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Checking in with Kevin Gillespie, post “Top Chef”

kevin1

Kevin Gillespie, shown in the kitchen of his Atlanta home, plans to open a barbecue restaurant by the end of the year.

Bravo’s “Top Chef” saved Kevin Gillespie from financial ruin. Business had been so slow at Woodfire Grill that there were nights last year when just a couple of diners – and sometimes none at all – came in.

“I can’t tell you what it feels like to work all day tweaking and getting things ready to share with people and then have no one show up,” he said. Trying out for the show was a last ditch effort to save the restaurant he’d bought with two partners.

“We’re sitting there, literally, praying that Bravo would call,” he said. “We kept borrowing money, scraping by. We wouldn’t have lasted six more months.”

The day Bravo announced he’d be featured, reservations suddenly surged, and the crush hasn’t let up. Not a single diner has canceled – even when icy weather made the roads a mess recently – and Valentine’s was hopping. (A quick check on OpenTable.com found the next 8 p.m. table isn’t available until March 4.) He probably could squeeze in a few more bodies but caps reservations at 200 daily, choosing quality over quantity.

“Everyone who has come in that restaurant, I feel like he’s had a positive experience,” Gillespie said. “I feel like we’re making better food at the restaurant now. I want to do it with heart and soul.”

Buzz checked in with Gillespie, a finalist voted “fan favorite” on the popular culinary reality show, in the kitchen of his home Monday afternoon. He demonstrated the preparation of a recipe called “one dish hog dinner,” made with cabbage, potatoes and fatback.

“It reminds me of being a kid,” said Gillespie, who grew up in Henry County where his family still lives (all on the same street) and took most of his meals at his grandmother’s table. “My Granny and my family are from the mountains. They are extremely frugal. This is something they would make when there wasn’t much meat available.”

Mmm. Pork drippings

Mmm. Pork drippings

Now that his “Top Chef” run has ended he’s enjoyed getting back into the groove at the restaurant – and has plans to open another one. Details are still coming together, so he couldn’t reveal some of the specifics, but it’ll be a barbecue restaurant that he and his partners will operate while maintaining Woodfire.

“I’ve been very vocal about my thoughts on barbecue,” said Gillespie, whose love of pork was evident throughout his Bravo stint. “We’re going to build ourselves a barbecue restaurant. It’s something I think is missing in this city.”

He’s also working on a book, and says that while he’s sort of sad that it took national television exposure to make his restaurant a local success, he’s grateful for the opportunities newfound fame has brought. (He’s also gotten used to people taking his picture while he cooks their dinners, so snap away.)

“There are plenty of people who are just there to see the famous chef,” he said. “But those people are coming back.”

While he grew up watching cooking shows instead of cartoons, he doesn’t have much to say about current culinary television, by the way. He doesn’t own a TV.

Gillespie loves his Vitaprep blender but he dislikes any cutting gadget that's not a knife. "I don't like things that take away the tactile experience of cooking."

Gillespie loves his Vita Prep blender but he dislikes any cutting gadget that's not a knife. "I don't like things that take away the tactile experience of cooking."

It’s been a tough time for restaurants everywhere, so we asked Gillespie, a big fan of Linton Hopkins’ Restaurant Eugene, his thoughts for the future of dining.

“I’ve been hoping to say goodbye to fusion for the last decade,” he said, discussing trends he thinks will (or should) fade. “I’m really over tapas. I’m critical of all the molecular gastronomy.”

For now he wants to continue honing his craft and becoming a better chef, businessman and writer.

“I hope I don’t become jaded by the celebrity,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m quoting from ‘Star Wars,’ but I want to use it for the greater good. I’m a person driven by my convictions more than anything else.”

- Jennifer Brett, jbrett@ajc.com

110 comments Add your comment

tritanic

February 15th, 2010
7:10 pm

Something not mentioned here is the excellent service being provided by Wood fire Grille. The food is fantastic, but the service is truly a step above the competition. Great job Kevin!

Kenny

February 15th, 2010
7:16 pm

I like his Fresh Air Bar-B-Que shirt. Best BBQ anywhere and it’s in Jackson, Georgia.

cfarris

February 15th, 2010
7:23 pm

Kevin, I can’t wait to try the new BBQ place, other than pig n chik, I can’t find a decent place in this town. It’s all about the pork, everywhere else tries hide it with bad sauce.

