A rain-soaked, mud-slathered, and at least partially drug-fueled music festival isn’t exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find fine dining. But there it was, adjacent to the main stage at TomorrowWorld, the gigantic electronic music festival that took place last weekend on 8,000 acres of farmland in Chattahoochee Hills.
In one corner of the second floor of a huge white tent, while outside the festival thousands of people were stranded trying to get in or out, chef Kevin Gillespie served a 10-course dinner to a few dozen VIPs on Saturday night. Among them: a writer from Mashable, a well-heeled couple from Venezuela, and a 40-something “spoiled brat with a heart of gold” who believed he’d just met the mayor of Atlanta (he hadn’t), stole my glass of wine while I was in the bathroom (and, reportedly, dropped something into it before he drank it), then wiped his mouth on the white tablecloth.
The menu featured some favorites from the Gunshow team, described by bearded servers who had to shout above the thumping bass: a Southern mezze platter, Kung Pao sweetbreads and Brussels sprouts, spice roasted catfish with charred scallions grits and Funions, grilled octopus panzanella with fried bologna, pork skin risotto, smoked chicken thighs with mushrooms and Alabama white barbecue, grilled pork loin with smoked apple butter and fried okra, churrasco beef with chile toreados and chimichurri, Asher bleu cheese with truffle honey pears and walnuts, and a tasting of Callebaut chocolate.
Down on the ground floor, Gillespie tended a grill while staff from all of his restaurants buzzed by with full and empty plates. (They weren’t just serving the VIPs; the team was also operating a more typical restaurant on the site.) The chef was remarkably calm, considering the environment and the fact that just days before, when he’d traveled to D.C. to do a charity dinner, one of his coolers broke in transit. The rest of the food was lost by the airline. (That made for a harried trip to the grocery store and some frantic preparation.) He also had a broken foot.
“This is the largest food service venture any of us have ever done,” he said while cooking during the VIP dinner. “When you’re competitive, you want to see how much more you can push yourself. This might be as far as we can go.”
He shared some stats from Saturday at TomorrowWorld, including the VIP dinner: 3,000 pounds of barbecue, 2,600 chicken wings, 1,000 fried chicken sandwiches, 500 pounds of coleslaw, 500 pounds of potato salad. The associated logistics were, obviously, a challenge. So too was communicating the Gunshow concept over the sounds of screaming synths while a dude on stilts danced nearby with a woman wearing just bikini bottoms and a pair of pasties.
“I’m tired,” he said after the dinner service was done. “I’ll go home and be back here at nine in the morning to do this again. Considering what we were working with—a tiny commissary in a tent in a muddy field full of rain—I think it went well.”