A Local Tastemaker: Top Chef Winner & Atlantan, Kevin Gillespie

Posted on May 18, 2020

Atlanta’s own Chef Kevin Gillespie is the definition of a hometown hero who has always worked hard to achieve his goals and stayed true to his roots on the road to success. His interest in cuisine began as a young boy while experiencing his grandmother’s traditional Southern cooking and was cultivated by obtaining his culinary education at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He went on to make his mark at several renowned restaurants and served as head chef and co-owner at the legendary Woodfire Grill in Alpharetta until 2009 when Gillespie was announced runner-up and fan favorite on the Emmy award-winning television show, Top Chef. After his time on the show, Kevin returned to Atlanta and opened two world-class restaurants—Gunshow, a “refined and rustic” Glenwood park concept that serves its dinners on rolling trays for patrons to choose a-la-carte and Revival in Decatur that delivers traditional farm-to-table Southern cuisine with a twist to its guests. Many accolades have been awarded to the chef and his Atlanta eateries; GQ Magazine named Gunshow one of the twelve most outstanding restaurants in 2014 and in 2015 Gillespie was named a semi-finalist for “Best Chef” in the Southeast region by the James Beard Awards. He has written two cookbooks, Fire in my Belly and Pure Pork Awesomeness both of which have received recognition from the James Beard Foundation. In addition to his culinary endeavors, Gillespie is also the owner of Red Beard Restaurants, a management and operations company that assists start-up restaurants. Just recently, Red Bear Restaurants joined the initiative “Meals of Love” to help create fresh meals for local families in need.

“It is an incredible and humbling opportunity to be a part of this initiative to provide nutritious meals to Atlanta’s school children and their families,” said Gillespie. “With Meals of Love, we can help alleviate some of the uncertainty and fear so many families are experiencing during this time.” 

Top Chef finalist, restaurant owner, author and consultant are a just a few titles Kevin Gillespie has collected over the years and recently he was able to add cancer survivor to the list. Kevin was diagnosed with renal cancer in 2018 and underwent a dangerous surgery in May of that year to remove it. He made a miraculous recovery and has now been cancer free for over a year. Today, Gillespie spends his time focusing on his new ventures; Ole Reliable, a glorified coffee shop in Downtown Atlanta, Cold Beer, a draft beer and cocktails concept at the Beltline and Gamechanger a new eatery open for all events at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Despite unfortunate losses and a dreadful diagnosis, Atlanta Chef Kevin Gillespie’s story is one of determination and resilience–a true Southern success story, and he’s not done yet.

Q & A with Kevin

In your opinion, how has the BeltLine reshaped the Atlanta food scene?

“It’s added an amount of walkability to Atlanta that we didn’t have before. The Beltline is one of the few places to wander a neighborhood and discover somewhere to eat. Otherwise you have to get in the car, pick where you’re going and then go there.”

 

How did growing up in the south influence your cooking style?

“Southern food has always been about flavor over form and fashion. Just really trying to bring out the most highlighted version of the flavors of what you’re working with. It’s not always the prettiest dish. Most restaurant chefs really focus on the visual component – I  like beautiful food but my opinion is that uncomplicated simple rustic food is very beautiful in its own right because I know its going to taste amazing.”

 

What was your inspiration in the interior design of your restaurants? (specifically Gunshow and Revival)

“Gunshow was meant to be the anti-restaurant! We wanted to do everything differently than what was expected and anticipated. It’s meant to look like the part of the restaurant that was always hidden from the guest. The clockwork, the gears. I felt like the dining world didn’t really know what happens behind the scenes and would enjoy seeing that. Revival was very different. We were trying to capture a memory and create a vignette of sorts. I’ve looked at photos and it’s funny that some of my memories are different than how it actually  looked. I think of my grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, family friends and it’s a compilation of memories of hospitality and welcoming vibes. Of course we had to put that in a business setting. The goal was to capture the feeling of your grandmother’s house and be in a calming atmosphere.”

 

What is your favorite late night food spot in Atlanta?

“I don’t eat late at night anymore! I can tell you my favorite super early morning place. I love breakfast. The best breakfast I’ve had recently is at Peti Chou on Memorial. Excellent coffee and really, really good food.”

 

What area of Atlanta do you currently reside in? Is this your favorite residential area in Atlanta? If not, what is your favorite? If so, what do you love the most about the area?

“I live off of Mt. Paran and I very much like it. Most people think I’d live somewhere much edgier but I really value the quiet and space we get there. It’s beautiful and very convenient – I can get everywhere I want to go easily. I really like coming home to the peace and serenity.”