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Ask a Chef: "Top Chef" Fan Favorite Kenny Gilbert

Hilary Deutsch

December 30, 2015

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You may recognize Kenny Gilbert as a Top Chef fan favorite, but these days, he’s known for slinging seasonal Southern fare at his Florida hot spot, Gilbert's Underground Kitchen. With an impressive résumé and a roster of celebrity clients that includes Oprah, Gilbert is sure to impress Beard House diners next month with his sophisticated takes on Southern staples. In anticipation of his upcoming dinner, we spoke to Gilbert about his alligator-forward menu, his love for Asian food, and what his fellow Top Chef alums are up to.

What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

I want to showcase my current culinary path. I've come full circle in my career and I'm fully embracing my Southern roots. I want to share my food wherever and whenever I can.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why? 

The entire gator-centric hors d'oeuvre menu because it's something so unique. The flavors are going to be off the charts!

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?
Pad Thai with tofu. Also, sisig from fellow Top Chef alum Leah Cohen's Pig and Khao!

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

Mike Voltaggio's (a Top Chef winner) ink. in Los Angeles. Mike was away taping his show but he sent a text to his team to cook for me. The service from the time I stepped in the door to the time I left was amazing. The food was well thought out, seasoned perfectly, and executed at an exceedingly high level. Amazing skill and restraint at the same time.

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them?

My mom and dad. I would cook my mom a Southern vegetable–focused menu with some hints of smoked turkey. I would probably make my cornbread dressing with smoked turkey, root vegetables, and savory herbs. It screams the South. My mom took the time to stand next to the stove with me during my early years in the kitchen and has instilled so many core values in me that I still use today. My Dad passed away in 1996 and he taught me all about barbecue. I would love to cook him a perfect slab of ribs served with some white bread and my tomato–molasses barbecue sauce. I wish I could see his face when he would take his first bite.

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 

  • Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails: A beautiful restaurant with tasty, thoughtful food and amazing cocktails. I love their Buffalo fried chicken livers with blue cheese and celery. Chef Tim Gray does a great job and has for so many years.
  • Sbraga and Company: The newest restaurant by my boy Kevin Sbraga. It's a gorgeous space. I would have to say my two favorite dishes are the cooked and raw turnip dish, which is perfectly seasoned, and his yummy beet salad.
  • Black Sheep: A really cool spot with a fantastic Korean barbecue beef short rib dish with grits and kimchi collard greens. It's just awesome! 
  • Sam Won Garden: I love all of their Korean barbecue, their kimchi soup, and their Korean seafood pancake. Just typing this I want it now.
  • Bowl of Pho: Their bowl of pho special with extra tripe, tendon, and lots of sambal is the best!

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.