Scott Eady

February 15th, 2010
7:39 pm

cfarris – check out Fox Brothers. Best BBQ in Atlanta

Mel

February 15th, 2010
7:40 pm

Can’t. Friggin’. Wait!

Love Woodfire

February 15th, 2010
7:50 pm

Love the restaurant but don’t believe it about no one cancelling. We called on Friday night during the snowstorm and had our pick of times. Still, there were lots of folks there, and the food and service were amazing.

Sensei John Kreese

February 15th, 2010
8:00 pm

I really enjoyed Kevin on this season’s Top Chef. My wife and I plan on going to Woodfire for our anniversary. I can tell by his shirt that the man knows his stuff when it comes to food. For BBQ, Fresh Air bests them ALL!

count_schemula

February 15th, 2010
8:00 pm

Please, do it low country Carolina vinegar based style. This is TRULY something missing in this town.

Varsity Chili Dogg

February 15th, 2010
8:17 pm

I second count_schemula! Carolina style. More specifically: Eastern Carolina style. Slaw goes on the pulled pork sandwich!

Either way, I look forward to whatever Kevin does next.

Katherine

February 15th, 2010
8:19 pm

I agree about the service! We went to Woodfire a few Fridays ago (after making reservations in early December!) and the service and food were both great! We will be back.

Sugarfoot

February 15th, 2010
8:23 pm

Please, no, not another BBQ place!

LUKE

February 15th, 2010
8:31 pm

WHERE IS THE WOOD FIRE GRILLE LOCATED ????

Smee

February 15th, 2010
8:31 pm

I don’t know where you live Sugarfoot, but I think for a Southern town, Atlanta doesn’t have enough BBQ places…at least not in the northern suburbs where I live. And please, don’t tell me Shane’s is a good BBQ restaurant.

LizDawg

February 15th, 2010
8:38 pm

Woodfire Grill is off Cheshire Bridge, we ate there a few weeks ago, great food & good times!

BBQ Lover

February 15th, 2010
8:42 pm

Cafarris – you need to try BBQ1 on Lower Roswell Rd or Fox Bros, all about the pork at the former & accompanied by a great sauce & sides.

Dustin

February 15th, 2010
8:50 pm

I can’t wait until I visit family again in Atlanta so I can visit Woodfire. I enjoyed watching Kevin on Top Chief and I am sure the food and atmosphere is terrific. I can’t wait!!!

debdoes

February 15th, 2010
8:59 pm

Woodfire is on Cheshire Bridge Rd and yes….we need a great BBQ restaurant!

Scott Eady

February 15th, 2010
9:17 pm

I know this is my second time to post but FOX BROTHERS on DEKALB AVE.

Wil@PPG Delta

February 15th, 2010
9:18 pm

I wish him luck and cant wait to try him. In the meantime check out Fox Brothers in little Five.

A Fan

February 15th, 2010
9:19 pm

Fatt Matt’s @ 1811 Piedmont Ave is the absolute best barbeque (next to my dad’s of course). If you haven’t tried them, please do. Can’t wait to try Kevin’s. Whether it’ll beat Fatt Matt’s is to be decided. But either way, I have a feeling it’ll be good. Great job Kev! Good luck!!

Bo Odom

February 15th, 2010
9:47 pm

Fox Brothers is DA BOMB! Short Rib special on Saturdays looks like a dinosaur bone. Dank Brews and Widespread Panic gear rocks

Bob in SF

February 15th, 2010
9:48 pm

Fresh Air is awesome and has been for over 30 years!

Shirley

February 15th, 2010
9:57 pm

I grew up in a town in Virginia where the BBQ was excellant. I move to Ga. expecting the best and there is no comparasion to what I am use to. In Fayetteville there is a BBQ rest that has been been there for more than 40years. They cook the meat and pour the BBQ sauce on top. It is disgusting and the north of Atl was mentioned for the new rest. Please locate it in the so. part of town. Henry Co. please….Can’t wait !!!!

