Join us for part two of our three-part interview series with renouned chef, Gabe Kennedy. Last year, Gabe won season three of ABC’s reality cooking compitetion, The Taste, which Gabe has described as similar to The Voice for chefs. Gabe is also a Visiting Executive Chef at Bon Appetit and an ambassador for Concern Worldwide.
In part two of this three-part series, you’ll hear about where Gabe finds inspiration for his food, how he ended up on The Taste, and where his career has gone since the show.
Picking up where we left off last time, where do you find inspiration for the food that you cook?
I wish I could say that I found it in cookbooks, but I really don’t. I’m starting to open up cook books more, but because I’m not in a restaurant day-in and day-out, the food that I cook is very inspired by time, place, and people. And that could mean season, location, energy, what preceded our meal, and what we’re gonna do after our meal. Sometimes you just want a beautiful, dainty salad, but other times you want to dive into some grilled meat, rice, and bread with your hands.
But I also love going to a market and looking at vegetables: tasting them, touching them, seeing what’s growing, seeing what’s in season, and walking around the surrounding area finding herbs and twigs—trying to use that shit too. I kind of let the product speak to me and figure out how to move with that. Doing that means that if you find really good food, all you have to do is stay out of its way—the less you do the better. So I don’t like to force anything onto an ingredient; I’ll let it do it’s own thing.
Which blogs or news sites do you read?
I read the Times, I check out Eater, BBC, NPR, PBS. I look at Bon Appetite, and I look at Tasting Table.
Did you dream about becoming a chef as a kid?
I either wanted to be a chef or a brain surgeon. I would say that from a really young age, food was like this language that I always sort of knew how to speak, but it became my best friend through the most challenging and the best times of my life. I always loved participating in the process of food: from shopping to cooking and cleaning; it was time that I would spend with my mom, dad, or my family. It was time for me to be creative, and it became a way for me to express myself.
From a pretty young age I wanted to do something with food, and it started off with me just wanting to be a “chef.” But, I wouldn’t even consider myself a chef now. I don’t run a kitchen day in and day out, so I don’t want to claim that title, but working with food has always been top of mind for me, just because of its enormous potential for impact.
I grew up in a really progressive household, for a lack of a better word. Both my parents work in alternative medicine. So there was always this sense of purpose and greater good that was instilled in me. From a very young age I felt that food has one of the largest potentials to change the world, if not the largest potential to change the world. And as I’ve gotten older, it’s become more and more clear that there are major political processes and people-issues all relating to food.
When I started working in restaurants, I realized that perhaps I could engage different parts of my brain by working with food in different ways, so now I’m trying to work with food in different ways besides just being a chef in a restaurant. Being more of a food-creative, if you will.
So let’s talk about the show for a bit. How did you end up on ABC’s The Taste?
At the time, I was working in private equity for a whole bunch of organic food brands doing product development and operations. Then, on the weekends I was working as a private chef.
I went on a vacation to Romania, and when I came back, I had all these missed phone calls, because I had been off the grid for two weeks. The calls were from a casting producer who had been put in touch with me through my friend Beth, who works at Major Food Group. They asked her if she knew anyone and she said “yeah, but not from ‘the group,’ but he’ll be good for it,” then she gave them my name.
After that, I went through the interview process. It was a really long process—probably two to three months of getting on Skype interviews, phone interviews, paperwork, background checks, etc. Then I went to LA for an on-camera audition. It was kind of through the network, that’s how I got it.
I’m really grateful; I feel like I owe Beth lunch for…forever.
That leads me to my next question – how has your career changed since appearing on the show?
My life has changed in an absolutely unbelievable way. If anything, the show has been a catalyst for me to pursue these different projects that I really care about. The show was sort of this line in the sand where I was like “Okay, now I’m only going to proceed with things that truly mean something to me. To me. Not to other people.”
I work for myself now, which is amazing. But it’s a little bit scary, because I don’t know when my next paycheck is going to come. But that’s where I feel like I thrive.
I went from working 7 days a week. And I was commuting to an office 5 of those days in midtown Manhattan for a hedge fund hotel, then going out to the Hamptons to cook for a family on a private estate. Now, it’s just waking up and pursuing things that truly get me excited.