Top Chef kickoff: interview with Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill

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Three
years ago, Atlanta native Kevin Gillespie returned home from a stint in
Oregon to work under Michael Tuohy at Woodfire Grill. Then last year,
his mentor took off for California and Gillespie was tapped to take
over the kitchen. Now he’s on every Atlanta foodie’s radar as a young chef
to watch. Beginning tomorrow night, viewers nationwide will be watching him compete as one of three Atlanta chefs on Top Chef Las
Vegas. With the season’s premiere episode just around the corner—it
airs on Bravo on Wednesday at 9 p.m.—Gillespie caught up with Sara Levine about his experience as a cheftestant.

Who were some of your favorite cheftestants in previous seasons of Top Chef?

I
think that everyone in Atlanta pulled for Blais, but that is about it.
I haven’t really watched it previously, with the exception of a few
episodes.

What inspired you to go on the show?

I wanted to
challenge myself more than ever. I really enjoy competition and I felt
that this gave me an opportunity to grow as a chef.

Did you do anything in your kitchen to practice or prepare for challenges before going to Vegas?

Not really. I felt like it was only appropriate to show up and cook
the way you always do. I didn’t have much interest in grooming myself
to only be successful for the set of circumstances that I assumed would
be present on the show. It seemed like more fun, and more challenging,
to be more natural about it.

You have to be pretty secretive when you’re off competing
on the show—were you allowed to tell your kitchen crew you were going?

Unfortunately, no. I had to instead come up with a pretty elaborate lie and stick to it.

Did the three chefs from Atlanta stick together during the competition?

As
much as would be expected. At the end of the day it is still a
competition and we each wanted to win, but I still think we had each
other’s backs.

Did you know any of the non-local chefs prior to the show? Do you think you’ll keep in touch with the chefs you met?

I
didn’t know any of the other chefs personally. After a short period of
time I realized that I knew of several of them through other people.
It’s kind of a small world in our industry. I’m sure we will keep in
touch.

Was the competition harder than you expected?

The
competition was significantly harder than I expected. It has seemed to
me that with the exception of a few individuals, many of the other
seasons didn’t have the caliber of chefs that this one does. I think
people will be able to see that.
 
Where was your first cooking job in Atlanta?

My
first cooking job in the city was working for the Ritz-Carlton. I
started at the bottom and eventually worked my way up. It was a great
learning experience.

You mention in your Bravo bio that hot wings are your favorite junk food. Where are your favorite wings in Atlanta?

My favorite wings are usually the ones I make myself, but I do enjoy the wings at Mo Joes in south Atlanta.

Are you excited to see yourself on national TV? Where will you be watching the season premiere on August 19?

I
actually had no desire to watch myself on television, but soon realized
that I probably should, just to be able to help remember. I think that
after work that night, myself and my kitchen team will be watching it
at my sous chef’s house.

Can we expect any Top Chef-inspired menus in the future at Woodfire Grill, featuring dishes you cooked on the show?

I
doubt it. I change Woodfire’s menu every day, so I probably won’t ever
replicate any of the show’s food here. At the same time, I cooked the
same way on the show that I do in real life, and people will be able to
have that anytime.

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