CJ

February 15th, 2010
10:09 pm

My advice is that he not rest on his laurels. I ate at Woodfire Grill during the media hype period and had a really fatty pork chop. I threw half of it away. I expected better than that.

Katielenn

February 15th, 2010
10:19 pm

I see that the chef also worships at the House of Fresh Air…..best ribs I have ever had….

LPC

February 15th, 2010
10:28 pm

Just ate the chef tasting on Sat for a birthday celebration. The pork belly in collards was amazing.
The best meal I’ve ever had… and yes the service was beyond good.

cb

February 15th, 2010
10:41 pm

That Fresh Air Bar-B-Que shirt he’s got on there is an awesome place as well!

Chuck Uga

February 15th, 2010
11:00 pm

PLEASE open a restaurant in Norcross. There is NO GOOD BARBEQUE NEAR NORCROSS. Anyone who says JR’s or Dreamland is going to get smacked in the mouth. Yes, those are barbeque restaurants, but that is NOT good barbeque. Not even close.

jen

February 15th, 2010
11:26 pm

Enjoyed Valentine’s Day at Woodfire. Would definitely go to a BarBQ place this guy opened. I am so glad he doesn’t mind pics taken while he cooks, ’cause I did and felt bad. He looked kind of snowed under. I wished I’d gotton my pic with him before things seem to go pear shaped at the hot plate/line. My “Taste” was served out of order but the food was all good. Maureen, my server was great. I would definitely go back but it’ll have to be awhile bc of the wait. Thanks to my hubby for making the reservations for VDay a while back!

Mark

February 15th, 2010
11:39 pm

Chuck Uga:
Norcross, right. That’s where a (now) famous chef should open his joint. In Norcross. I’m laughing at you, not with you.

cfarris

February 16th, 2010
12:52 am

Haven’t tried BBq1, I have been to fox brothers and after all the build up for some reason I was disappointed. I think it was because the pulled pork I was served was a little dry. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Pig N Chik quality. I probably just caught them on a bad day. Trust me, I have smoked enough meat in my life to know it doesn’t take much to mess up BBQ. What I love about PNC is that they just grab on hunk off the shoulder, put it in the box, and you take it home and it pulls perfectly. I agree with all you folks wanting NC style bbq, although I love Memphis style, NC style will always be my favorite

Robert

February 16th, 2010
1:18 am

Jot em Down BBQ in Athens is the best. Holcombs in Greensboro is good. Old Clinton in Macon and Grey is excellent.

Shanes is trash.

DamnDawg

February 16th, 2010
5:13 am

Larry

February 16th, 2010
5:29 am

Cover your arms, Kevin! This makes you look dumb, insecure, and completely ruined my appetite and desire to try your restaurants.

Editor

February 16th, 2010
7:33 am

Can we say “EDITOR?”

Seriously, this is for a “real” paper and the AJC can’t even get an editor to fix this writing?

1) “something I think is missing in his city.” – “his” should be this
2) “He’s also working on book” – how about “a book”
3) “culinary television, by the way.” – “by the way” is to awkward

Up your standards AJC.

Rod

February 16th, 2010
7:34 am

There are LOTS of good bar-b-que places around Atlanta. I guess Kevin feels he’s better than all of them, so he insults them by denying their existence.

They’ve been at this ALOT longer than you have Kevin. GROW UP.

Editor?

February 16th, 2010
7:41 am

“is to awkward” should be “is too awkward”.
:-)

Glenn

February 16th, 2010
8:08 am

I used to live in Macon . Not a big fan of the Fresh Air BBQ down there though I had friends whototally loved it . I love BBQ & my personal favorite is BBQ1 . I actually just bought a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker . I look forward to making barbeque a personal hobby .

bob

February 16th, 2010
8:17 am

Fat Matt’s is around the corner from Woodfire and is a shack and not a restaurant. Lots of good shacks around, no BBQ restaurants. Wyatts on Memorial at Manayard Terrace, Daddy D’s at Hill St., Matty’s on Scott Blvd are all nice. I personally like the stew at Sprayberry’s in Newnan. It is hard to beat Zebs in Royston (home of Ty Cobb). With a name like Woodfire, BBQ seems natural.

