Kevin Gillespie recently announced that he's leaving his position as executive chef at Woodfire Grill to focus on a new restaurant. Gunshow, as he's calling it, will open in Glenwood Park next February, and Gillespie has high expectations for the eatery and everything he hopes it will become. Below, the chef spills on the meaning of the name and divulges a few extra details about the restaurant, how he'd like for it to shape the neighborhood, and more.
On 'Gunshow' being a little weird.
Well, first, I'm 100% aware that the name is strange and peculiar, sort of intentionally so. I've always been attracted to things that are a little different. For example, look at the French Laundry: it's memorable. I'm not comparing my restaurant to [Thomas] Keller's at all, but that's the kind of feel I was going for. I wanted something people would remember.
On the name's real significance.
One of my largest goals was to identify what part of the South I fit into, what part of the South made sense to me, and in doing that, I think I came to terms a lot better with who I was as a person and who I was as a chef. When it came time to build a restaurant that was only mine— it was going to be me, by myself, and in many ways, it was going to have to be a moment where I either embraced who I was and it was successful or I didn't— I knew I wanted to give it a name that was very personal, and I knew I wanted to give it a name that reflected the South.
But it had to be my version of the South, it had to be the part that I knew the most about. I racked my brain for a really long time to come up with a name that sounded particularly Southern to me. One day, jokingly, talking to my father, I came up with the name Gunshow. The reason for that was that I grew up in a trailer park, I grew up in a family that didn't have a lot of money, and I grew up in a circumstance that a lot of people would label as white trash. You can either be embarrassed about that, or you can come to terms with who you are and be proud of it. One of the things I got to do with my dad as a rare treat when he wasn't working was that he and I would sometimes get to go to the gun shows that were held at the flea market. That was a big deal, it was like an outing for him and me, and it's a very fond memory that I have of growing up and being a real true blue Southerner. When I thought about it like that, it made perfect sense to me. For a lot of people the name doesn't make sense, but for me, I couldn't think of anything that sounded more Southern than that.
On his version of the South.
That big modern-southern movement, I never thought I'd be a part of that. I grew up in the South, and I never really wanted to modernize it. I wanted to stay true to who I was. A lot of the names that people chose for the restaurants and a lot of the direction and the focus being given as far as we viewed the South all seemed a little weird and a little out of place for me. My version of the South is rougher around the edges than what you read about in magazines. People may have a bit of a love-hate relationship [with the name Gunshow], it may have a tendency to rub people the wrong way, but gun culture is an intricate part of the south.
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. I'm not the best at going with a trend, I'm not the best at falling in line, and I felt like there was no better way to show that than to name my first restaurant something that was going to have most people asking, "What the hell is wrong with you?"
On choosing Glenwood Park.
I chose Glenwood Park for a couple of reasons. I live here, on this side of town, and once again, in trying to open a restaurant that was very personal, it seemed like I should open it closer to my own home. I felt like it made it even more personal to build it in my own neighborhood. And the other part is that I looked back at what Annie and Cliff [Quatrano and Harrison of Bacchanalia] did when they built on the west side. A lot of people said to them, "What the hell are you doing building it over there? That's insane— that's not where we build restaurants." They proved a lot of people wrong, and they helped this city. That's what's most important, that them building over there gave other people confidence to build over there, and it's grown the city of Atlanta and the dining scene in Atlanta tremendously. That's, in my opinion, a debt that we all repay to them over the years.
Following the Shed and other great restaurants, I hope that building Gunshow over here will give a few more people confidence that this is a viable part of town. Hopefully it will draw people who are not familiar with this part of town over here, not just to open businesses, but also to visit. I hope that guests that have never seen the new parts of Grant Park and East Atlanta will have a chance to come over and find out more about the city, because it's such a pocket, neighborhood-related place. My hope is that that exposure will be beneficial to everybody.
On getting personal with Gunshow and the new cookbook.
I'm really excited about the new restaurant. It's certainly the most personal thing that I've ever done— well, actually, the cookbook is the most personal thing that I've ever done. It wasn't until I actually read my own book that I realized just how personal it was, with the stories that I shared and how much I talk about my life. It seemed only appropriate to follow that book with a restaurant that is a really personal expression of who I am. If you're going to say that something's very real and very personal, then all the aspects of it— the food, the design, the location— have to be very real and very personal.
On Gunshow, the restaurant.
Gunshow has a lot more open format with the way the food is styled [than Woodfire Grill]. The format for the menu at Gunshow is to have no format. It'll allow us to cook whatever we want to cook. That can be very casual or very refined, both have a place there. When we start at Gunshow, we're just going to kind of let things happen.
I have been of the opinion for a long time now that the "sit down and read a menu and order something" system is not the best way to find yourself happy in a restaurant. I think there's a lot of anxiety that goes along with reading a menu and trying to guess at what you want. You take away all of the senses that are more important to food: looking at things, smelling things, those are much more, in my opinion, important in deciding what you're in the mood for than reading something on a sheet of paper and trying to guess at what it actually is. The problem is that it's rare that a guess is 100% accurate, because you're trying to read someone else's mind . I wanted to eliminate that anxiety by trying to do something different.
The other thing is speed. I don't love how long it can take to eat a meal. I've done the tasting menu at Woodfire Grill half a dozen times, and it's hard to sit for three hours and eat dinner. It turns dinner into an occasion, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's not something you can do as frequently as I would like people to be able to do. I wanted to find a way to serve people the same quality of food but for them to be able to have a naturally faster experience, in the normal pace that real life generally follows. I want to give people an experience that still leaves time for the rest of their life. That's really important to me, I take it really seriously, the idea of not having your personal time taken away from you. I want to give people a really great experience, but I want it to fit into their busy lives. It can be whatever they want it to be, and that's what I'm so excited about.
· All Coverage of Kevin Gillespie [-EATL-]