Later this week, Chef Kevin Gillespie will fly cross-country from Georgia to Southern California for the third annual KAABOO del Mar festival. KAABOO is billed as “an adult escape, uniquely curated to appeal to all five of your senses.” More than just a music festival (although the musical line-up is beyond stacked), KAABOO invites attendees to enjoy comedy, art, spa treatments and top-of-the-line culinary experiences.
Ever since appearing on the sixth season of Top Chef, Gillespie has been known as one of the nation’s preeminent connoisseurs of pork. (He also wrote the book on this topic: Pure Pork Awesomeness). So fans will be happy to know that his onstage demo at the festival will center around what he calls “German porchetta.” See if you can picture this: “a whole pork loin that’s de-boned, filleted, filled with bratwurst, rolled back up and then wrapped in a lattice of bacon and smoked whole.”
Gillespie will be in good company at the festival, alongside celebrity chefs like Robert Irvine and Richard Blais as well as representatives from over 90 restaurants, specialty vendors, and food trucks. He’s particularly looking forward to reuniting with his former chef de cuisine Jordan Davis, now a chef with Brian Malarkey’s California-based restaurant group.
Back in Georgia, the coming season is shaping up to be a busy one for Gillespie, who recently opened his third restaurant, Gamechanger, in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fall will also herald the return of some of his farmstand favorites such as apples and winter squashes like delicata and kabocha. He concedes that while apples are of course available year round, they’re a fall fruit in his mind. “For me, growing up in North Georgia, we very much have an apple season, so I get excited at the end of August when I first see the early crop apples come on. They remind me of my childhood so I get super nostalgic for them and I find that I want to use them in everything.” In terms of a favorite variety, the prize goes to the Red Warrior, an heirloom apple that still grows in northern Georgia. True to its name, the warrior is particularly sturdy. Gillespie likes to core them, stuff them with minced meat, and roast them whole to create a sweet and savory treat. But when it comes to Halloween, this James Beard Award finalist isn’t too cool for store-bought treats. “I love candy. I think it’s amazing. I still have a six-year-old’s taste for candy.”
Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, Gillespie calls himself “super old-fashioned” in the sense that he prefers roasted turkey over any other alternative preparations. “I do a real basic dry rub of seasonings on the turkey. I like to stuff a little bit of butter underneath the skin. Even though I know it makes the skin not as crispy, I think it’s totally worth it because it’s covered in melted butter and that’s amazing.” And while he doesn’t typically consider himself a “gadget guy,” he does bring out a newfangled contraption once a year: the Infrared Oil-less Turkey Fryer by Char-Broil. “This thing really only has one job—it can only do one thing particularly well—but it does that one thing really really well.”
Cornbread is an essential at the Gillespie Thanksgiving, but not just because of the holiday. “In my life growing up, it was a staple of every single dinner, regardless, by the way, of the cuisine. We could have spaghetti and we would also have cornbread. It was just something that you had every single day because my family is super Southern and it’s weird in their mind to not have cornbread available at all times.”
There’s no shortage of meat at the Gillespie Thanksgiving, where you can also expect to see ham and venison. It certainly sounds like a lot of prep work, but Gillespie, and everyone who works at his restaurants, will have the full day off. Reflecting on his years as a line cook, Chef Gillespie explained, “I always thought to myself that a lot of the things that we’ve done for forever weren’t necessarily the way we should do them. And one of the biggest ones is—I hated that idea that if you wanted to be a successful chef that it meant you had to give up everything, including your family. That didn’t make any sense to me. So I vowed that when it was mine to run and operate the way I wanted to, I would do it differently.”
And so he has. Given the busy months ahead for Gillespie, we’ll say he deserves the day off! And while he will be expected to handle his share of the cooking on Thanksgiving Day, hopefully quality time with family (and first dibs at the turkey) will make it all worth it.
Header image courtesy of KAABOO del Mar.