Barb Beekew

February 16th, 2010
9:08 am

agree with most, there are plenty of (good) BBQ joints in Atlanta. in fact, I think mr. G needs to maybe accept that BBQ resturant is an oxymoron. BBQ is for all day backyard gatherings, blues blowouts and the like. I wish him well, but if his place has anything beyond butcher paper for the “tablecloth” it will be short lived.

John

February 16th, 2010
9:21 am

Nothing stands up to BBQ1 in marietta. Especially their Brisket. The newly split off David Poe’s isn’t as good, nor is Community Q that’s the other David from BBQ1. Sam Huff’s BBQ1 is the best of the 3 and the best brisket you’ll have in Atlanta – and better than a lot of places from Texas. Pulled pork isn’t bad there either!

TheManMike

February 16th, 2010
9:32 am

Larry at 5:29am = Idiot

His ink isn’t going to melt off his skin into your plate, dude.

dgardner-conyers

February 16th, 2010
9:47 am

Yes. I, too, love North Carolina BBQ. While stationed on the east coast of NC in the military, I was introduced to their viniger-based bbq sauce and, initially, thought, yech! It wasn’t long before I waz lovin’ it. Having moved back to the Atlanta area, I miss Smithfield’s Chicken and Barbaque (http://scnbnc.com/). My favorite item on the menu was Combo White (Chicken and BBQ) plus half pint baked beans. Dee-lish! I prefer the viniger-based sauce over tomato-based sauce, now. Wish I had the money to start up a franchise in this area. Atlantans and surroundin’ folks would like it too. I’m sure of it.

Chuck

February 16th, 2010
9:55 am

KC Pit BBQ in Sandy Springs is a barbecue ‘restaurant’… maitre d’ seating, waitrons in ties, white tablecloths, full bar, all the bells and whistles. Good food, but I’ve never been so uncomfortable eating BBQ. If that’s Kevin’s big plan, no thanks.

smokewagon

February 16th, 2010
9:55 am

If his barbecue is anything like that garbage they serve at Fresh Air (on his shirt) I will decline to dine there.

MrHughes

February 16th, 2010
9:56 am

I second on Daddy D’s And Wyatts. Personally, I don’t think that Atlanta needs a bbq restaurant as Bbq and restaurants don’t go together. A four star bbq restaurant sounds downright silly as the overhead doesn’t need to be that high. That’s the beauty of Wyatt’s. It’s a shack, but the food is excellent and economical. That’s on par with paying $30 for a cheeseburger. I like Fox Bros, their sauces, and innovation, but don’t think of them on par with the Shacks.

Lastly, Fat Matt’s is trash. I place them in the same box as Shane’s, Sonny’s, Smokey Bones, and other chains. Their ribs are fatty. There are no real shacks on Piedmont Rd. That place is like the Applebee’s of bbq joints with its shack on one of Atlanta’s most exclusive roads and contrived ambience. And, I like Applebee’s for what it is, but lets be real about what good bbq is about. The same goes for Pig ‘N Chick. Real bbq isn’t in a strip mall either. I can’t believe no one mentioned Swallow at the Hollow, Dean’s, or the twist on bbq offered up by Rolling Bones.

smokewagon

February 16th, 2010
10:00 am

Mr. Hughes- I was just at Dean’s the other day and the stew is still the best. Cue wasn’t bad either.

bigdaddy

February 16th, 2010
10:03 am

A big fan of Bravo’s Top Chef and Kev…but found the food at ENO..another top chef’s restaurant (Eli) to be better.

big papi

February 16th, 2010
10:14 am

Does any one remember Down East BBQ on So Cobb Dr near Windy Hill? It wasn’t in business long but that was a good representation of eastern NC bbq.

David

February 16th, 2010
10:25 am

My wife and I went to Woodfire Grill last Saturday after booking the reservation back in December. The service was incredible from the moment we hit the door. Kyle was our waiter and was superb at introducing the options for diners. The pork loin was excellent but was surpassed by the brussel sprouts and root veggies on the side. The celery soup was very tasty. It was a great dining experience that demonstrated a careful chef’s preparation and imprint on the entire staff. I am a huge Q fan and look forward to seeing what Kevin can produce. Certainly, the love for pork is there.