we always go for the best we can possibly get, so we really take the money part a little bit out of the equation. But the part that we do care about, from an economic standpoint, is that we&rsquore putting money directly into our local economy. So rather than sending our money afar, and maybe having no idea what happens to it, I like the idea of buying something from somebody.
I also think the other side to that, for the farm, is that being able to see directly what is wanted by the people who are going to use their product instills a bit of that market economy idea mentality. So, it helps them to understand what they can sell. I remember years ago having a very young start-up farmer who I wanted to be successful but who had a little bit of naivety to it. He thought to himself, I&rsquoll grow whatever I want to grow, rather than thinking about where the product eventually will go and how it will be used.
I think in the perfect scenario, when you&rsquore buying direct from a farmer, it is a conversation. People tell you what they like to grow and what they grow well you tell them what you like to use and what you like to prepare, and hopefully there&rsquos some symbiosis in the middle.
We have to condition ourselves to think of seasonal produce as special. Be excited about the fact that it&rsquos not available all the time, rather than seeing it the other way where you&rsquore just annoyed that you can&rsquot get a great tomato in the middle of winter. You know that&rsquos what makes summer tomatoes so special.
With the trend of fewer farmers and a growing population, how can chefs play a role?
I think there&rsquos several things that chefs can do because it&rsquos a very real concern that the desire to be a farmer is disappearing. I hear it from both sides. I hear it from the local farmers who are trying to grow vegetables, and I hear it from my brother-in-law and father-in-law who point out all the time that it&rsquos real hard to be a farmer these days. It&rsquos never been easy to be a farmer, but it&rsquos definitely getting harder and harder.
What I think has to take place to right the ship, to a certain degree, is that there has to be a commitment on several levels. Here&rsquos an idea about what chefs can do, and what we&rsquove tried to do with some of our farms. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn&rsquot. I think people are still a little hesitant to this idea, but if restaurants made commitments to buy everything that a farm can grow and said, look, if you&rsquoll grow the stuff we know we can use, I&rsquoll buy 100 percent of your crop. And if that&rsquos 1,000 pounds, great! And if it&rsquos 100 pounds, that&rsquos ok, too! And the knowledge that things aren&rsquot going to go to waste, that labor has an end result, I think that&rsquos a huge piece of it.
I think that the other thing they can do is what we&rsquove always done, which I&rsquove alluded to before. There&rsquos an educational component for your restaurant&rsquos guests. Make them crave certain foods, but give them food that their direct outlet to satisfying that craving is to go to their local farmers&rsquo market and buy the stuff from those farmers. It&rsquos not helpful to get your guests hooked on asparagus from Peru when we need more farmers in the United States growing produce. It&rsquos being cognizant of our climate and our economy and working with that.
What sets Georgia&rsquos cuisine apart from the rest of the South?
Georgia is very interesting from a cuisine standpoint because we have two very distinctive versions of Southern food that coalesce in this state. We have the lower sort of coastal, what I call &ldquoplantation cuisine,&rdquo that looks a lot more like light, contemporary European cuisine than it does Southern food. Then we have the Appalachian cookery, which is what most people think of as country cooking and Southern cuisine. In Atlanta those two things collide because of the history of the city, and it&rsquos not weird to share a menu with those cuisines.
Add into that the fact that Georgia is in a really great place, especially the Atlanta area, for its accessibility to farms and farmers. There really is no reason you can&rsquot get the vast majority of everything you need from right here. We have a fairly mild climate &ndash sure it gets cold, sure it gets hot &ndash but we have access that goes above many other areas in this country. I just think that means our cuisine should be very vegetable-heavy. Even though I&rsquom known as the meat guy, the guy who cooks a lot of meat, deceptively I use a lot of vegetables in my food.
I also think that we should be able to take elements of those two different styles of Southern cuisine and blend them with what I consider to be Atlanta cuisine, which is the cuisine of the rest of the world. Atlanta is a city of trade in business and it&rsquos largely populated by people who are not from here. And so, taking those influences and kind of making a really interesting melting pot, to me that&rsquos what makes our cuisine distinctive and unique.
