Chef Brad Kilgore: Passport to International Food Star

Jamaica Food & Drink Festival 2016 Brad Kilgore

Jamaica Food & Drink Festival pictures include Chefs Brad and Leah, Miss T's Kitchen, Brad and Leah's Pork Dish and Crackerjack with Jerk Bacon by Smoked Marlin. Photo Credit: Andrew Giambarba.

Like the light from a really bright star, Chef Bradley Kilgore is on fire.

We would love to claim him in Miami as a native son, but we must admit we know that he is originally from Kansas City. The city of Chicago got to watch him shine during some of his formative years under Grant Achatz at Alinea (Boka and L2 as well). When he left the Windy City to come to Miami, few knew what we had just gained.

Chef Brad Kilgore Miami

Soon though, his brilliance was difficult to miss at Azul and Jean-George Vongerichten’s J&G Grill. And then it was time for him to shine in a spot of his own. He collaborated with several local chefs for Basel week pop-ups as the finishing touches were being put on Alter. 

When the doors opened in early 2015, night after night, diners sat down, dipped their spoons through a soft cooked egg, Gruyere crisp and scallop espuma and sighed.

Alter Miami Soft Egg dish

We all recognized that this was a “moment” in our city’s dining history. We were all witnessing the work of someone truly special. It wouldn’t be long before his well-deserved fame expanded outside the borders of Alter, ( including his new project Brava by Brad Kilgore at the Arsht Center featured by MIAbites here ) and Miami itself.

The accolades and the recognition poured in:

2015 Restaurant of the Year - Miami Herald

Four Stars - Miami Herald

Best New Restaurants -

Best Restaurant - EaterMiami

Best Restaurant in Florida -

Semifinalist James Beard Awards “Best New Restaurant”

Semifinalist James Beard Awards “Rising Star of the Year”

2016 Rising Star Chef - StarChefs

2016 Best New Chef - Food & Wine

As the awards piled up, so did the invitations to travel the world and participate in collaborations, cooking demonstrations and festivals. Cuba, NYC, Las Vegas, Orlando, Palm Springs, Chicago, Ohio (Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef's Garden), Dominican Republic (Casa de Campo), Maui...

Jamaican Food & Drink Festival 2016

And in the last week of October, I got a chance to witness it all first hand. Brad had been invited to the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival by the festival’s organizers who had been wowed by a visit to Alter and had a wild idea to ask him to visit Jamaica and participate. The festival, in its 2nd year already boasts five days of incredible events and over 1,500 in attendance. I had been invited to come along separately to visit the festival and see Jamaica as a destination for food tourism.

This is where the article must be about way more than awards.

The accolades are wonderful and they speak to the undeniable talent of the chef and his carefully assembled team. But the accolades only reference certain sides of a person: talent, skills, creativity, precision, ability to delight aesthetically and - most importantly - taste. We all know that there are more than a few antisocial perfectionists who win awards. Rarely, however, are those superlatives combined with humility and kindness. Therein lies, in my opinion, the reason for the success of Brad Kilgore.

Brad Kilgore at Jamaican Food & Drink 2016

Brad’s dishes wowed the participants in the festival - that’s not open for debate. But to a person I spoke with, what impressed them even more was his accessibility, his humility and his warmth. You can take the superstar chef out of Kansas, but you can’t take that characteristic Midwestern humility out of the superstar chef.

Chef Brad Kilgore and Sous Chef Leah Jones

When he got the JF&D invite, the first thing he did is invite his sous chef to come along. You see, Leah Jones ( see profile on Leah Jones below ) is from Jamaica and he wanted her to come along and have a homecoming too.

Chef Brad Kilgore Jamaican Food & Drink Festival 2016

Their prep for the event included some almost comical hurdles, all taken in stride and celebrated. I’m not sure how many talks and interviews they did while cooking and serving, but every time I turned around there was a TV camera or a group huddle going on. It was one of the many events he participated in, but I believe it was emblematic of his spirit, the spirit of his team at Alter and a key to future success.

It’s no surprise then, as this article was being written that Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts announced their “Taste of Waldorf Astoria” challenge in partnership with the James Beard Foundation. Five “hand-selected JBF Rising Star Semi-Finalist chefs” will partner with Waldorf Astoria Executive Chefs and create a signature item for a specific property. If their dish is chosen, it will appear on Waldorf Astoria menus at all their resorts across the world for a year.

And who will partner with the Executive Chef at the Trianon Palace Versailles? Miami’s own, Brad Kilgore.

It’s so good to see this star burning so brightly. It’s even better to know that he’s lighting fires outside of Miami as well.

PROFILE:  Leah Jones

If you’ve eaten at Alter, Leah Jones has cooked for you. As Sous Chef to Bradley Kilgore, the Jamaican native of Chinese and Lebanese descent has a talent level that matches her work ethic. When Chef Kilgore got the chance to travel to the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival in October, he brought Leah along and she ended up making the spice rub for their dish: Szechuan jerk pork tenderloin with Thai peanut sauce and Pumpkin Purée. Their trip to Coronation Market in Kingston to secure the ingredients provided the inspiration for what was a delicious treat for all who tasted it.

Jamaican Food & Drink Festival Pork from Chef Brad Kilgore

Leah grew up in a family that celebrated food and she took on responsibilities in the family kitchen early. Later on in her childhood, the PBS show “Great Chefs of the World” provided the inspiration to apply to culinary schools. The rest, as they say, is continued history in the making. Leah, like many of the chefs on the rise in Miami, will be one to watch for a long time to come!

ABOUT: The Jamaica Food & Drink Festival

In just two short years, the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival (JFDF) has grown to seven events over five days, with more than 1,500 attendees celebrating the richness and diversity of Jamaican cuisine.

This year’s events included a Pork Palooza; Crisp Fare & Beer - an event showcasing crispy-fried food and ice cold beer; Vintage – an event celebrating Robert Mondavi’s 50th anniversary; Stix & Stones – delicious skewers and premium spirits; Meet Street – a food truck festival; Picante (Spicy Gourmet) featuring Miami’s own International Chef Bradley Kilgore; and culminating with Brunch at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

If you’re interested in making plans to attend next year, make sure to follow online; on Twitter @JAFoodAndDrink; on Facebook; and Instagram @jafoodanddrink