Kevin Gillespie, the red-bearded fan favorite in the sixth season of Bravo’s "Top Chef" series, will be the featured celebrity chef at the Second Annual Gig Harbor Wine and Food Festival on August 6.
The executive chef/co-owner of the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta will be on hand to display his southern-influenced down-home culinary skills from noon to 6 p.m. During that time, Gillespie will face off against a yet-to-be-named regional chef in the festival’s celebrity cook-off final event.
Last year, the event – between Italian celebrity chef Fabio Viviani and Craig Haslebacher, the executive chef at The Lodge at Mallard’s Landing in Gig Harbor – was the highlight of the festival, which attracted a sellout crowd.
“We’re really excited to have Kevin,” said Jennifer Kilmer, executive director of the , which co-sponsors the Wine and Food Festival with the Gig Harbor Historic Waterfront Association. “He’s really well recognized in the culinary community and has some great credentials as a rising star in the culinary world.”
An avid fan of "Top Chef" and other competitive cooking series, Kilmer said contestants on those shows tend to be either endearing or good chefs. “Kevin appears to be both,” she noted.
That was a key reason why Gillespie was the festival planning committee’s first choice right from the get go.
“He’s a great chef. He loves pig and does great pork dishes. It’s going to be fun to have him,” said co-owner Katie Doherty, who led the committee’s four-month drive to book Gillespie.
At 28, Gillespie has already acquired an impressive list of credentials. While earning the fan favorite moniker from viewers of "Top Chef" in 2009, he won the most “Quickfire Challenges” and “Elimination Challenges” in the show’s history and was among the final three chefs to compete for the “Top Chef” title.
Among his other achievements, Gillespie has twice been named a semi-finalist for the coveted James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star of the Year” award and was listed among the Mother Nature Network’s top “40 Chefs Under 40” in 2009.
He has signed on to write two cookbooks with author David Joachim, with the first due out later this year.
In addition, Gillespie may be one of the few celebrity chefs to develop a following for something other than cooking. His red beard has its own Facebook page with more than 7,600 fans. It didn’t go unnoticed when he shaved it earlier this year to sport a Wyatt Earp-like mustache.
“Yeah. Everyone was really worked up about that,” said a Gillespie spokesperson. Not to worry, she added: “The beard is back.”
In addition to Gillespie’s food preparations, the Gig Harbor Wine and Food Festival will feature a grand tasting tent, gourmet foods from the region, cooking classes and demonstrations, wine tastings, craft brewers and classes, author signings, food samples, and an auction.
So far, 24 wineries, brewers and restaurants have signed on to participate in the festival, which will be held on the grounds of the Harbor History Museum.
With Gillespie signed on, festival planners have started their search for a regional chef to go up against him. Among those approached last year was Seattle chef and restauranteur Tom Douglas. Kilmer couldn't say if Douglas would be among those approached for this year's festival, however.
"It would be great to have a person of his caliber for the event, surely," she said. "But it’s also fun to feature a local restaurant and put them head to head with Kevin."
Proceeds from the event will benefit the history museum and GHHWA. An early bird ticket price of $65 is available until May 31. After that, the cost goes up to $75.