*Interview edited for space and clarity.
Chef Kevin Gillespie and staff prep for dinner service at his Atlanta restaurant, Gunshow.
Kevin Gillespie: Between Woodfire and Gunshow
In September 2012, Kevin Gillespie, the former executive chef of Woodfire Grill and bacon-lover, announced that he’d be quitting the restaurant he’d called home for more than five years. Born to parents who taught him that “the one clear path to success in life is through hard work and remembering where you came from,” Gillespie threw himself into a mind-boggling variety of projects.
First came the book tour in support of his first publication, Fire In My Belly. I asked if it was difficult to spend so much time away from home.
The answer? “Really difficult.”
Fire In My Belly
“The book tour took me away from my home for nearly two months and it was a very humbling experience to listen to people who had purchased the book, and had actually read i,t and could talk to you about the stories. It was one of those moments where you feel really good about something you’d done, like you had made something that you’re very proud of. It was pretty great.”
Kevin says that he’d known for most of his life that he wanted to write a book, he just didn’t know when the opportunity would arise. That opportunity came from Andrews McMeel, a Kansas City publisher.
“I started down the path of writing what is now ‘Fire in My Belly’ with no real clue of where it was gonna go. That was maybe the nerve-wracking part for everyone else involved.”
The thing to know about Fire in My Belly is that it’s as much biography as it is recipe book. To understand the recipes, it almost seems as important that we understand the man who created them, and why things are done a certain way. It works. In the best, most readable ways possible, it works.
Nerve-wracking, indeed, to follow someone into a project when they don’t even know what the end result might look like. But that’s exactly what Kevin’s team did. In an interview with Atlanta Magazine in 2012, Kevin discusses going into work early with Chef de Cuisine, E.J. Hodgkinson, for the better part of a year. Together they would develop and perfect recipes and then Gena Berry, a veteran food stylist and chef, transcribed the ingredients and process.
“I didn’t know what the book would be when it was done, I had no real blueprint for it. I just decided to write a book and whatever that was is what it was.”
Kevin thinks that’s probably the reason “it’s very candid and very fun, but it also doesn’t focus on any one thing in particular.” Which isn’t a problem, except that “when I took this book on tour to talk about it, all of a sudden I was like ‘what are my talking points of this book because it’s gonna make me sound like a rambling lunatic.'”
“We wrote the book with a desire to make it be in my voice at all times,” Kevin says. “Even if that sometimes meant it was crass, it was on purpose because I wanted people who read it to feel like they’d connected with me. I wanted people who knew me already who read it to be able to say ‘That is Kevin. I know him, and that’s him.'”
In the end, Fire in My Belly is a book that changes a little from chapter to chapter, but that just helps the feeling of seasonality. The process of writing it is neatly described by Kevin: “It was fun, it was a little scary, it was long, and it was very tiring.”
The Bacon Show
Everyone who saw Top Chef Las Vegas remembers that Kevin has a way with the hogs, so it seems only natural that the Tasted Channel on YouTube would approach him with a project.
The Bacon Show was “something that came up that sounded like too much fun to pass up the opportunity.” Tasted sent Kevin all over the country to meet and talk bacon with people who cure it, sell it, and make delicious food with it.
In his favorite episode, he visits Alan Benton, a Tennessee butcher.
“I’ve been using Alan’s stuff for ten years, probably, and I had never had a chance to visit him in person. It was like having an opportunity to meet an uncle that you’d never met. He and I understood so many traditions, and I felt like I was talking to a family member the whole time. I just felt so welcome.”
The visit was inspirational for Gillespie, who says, “I was in awe, frankly, of what he does there, because it’s so real and every day that goes by I become a little more concerned with this idea of integrity and things being real.” Benton’s story strengthens what Kevin calls his “uncompromising inability to pretend to be something that I’m not, because I’m just so intrigued by the story of Alan Benton — so much more than I am by the things that probably get the most press and the most acclaim.”
Both Gillespie and Benton are seasoned bacon-makers, and Benton’s recipe is similar to Gillespie’s great-grandfather’s. “There’s a subtle difference which is more a personal preference in taste with the ingredients or ratios, but the process is almost identical and it was very cool to see that come to life there and feel this bond.”
