Strolling about the picturesque grounds of the Culinary Institute of America (otherwise known as the CIA) in Napa, California, Chef Gabe Kennedy is looking completely at ease. You would never have known that just minutes before he had completed an hour-long tutorial on Panasonic's new Countertop Induction Oven, pulling off three delicious dishes in a boiling hot kitchen, while trying to dance around a swarm of photo-hungry food bloggers.
As the reigning champ of competition cooking show, The Taste, Kennedy has been praised by chefs like Anthony Bourdain as "one of the best up-and-coming chefs of our time." And after seeing what he can do with an induction oven, we can see why they'd think so.
This star in the making took the time to chat with Foodbeast about his cooking philosophy, his experience on The Taste, and what lies ahead for this visionary young chef.
Why don't you tell us a little about where you come from, Gabe?
I'm originally from Boulder, Colorado, but now I'm a chef in Brooklyn. I moved there after I graduated with my Associates Degree from the CIA in Hyde Park, New York. After that, I went to The Cornell School of Hotel Administration for two and a half years to get my second degree. But, of course, cooking is my life's passion.
It certainly shows. What would you say your philosophy is when it comes to cooking?
My ultimate goal and philosophy in cooking, and in life, is to use food as a catalyst for positive change. The job of a chef is to tell the story with food and to take some responsibility for that. After all, food is the most intimate interaction we have with each other. So I think as a chef, there's a responsibility to harness that food and create positive change.
That's interesting to consider food in such an intimate way.
Absolutely. For me it's about building that time in your life to discover cooking as a practice, and to discover the joy of nourishing yourself and people that you love.
You mentioned in the CIO demo that you consider creating a dish is like creating music. How do the two connect?
The way I think of it is like this: one instrument sounds beautiful by itself, but with multiple instruments, a deeper piece of music can be created. So when I'm building a multi-faceted dish, I love to look at it like making a kind of music.
It's having those bass notes, those undertones, having the mids, having the high notes, which are the acidic flavors and the herbs, they bring a lot of flavor and life-force to the dish. I love to follow this formula... although I hate to say the word "formula." But there are always four flavors I look to highlight in a dish.
And what are those flavors?
I like to explore the flavors of salt, acid, texture, and heat. Together these highs and lows really make a dish more complex. This way of creating a song through food is something that I learned that from my mentor on The Taste, Marcus Samuelsson.
How does it feel knowing that chefs like Marcus and Anthony Bourdain have called you one of "the greatest up-and-coming chefs of our time."
That's an extremely sweet and humbling thing to say. Honestly, my experience on The Taste just came really at the right time in my life. Before the show, I was developing recipes for organic food and lifestyle brands. I was coming back from Romania when I got the casting call, which was hugely exciting for me; Anthony was the one who got me into the kitchen at 14 after I read his book, Kitchen Confidential. I realized that this is totally something I want to explore, so I quit both my jobs and moved to L.A. to do the show.
What a huge leap of faith.
It was a huge leap of faith, but I knew if I really threw myself into it, it could pay off. So I worked hard. I pulled out all the stops: I read cookbooks every night, I was meditating, I was journaling each day, I was taking care of myself physically so my mind would be sharp.
That must have been so stressful!
It was stressful to an extent, but when you're really prepared, it's not that scary. I become stressed when I know I didn't do my part. I had given so much to this experience that I knew that if I didn't win this, it was okay. I gave it all I could, I poured my whole heart and soul into it. So if I walked away the winner, hell yeah. But if not, I would be fine.
Since your big win on The Taste, you've had the chance to develop a line of coffee. Could you tell us a bit about it?
I just partnered with Groundwork to create a line of coffee called Honey Bee. The line is dedicated to bringing awareness to the importance of bees and other pollinators who are crucial to saving our ecosystem as a whole. But besides this being a great cause, we have some interesting stuff brewing! We have a single origin and a few blended coffees that I'm working on right now. People are really into the single origin, but I dig blended coffee.
Honey Bee isn't the only thing you're working on! Tell us about the TV show you're hosting now, Dinner Spinner.
I had a really cool experience hosting Dinner Spinner! I always wanted to be an actor or musician — I fancy myself an entertainer. So this was an amazing opportunity for me. It's a great show that inspires home cooks to explore, create, succeed, to make mistakes, and to celebrate their successes. The whole thing is just really cool.
Truthfully, this was a huge pipe dream that I had as a kid, and now I have it. I just feel really appreciative of it all, every single thing that has come into my life I am sincerely grateful for.