Kevin Gillespie keeps collecting accolades.
The Atlanta chef became a household name in 2009 when he became a finalist on Top Chef’s season 6. He was beloved that season as much for his humble attitude (more apparent considering it was such a sharp contrast with the eventual winner, the douchy egomaniac Michael Voltaggio) and ginger beard as for his devotion to all things pig, as evidenced by his dishes as well as a pretty damn impressive forearm tattoo.
At the time he was on the show, Gillespie was owner and executive chef at Woodfire Grill. He has since moved on and opened Gunshow, a southern food restaurant that serves dishes dim sum style. The menu changes weekly and recently garnered a new fan in Mindy Kaling from “The Office” and “The Mindy Project,” who said she and her crew had “the best dinner of our lives” there in early February.
In addition, Gillespie also offers barbecue, Brunswick stew, lunch boxes and more through Terminus City and has authored two cookbooks. “Fire in My Belly” was a James Beard Award finalist and “Pure Pork Awesomeness” comes out at the end of March.
Whew! Gillespie has certainly been busy and the James Beard Award committee has noticed. He was recently recognized as a semifinalist in the Best Chef Southeast category, up against 19 others from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.
The five finalists will be announced in March and the winner will be crowned during an awards gala in Chicago on May 4.
In the meantime, we thought we’d share an interview with Gillespie that appeared in the January 27, 2010, issue of the Metro Spirit.
Enjoy, and best of luck, Kevin. We’re crossing our fingers for you!
A Q&A with Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’ finalist and Atlanta restaurateur Kevin Gillespie
By Brian Neill
He dazzled with dishes like Pork Leg Pate and Escargot Fricassee with Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts and Candied Bacon Jam.
He kept his cool until the end, even though many felt he bested those pesky Voltaggio brothers and should have been named the victor.
And best of all, he’s one of ours: A Georgia boy, born and bred.
We’re talking, of course, about Kevin Gillespie, Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 6 finalist: The Great Bearded One who continually professed his love for all things Southern and pork.
During the competition, Gillespie always worked with quiet determination, side-stepping the drama playing out among his competitors and focusing on producing great food.
Gillespie wowed judges with his simple, straightforward approach to cuisine. And despite losing out to Michael Voltaggio in the end, Gillespie was chosen as Fan Favorite of the show for his personality, humbleness and tact.
The Metro Spirit caught up with Gillespie to see what he’s been up to since the show.
Metro Spirit: How has your life changed since being on “Top Chef” and was it an overall positive experience for you?
Kevin Gillespie: My life has changed a lot since the show aired. Our restaurant has become very busy, over 300 percent busier than before. And I get recognized pretty much everywhere I go, so that’s a big change. Overall, it’s definitely positive.
MS: Many people feel that you should have won the competition — that the drama of the Voltaggio brothers pitted against one another was given more weight than who actually cooked the best dishes throughout the season and during the final challenge. What are your thoughts regarding that?
KG: I’m definitely not going to second guess the folks at Bravo. Sure, I won more challenges than the others but, in the end, it comes down to that dish, that day. Honestly, I felt that making it to the finals did make me a winner. And being named Fan Favorite really meant a lot to me.
MS: Have you ever dined in Augusta and, if so, what are some of your favorite spots?
KG: No, I have never dined there!
MS: What advice would you give to someone who sees the fame and respect a chef like you has achieved, or idolizes chefs on Food Network programs, and decides, “I’m going to go to culinary school?”
KG: It’s great that these shows inspire people to want to become chefs. I just think people need to realize the commitment it takes and that it’s not like it looks on TV. You really need the passion for the business so that no matter what happens you are doing what you love.
MS: Do you think these types of cooking competition shows inspire people to go to culinary school?
KG: I do think so. I have been contacted by a lot of people who are considering this route because of the show.
MS: How would you describe your training at the Art Institute of Atlanta? Do you think culinary schools fully prepare students for life in the restaurant business? Do you think people truly understand the amount of hard work that goes into running or working in a restaurant?
KG: My education at the Art Institute was excellent. I learned a great deal that formed the foundation for my career success so far. But just as with any other good education, it’s what you put into it that determines what you get out of if. A more dedicated student is going to be more prepared than someone else in the same class. A lot of the hardest part of cooking and running a restaurant is behind-the-scenes, so I would imagine that most people don’t realize all the job entails.
MS: How would you describe the food history of the South and its influence on your style?
KG: My Southern roots have influenced me tremendously. The South is interesting because you have a few big cities like Atlanta and then all these small towns everywhere. I like to use the ingredients and dishes cooked forever in towns like where I grew up and present them in a more cosmopolitan way to meet the tastebuds of a typical city dweller. It’s a challenge and a lot of fun.
MS: Do you have any plans for a cookbook or a cooking show now that you are a “celebrity”?
KG: Yes, I would like to have a cookbook and am talking to some people about that. Bravo has asked me to participate in some future shows so we’ll see where that goes.