As I write this, Kevin’s Facebook page says he’s in Seattle. That’s the furthest point from home on his personal chef tour.
Between a book tour, webisodes for Youtube, building a restaurant, and an animated TV spot we’re about to get to, Kevin apparently had time on his hands. I have no idea how, other than to say he gets through a volume of work that the kids would call “epic.”
So he did what anyone would do: he offered personal chef services on Facebook.
“Let’s say that that was an idea that I had that I thought was very clever. And it turned out to be a gross undersight. My bad. I honestly thought that when I posted that on Facebook that maybe I would book two private parties for some kind of expense account for Coca-Cola or somebody like that.”
Acknowledging that, given his enormous popularity you’d imagine it would be the kind of thing that sold out in minutes, Kevin explains that “what actually happened was that I got 4000 emails in 20 minutes, and it shut my computer down.”
And not just his computer. Basically anything that was connected to his email needed to be disconnected. And then began the process of responding to requests.
“Everyone who sent a response in the first one minute, which was 400 people, they got an auto reply that said ‘there are 400 of you, here’s the deal…'” and went on to outline “the cost, how much money, here’s the parameters, here’s the way this works, and the first 10 people who contact me either with their credit card or wire the money into this account will be the ones I book.”
Everyone after that, he explains, “got an autoreply that said ‘I’m sorry, it sold out in the first minute.'”
“Once I opened my computer and got all this sorted out, it took about 20 minutes to book two months worth of work. And they’re all over everywhere. Unfortunately it means I’m so additionally busy that it’s kind of overwhelming.” Kevin tells me that he has some of these personal chef jobs booked in Georgia, though not exclusively here. He has a trip to Seattle, and a family from the Northeast are renting a place on Sea Island to have Kevin cook for them there.
You might expect that a famous chef can make a ton of money doing this kind of thing for people who can afford it, and you might be right. So is Kevin rolling in the dough?
“Truth be told, and in true restaurant fashion, this [Gunshow] thing is running over budget so I’m probably gonna have to take all this money that I made and put it right back in the budget for the restaurant.”
While Archer, FX’s animated spy comedy, isn’t a show that’s universally liked, it does have a cult following. In recent episodes Anthony Bourdain and Kevin Gillespie have lent their voices and likenesses to characters on the show.
I asked Kevin how he got involved, and it’s a story that begins a few years ago. “One of my good friends is a producer for Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. She and I were talking about me doing a voice, potentially for Dave Willis, the guy who does Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies, and Dave was interested in me doing it.”
Kevin did one voice for Aqua Teen Hunger Force, then another, and another. Then he played his animated self on Squidbillies, and then he did another voice for Aqua Teen.
I’m still not getting the connection. “All the guys who make Archer previously had a show on Cartoon Network called Frisky Dingo,” he explains. “They’d come into my restaurant a bunch of times and said ‘Alright we’ve got this part that we need somebody to voice. Here’s what it is, and you can say no…it’s gonna be a stretch and a lot of people probably won’t do it…can you voice this long haul truck driver that’s actually an S&M snuff-film maker?'”
Take a second and re-read that. S&M snuff-film maker. Apparently an “unspeakably rapey” one. And how else would Chef Kevin respond but with a hearty “Yeah, of course I can!” Unlike other voice work, though, this one was more than just a speaking part. “When I was done with the voice they said ‘Hey, can you come back to the studio so we can take pictures so we can animate you?’ And I was: ‘I’m sorry, what’s that?’ And they were like, ‘So we can get your facial features and stuff like that…'”
“And that,” says Gillespie, “is when I realized the character was gonna look like me as well. It was gonna be my head and my voice on a different body, and for a moment I was like ‘I don’t know about this…’ ’cause I could already hear what my dad was gonna say, but I just decided to go with it anyhow, and I had a really good time doing it.” If you’re curious, Eater has those pictures of Kevin Gillespie as an S&M long haul trucker…
And that seems to be something Kevin excels at: going with it and having a good time anyhow.