Woodfire Grill chef and “Top Chef” finalist Kevin Gillespie was both “stoked” and “pumped” Wednesday night in the Living Room at the Midtown W hotel.
The entire room was filled with “Fans of Kevin Gillespie’s Beard,” a Facebook page dedicated to the impressive tufts of red hair sprouting from his chin, created by Atlantans Zack Smith and Krista Miller last fall.
The page is now nearly 8,000 fans strong.
Fans of Gillespie’s facial follicles had to RSVP via the social media page for Wednesday night’s meet-and-greet with the celebrity chef.
In return, they got to sip ginger mojitos created especially for the soiree, received a cardboard replica of the famed beard and scored some face time with said facial hair as they posed for pictures with an amused Gillespie.
“Usually, when I’m asked to go out and do stuff now because of ‘Top Chef,’ I get nervous,” Gillespie confided to us. “Usually, my food is my outlet to be social. ‘Top Chef’ has helped me come out of my shell a bit. Tonight, I’m not worrying about having that awkward moment. On Facebook, I always wonder how many of your Facebook ‘friends’ are really your friends? Tonight is a great way to actually meet each other.”
Gillespie is also thrilled that the exposure given to him on the hit Bravo reality show has translated into booming business for the once-wobbly Woodfire Grill.
“I’ll admit it freely,” Gillespie said. “‘Top Chef’ has saved us. I didn’t want to do the show originally. I turned down the producers twice. I felt it would dilute our mission. Then one morning [in February of 2009] I got a call from my sous chef telling me we had zero tickets the night before. I called the producers back that day.”
Across the room, “Fans of Kevin Gillespie’s Beard” Facebook page creators Zack Smith and Krista Miller were soaking in their own new-found cyber celebrity.
The two friends and loyal “Top Chef” viewers admit the page began as an inside joke. After Gillespie, 27, referenced it on the show’s finale, the page blew up nationally.
“I didn’t care who won the competition as long as Kevin’s beard won,” Miller explained. “Then I woke up one morning and Zack said, ‘Guess what I did.'”
While Smith says the chef’s chill, low key persona hooked him as a viewer, he admits: “It was maybe 10 percent personality and 90 percent beard that won me over.”
Smith even sports some scruff himself but concedes his beard is no match for Gillespie’s greatness.
Reasoned Smith: “It’s like the difference between being an advocate for world peace and being Mother Teresa. It’s foolish to think you could ever aspire to that level of achievement.”
Sandy Springs couple Justin and Lindsey Anthony drove in for the beard bash.
“This is, without a doubt, the finest party for facial hair we’ve attended this year,” said Lindsey.
The couple cheered for Gillespie as he advanced on the series last year.
“Kevin was just cool,” Justin explained. “He was one of the guys. The other guys weren’t as relatable. Plus, we share a love of bacon.”
Gillespie left with a spare box of cardboard beards in tow.
“Cracked the chef: These will come in handy for the days when I have off and customers come in looking for me!”