Originally a Kansas native, Miami’s Chef Brad Kilgore has a CV packed with some heavy-duty fine dining stints, including Chicago’s L2O, Alinea and Boka. Before opening the much praised Alter in Miami, he was the Executive Chef at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill. Kilgore was named a finalist in the 2018 James Beard Award Best Chef: South category. Prior to his being named a Beard finalist for 2018, Kilgore was a semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category two years in a row and was named Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 2016.
His critically acclaimed restaurant Alter was named semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard award Best New Restaurant in its first year of opening and has been named a Diners Discovery by The World’s 50 Best list. The 32-year old also has a signature restaurant Brava by Brad Kilgore and just unveiled his latest: Kaido, a multifaceted space complete with a Tokyo-inspired cocktail bar, a secret dining room, and a second-floor outdoor terrace with music. We had the privilege of sitting down with Miami’s most cutting-edge chef restaurateur and asked him all about his impressively rapid rise to success and the building of an already quite substantial empire.
From Kansas to Miami by way of Denver, Italy and Chicago. What kickstarted your career as a chef?
“I started off as a dishwasher at ten years old working in a diner and continuously got jobs in restaurants after that. So, at thirty two I have twenty two years of experience working in the kitchen. I took a very advanced Culinary Class in High School that had us serving tasting menus at the age of sixteen, from there I got the fine dining itch.”
It’s safe to say you’re the name in culinary innovation in Miami currently, how detrimental do you consider the city to be in your success?
“I don’t consider Miami to be detrimental to my success but the very opposite. Miami is young as a city and even younger as a culinary scene. This has allowed me to take the growing interest in cuisine amongst the people of Miami and run with it. The best part of working and living here is that Miami is on a fast trajectory on all facets to better itself and what it has to offer.”
Your new concepts Kaido and Ember are and will be among your first restaurants to launch under your newly-formed Kilgore Culinary Group, which gives you full ownership of them. How important was this decision for you?
“I have so many ideas and types of food that I want to serve that these concepts allow me to create in so many ways. It was important for me to make sure that I was able to be on a path that allowed my growth as a culinarian and as a entrepreneur. Now that I have the freedom the sky is the limit.”
At Ember you plan to offer six seats in front of the kitchen for diners to interact with the chefs and at your recently opened Kaido you serve at a bar with twelve seats where diners can have bartenders explain all of the different drinks on the menu and pair food with each one. It seems you’re focusing more on interaction between client and kitchen, why did you make that decision?
“The guests are much more educated than ever and they’re interested in how things are made exactly, and where the ingredients come from. Putting them right in front of the people that are making their food allows them to be fully immersed in the experience. I started this with the Chefs Counter at Alter which seats up to four guests per evening and now we do it at AMA [the little hidden bar inside Kaido] which offers a sixteen course ‘Ama-kase’ – my take on the traditional omakase— experience to only eight guests at a time.”
At Alter you serve highly acclaimed refined new American fare, at Brava it’s all about healthy organic foods, Kaido is a Japanese-inspired cocktail lounge, and Ember is termed as a renegade bistro. Why do you think it is important to diversify as a chef?
“Brava is in the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performances so we want to do our own performance in the restaurant. I worked in Italy twice so we bring a modern Italian and European influence into the menu. If you go see the nutcracker it isn’t the original one from 1890 but the Directors version of that story, so we look at the classic dishes as stories and do our version of them. I want people to be able to enjoy one of our restaurants at any point in their lives. Whether it’s a gastronomic experience at Alter, an evening at the show at Brava, a cocktail night out at Kaido, an interpretive sixteen course dinner in AMA, or a casual meal with great cooking at Ember. You can even end it with something sweet at Madlab Creamery by my wife Soraya Kilgore.”
How do you source for your products and make sure you get exactly what you want? Especially with an Asian inspired concept in the mix which might require sourcing some more unique or exotic items.
“Sourcing is extremely important. We try to support local fishermen and farmers when the seasons provide here in South Florida, but we absolutely fly in a lot of specialty ingredients for many of the creative dishes from Japan and other countries around the world.”
How important do you think it is for a chef to stay up-to-date on today’s food trends?
“I don’t feel that I follow food trends, we try to do our own thing. I’m a firm believer in: ‘if you make good food they will come’.”
What was your first job in a kitchen?
“After dishwashing I became a prep cook, the first job they gave me was a hundred pounds of red onions and a slicing machine. We all laughed at me as the onions made me cry non-stop for an hour. I must have liked it though ’cause I’m still here!”
Did you have a mentor or an inspiration when starting in this industry or along the way?
“Bob Brassard was the instructor in High School at Broadmoor where I got the fine dining itch. He saw something in me and thank God because I have a career and wife now because of what he saw.”
What part of your personality comes through most in your work?
“My playfulness. I take things very seriously but there is always something fun happening.”
What has been your favorite dish you’ve ever made?
“The Uni Fondue at Kaido. I was able to work with Nate from Felt & Fat in Philadelphia on a custom plate that looks like a sea urchin and is served to be shared with vintage Japanese fondue forks that you use to dip rock shrimp, bay scallops, baby squid, steam buns, marble potatoes, Togarashi, and scallions. Each person can enjoy the combinations that they like.”
Death row meal?
“Steak, Béarnaise, Mashed Potatoes, Caesar Salad, Shrimp Cocktail, Chocolate-Banana Dessert.”
What do you consider your biggest asset as a chef?
“My team and the people I work with are without a doubt my biggest asset.”
What advice would you give a starting chef?
“It’s a long road but it’s very fulfilling, push push.”
You’re very young and very accomplished, any big goals left?
“SOOO MANY!! To have kids with my wife first, from there I want to do a BBQ restaurant that pays homage to my hometown Kansas City, and then maybe a hotel one day.”
Visit Chef Kilgore’s newest hot spot Kaido (and AMA) when in Miami, and make sure to pop into his highly acclaimed Alter while you’re at it. In the meantime, head over to Instagram for more behind the scenes inspiration @altermiami and @kaidomiami.
KAIDO and AMA
151 NE 41st St., #217,
Miami, FL 33137
223 NW 23rd Street
Miami FL 33127
+1 305 573 5996