From Chef, With Love

In Eat, May 2020 by Raleigh Magazine1 Comment

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Photographs by Kristen Peneoyer

Chef Kenny Gilbert
Chef Kenny Gilbert | Photo by Agnes Lopez

In an ideal world, chef Kenny Gilbert would be putting the finishing touches on his new north Raleigh restaurant Cut & Gather. Instead, he’s cooking $10 meals in a friend’s restaurant kitchen, supporting his community while keeping tabs on construction of the new spot. “The pizza oven is installed, the smoker is created and shipping soon and tables are being built,” Gilbert says. “It’s fair to say we will open 30 to 45 days after the state reopens.” Gilbert says he’s relieved his newest project isn’t dependent on income from other restaurants to open, meaning he’s free to keep moving forward with his plans.

We spoke to Gilbert about Cut & Gather’s menu and the dishes he’s enjoyed cooking throughout his life and career. Here are the stories and memories behind some of his favorites.

Cocktail: “Hey Y’all” 
“One of my favorite cocktails is called ‘Hey Y’all!’ Clean and refreshing with a beautiful rosy color, it’s a great way to introduce moonshine. It’s made with Ole Smoky strawberry moonshine with muddled strawberries, lemon juice, simple syrup and topped with Prosecco, served in a mason jar. You won’t be able to just have one.”

Dish: Fried Chicken 
“My 24-hour brined fried chicken is always a crowd pleaser. Every stage is important and yes, it does brine for 24 hours; it is seasoned, double dredged and then fried. Afterwards, it is tossed with oil and more seasoning. Every bite is flavorful. I’ve served it to Oprah during the holidays. She really enjoys the sweetness of the honey and the spice from the hot sauce along with crispiness. It’s magical.”
The fried chicken is served on a classic Belgium Pearl sugar waffle layered with kumquat marmalade, orange blossom honey butter and a side of Fernandina Beach hot sauce.

Appetizer: Cornbread
“Skillet cornbread was the first quick bread I ever made. It celebrates the South. I grew up in Cleveland; my mom was from St. Augustine, Florida so she didn’t cook like other families up north. She used Alaga cane syrup on toast and on lots of other stuff and it’s the syrup I prefer. Alaga is one of the oldest sugarcane farms in the country. It’s located on the border of Alabama and Georgia, hence the name Alaga (Ala + GA).”
Skillet cornbread is served with jalapeño cheddar drop biscuits, apple jam, Alaga cane syrup butter and house pickled vegetables.

Dish: Ramen 
“My Southern Ramen is a very unique preparation. I cooked in Osaka, Japan back in the late ‘90s. There are five main parts to ramen: Dashi, tare, fat, noodles and garnish. I start off by making a smoked ham hock dashi that I call ‘Mothers Milk.’ This is the foundation of this delicious ramen. It takes 12 hours to make it. I find it a great merging of my travels and training plus my Southern roots. I have great memories of debating with my father if I could have the smoked ham hock out of the greens pot. This dish is inspired by those times in my life.”

Dessert: S’Mores 
“I love S’mores, everything about them reminds me of being a being a Boy Scout, building forts, being a kid. This dish is the adult version of S’mores, with ginger snap cookies—my favorite cookie, especially with a big glass of milk. I could make marshmallows, but why? I love the nostalgia of mini marshmallows that we all remember as a kid. This dish brings back memories of making S’mores during the holidays when my father would be cooking barbecue.”
Bittersweet chocolate creme brûlée layered with crushed gingersnap cookies with toasted mini-marshmallows.

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