American chef's independent spirit fires Southern cuisine

Tue Jan 8, 2013 8:44am EST
 
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Fire in my Belly" is an apt title for the debut cookbook of U.S. chef and restaurateur Kevin Gillespie, who turned down a scholarship to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology because a career in science just didn't feel right.

"I've always been incapable of pursuing something that I didn't have a connection with, not so much cerebral as emotional," explained Gillespie, whose passions led instead to culinary school and an apprenticeship at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta.

Under chapters such as "Foods You Thought You Hated" and "Junk Food," the 120 recipes in Gillespie's book reflect his independent spirit as much as his former restaurant, the Woodfire Grill, and his Southern roots.

Gillespie, who is from Atlanta and was recognized in 2010 by the Gayot guide as one of the top five rising U.S. chefs, spoke to Reuters about "progressive Southern cuisine," non-elitist fine dining, and why a well-executed deep-fried candy bar can be really delicious.

Q: How did you learn to cook?

A: "Everyone learns from their family. I grew up in a traditional Southern family cooking traditional Southern cuisine. Simultaneously my maternal grandmother was well traveled and intrigued by food, so she would experiment with different types of cuisine ... Professionally, I worked almost exclusively under Europeans. Today, my food is a perfect blending of all these things."

Q: You sold your Woodfire Grill restaurant in Atlanta to open a new one, Gun Show, in February in the same city. Why?

A: "I had an elitist restaurant. The Woodfire Grill restaurant, which I had for five years, was very formal fine dining. As I grew as a chef I became more interested in having a restaurant that people in all walks of life can be comfortable in. That's not to say that we'll abandon fine dining, but I wanted a more welcoming space. I think cooking has always attempted to bring people together, not separate them."   Continued...

 
Kevin Gillespie, author of "Fire in my Belly" is shown in a handout photo taken in Atlanta, Georgia in 2012. "Fire in my Belly" is an apt title for the debut cookbook of chef and restaurateur Kevin Gillespie, who turned down a scholarship to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology because a career in science just didn't feel right. REUTERS/Angie Mosier/Handout