Fire In My Belly by Kevin Gillespie

fire-in-my-belly-by-kevin-gIn 2009, just before the finale of Top Chef Season 6, I interviewed Kevin Gillespie for a magazine article.  Kevin was my favorite chef during that season’s competition and remains my favorite Top Chef competitor.  I’m in pretty good company with my choice because Wolfgang Puck in a recent interview said Kevin was his favorite also.

Chef Gillespie is a big fan of good ol’ fashioned southern BBQ. “I’m a huge advocate of the preservation of traditional southern barbecue, Kevin told me. “I use a lot of the old techniques in the restaurant. A wood fire grill is similar to an open pit,” he continued.  If that wasn’t enough of a reason to be a fan of Kevin then add in his love of my favorite meat.  “My favorite meat to prepare is pork,” he said.

When it comes to BBQ Kevin is a traditionalist, “The BBQ culture is moving further away from tradition.  It’s too convenient.  An electric machine that you push digits on and leave is not BBQ–it’s an oven that smokes,” Kevin explained.  Kevin lists southern BBQ legends Pete Jones, Wilbur Shirley and Ed Mitchell as his inspirations.

The last reason I liked Kevin so much on Top Chef Season 6 was his personality.  He had a way about him.  If you’ve watched any seasons of Top Chef you know some of the contestants aren’t exactly friendly.  I dislike food snobbery and Kevin cooks without the pretentiousness many others have.  When asked what was the most rewarding thing about cooking at his restaurant, Wood Fire Grill in Atlanta, he said, “I hope they leave with the feeling they dined at my house and not a restaurant.  I’d like them to be shocked that it was better than they expected.”

“Cooking is figuring out the great qualities of any food and making those qualities shine.” That’s the inspiring message of Fire in My Belly by Top Chef fan favorite Kevin Gillespie. Fire In My Belly celebrates good ingredients with more than 120 hip, accessible recipes presented in a cutting-edge design. This book taps into our national obsession with knowing where our food comes from. Kevin’s southern charm, passion, and funny stories guide readers through one-of-a-kind chapters, like “Foods You Thought You Hated,” “When I Want to Eat Healthy,” “My Version of Southern Food,” “World Classics Revisited,” and “Junk Food.” Fire in My Belly shows cooks what to do with fresh farmers’ market foods while providing a backstage pass to the life of a rising culinary star.–Publisher Description

When Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking by Chef Kevin Gillespie came out in October 2012 it earned a place in my cookbook place of honor.  Since Mrs. Grail doesn’t consider cookbook to worthy of coffee table book status the place of honor for my favorite cookbooks is my bedside table.  I know people like to keep their favorite literary tomes next to the bed and I’m sure I’m not the only food lover who keeps a stack of cookbook next to their pillow.

I like this cookbook. I like it a lot. The cookbook has the same look and feel that Chef Gillespie wants for his restaurant, the feeling that you’re eating in his home instead of a restaurant. When I read Fire In My Belly I feel like I’m reading from my grandmother’s old recipe file.  You know what I’m talking about, the feeling that this is “real cooking.”

The first chapter, “What I mean when I say…” sets the tone for the entire cookbook.  Not only does Kevin list some of his favorite ingredients to cook with, he then goes on to explain terms and phrases he uses regularly. Many cookbooks today have some type of glossary but this is the first time I’ve had a cookbook author explain his personal kitchen terms.

A couple of Kevinisms:

Cut like a whole vegetable: Sometimes I will say “Cut this vegetable down, but when you cut it, I want it to look like a whole vegetable.” With a radish, for instance, what I mean is to slice it from stem to tip so when you hold it up each individual slice, it’s still recognizable as a radish because it retains the basic shape.

GBD: Golden brown and delicious. This is similar to browning, but I use it exclusively for fried food...

Plucky: I use this term to describe a flavor quality I’m trying to achieve with acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar.  When something has a very bright acidity, you get a little twinge in the back of your throat. That’s plucky.

With chapters like: “World Classics Revisited,” “Food + Fire = Delicious,” “Some Like It Hot” you have a selection of recipes you’re going want to cook over and over.  Toss in chapters like, “When I Want To Heat Healthy,” and “Foods You Thought You Hated” you should be able to prepare a meal that just about anyone will enjoy.

Many of the recipes in the cookbook include tips on prepping the ingredients or tips on how to prep things ahead of time. This is a cookbook full of great tips and tricks. Reading this book will make you a smarter home cook.  You’d expect this type of cookbook from a man who passed up a full-ride scholarship to MIT to become a chef.

This is not a self-aggrandizing cookbook written by a pompous chef. It’s written in a style that reflects the author.  A humble man who enjoys cooking and having his food please his customers.  I really like this cookbook.  It’s already one of my favorites and will probably  remain on the bedside table, when not in use, instead in the book-case with the other 250 cookbooks I own.  You really should buy this cookbook.


Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri
Recipe Type: Entree
Cuisine: BBQ
Recipe reprints, with permission, from "Fire In My Belly- Real Food" by Kevin Gillespie. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.
  • ¼ cup, about ½ ounce Dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1carrot, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds, about ½ cup
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced into half-moons, about ½ cup
  • 1 cup Vidalia onion thinly sliced strips
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup red wine (whatever you are drinking with dinner; I prefer Pinot Noir with this recipe)
  • Flank steak, about 2 pounds, trimmed
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Salt
  • About 1 cup Chimichurri
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Espelette pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped roasted red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsleyleaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  1. Combine the mushrooms, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, black pepper, and red wine in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add the steak, press out all the air, and seal the bag. Refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Heat a grill for direct high heat. Pull the meat out of the marinade and brush off any herbs or vegetables. Pat the meat completely dry with paper towels and brush all over with grapeseed oil. Aggressively season both sides of the steak with salt.
  3. Scrape the grill clean and coat it with oil. Set the steak over direct heat on the grill with the grain at a 45-degree angle to the grates; grill for 5 minutes. Rotate the steak 90 degrees and grill for 3 minutes. Flip the steak so the grain is again at a 45-degree angle to the grates; grill for 5 minutes more. Rotate 90 degrees and cook to rare (120º to 125ºF internal temperature), about 2 minutes longer. Transfer the steak to a plate and let the meat rest for 5 minutes. Slice the steak very thinly across the grain. Serve with the chimichurri sauce.
  1. Mix the parsley, fresh oregano, and olive oil and set aside. The oil prevents the herbs from oxidizing (turning brown). In a separate bowl, whisk the vinegar, dried oregano, salt, and Espelette pepper until the salt dissolves. Stir in the onion, roasted red pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes and set aside. Just before serving, mix the oil mixture with the vinegar mixture.
Prep ahead You can make the chimichurri up to 8 hours ahead; just refrigerate the oil mixture and vinegar mixture in separate bowls. Combine them just before serving. Chimichurri is amazingly versatile.
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