It is no big surprise that I watch Top Chef. Frankly, I find most of the chefs that compete, total tools. OK, I do know that conflict makes for good television, so much of what we see is edited to make the contestants look as slimy as possible. That being said, there have been really only a handful of contestants that I really, really loved. Kevin Gillespie was one of them. I was so glad to find out that his stint on Top Chef had landed him a cookbook deal. Fire In My Belly has been on my wish list since it was first announced.
It did not disappoint. The cookbook is what a real cookbook should be, an extension of the cook who put together the recipes. Gillespie has stated that the cookbook is the most personal thing he has ever done. In fact he has said he surprised even himself when he read through the book and realized how many personal stories he offered up.
Fire In My Belly offers up such chapter headings as "Foods that I thought I Hated" and "Food + Fire = Delicious." While Gillespie's food is fun and inviting, it bears a truly authentic look at the South. Not the precious, overly sentimentalized South, nor the reality television stupider-than-thou trend. Giellespie recently articulated his position to Eater:
"There are so many people who think the entire South is Gone with the Wind, and the reality is that that's not true at all. My family is from the mountains, and that Appalachian culture is very, very different than the plantation culture of the Deep South. They're both Southerners, they both hold the right to claim themselves as such, but they're very different worlds, and I guess I felt it was time to showcase the other world a little bit more because it's more my personality, it's more of who I am."
The world of Kevin Gillespie is filled with family, history, and a really great meal. Here is a favorite:
Woodfire Grill's Sage-Battered Mushrooms with Cheddar Fonduta
10 oz. of large cluster Oyster mushrooms8 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese1 ½ cups heavy creamwhite pepper, a couple grindsSaltCanola oil for frying½ cup of Cornstarch½ cup all-purpose flour1 Tb. Of fresh sage leaves, chiffonade1 tsp. of rubbed sage1 cup of cold soda or seltzer water1/3 cup Candied garlic syrup1. Trim the tough root ends from the mushrooms , leaving the clusters as intact as possible. Set aside.2. Cut the cheese into ½ inch chunks and place in microwave safe bowl. Loosely cover with wax paper or parchment paper and microwave on 50% power until the cheese softens but doesn’t completely melt, about 30 seconds.3. In a 2-quart saucepan bring the cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the cheese, a couple of grinds of white pepper and a small pinch of salt until everything looks smooth. Keep the fonduta warm until you’re ready to serve it. If you need to hold it for more than an hour, it keeps warm best in a double boiler.4. Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees F. Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet.5. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, flour, fresh sage and dried sage. Add a few ice cubes to the club soda and swirl to chill. Remove the ice cubes and whisk the club soda into the cornstarch mixture to form a smooth batter, working with one mushroom cluster at a time, dip and swirl the cluster in the batter to completely coat the mushrooms. Let excess batter drip away, then drop the clusters, one by one, into the fryer and fry until crispy, about 2 minutes. Using a spider strainer or tongs, transfer the fried mushrooms to the rack and immediately sprinkle with salt.6. For each plate, spoon one-quarter of the fondue in the center, drizzle with the garlic syrup, then mound one-quarter of the fried mushrooms on top.For candied garlic syrup: (makes 1 ¼ cup)1 cup sugar1 cup cider vinegar3 whole heads of garlic, each clove peeled and trimmed (approx. 30 cloves total)In small nonreactive saucepan, stir together the sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cut the heat down to low; cook until garlic is golden brown and soft, about 30 minutes. Store the garlic in the syrup mixture, covered, in the refrigerator.
As Eater noted, Gillespie recently left the Woodfire Grill to start his own restaurant from the ground up. Gunshow is set to show off his rough and rustic Southern cuisine. We can't wait.