Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen

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(map) 510 South 8th Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

(904) 310-6374


Closed Tuesdays

BBQ Lunch
Fridays 11am - 2pm

BBQ Sandwich To Go: $5
Whatever Chef Kenny has on the smoker. When we’re open we’re smokin’.

BBQ in the parking lot
Saturdays 11am ’til it’s gone

Sundays 10:30am - 2pm

Wed - Sat & Monday 5-9pm

Talking with Top Chef Kenny Gilbert

1. When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

Around the age of 11.

2. Why did you want to be a chef?

I wanted to be chef purely because I love to cook and to get reactions from people that try my food.

3. Did you have any influences in your decision to become a chef?

My parents entertained a lot and I remember always seeing people at our home happy and having a good time. It was always centered around food. That excited me so much that I just wanted to have that feeling all the time.

4. When did you first work in a restaurant?

My first real job was at Mc Donald's when I was 15. I started as a cashier. I wasn't allowed to start cooking until 16. I would sneak into the back to learn the stations and finally the manager just put me on station. I could run burger board for hours, no problem.

 5. How would you describe your cooking style?

International Cuisine with a Southern influence.

6. Where did you learn to cook?

Officially at home with my parents. I took home economics in middle school and during grades 9 and 10 in high school. In my junior and senior years I studied in the Vocational Culinary Arts program. I received my Associate’s Degree at the Pennsylvania Culinary Arts Institute in Pittsburgh.

GUK - restaurant tables

Inside Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

7. What does it take to be a great chef?

Discipline, a strong work ethic and thick skin.

8. What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a chef?

If you don't love hot, stressful environments where you can get burned and cut, then don't bother.

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Catch of the Day. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

9. What’s your favorite part of being a chef?

Cooking and managing all of the business details.

GUK - Berries and cream

Soft Serve with Berries. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

10. What’s your least favorite part of being a chef?

Dealing with people with weak work ethics.

11. You were an Executive Chef at the Ritz-Carlton at the age of 23. How did that happen?

Hard work and having people that believed in my abilities. I was actually the Head Chef of the Grill Room, which was rated separately from the Hotel. The Executive Chef/F&B Director and GM asked me to take on the role. I was the Sous Chef at the time.

12. How did you get to appear on Top Chef?

Michael Voltaggio called me one day and said that I should go on the show. He introduced me to a producer by the name of Donna Lee. We spoke and then I went through the rigorous process. It took about 6 months to prove that I was worthy of going. There were lots of interviews and lots of waiting.

13. How did you do on Season 7?

I did well. I won Episode 1's first 3 skills challenges during the Quickfire. I was on the top for the elimination round. I won the Farm Challenge with Patrick O'Connell from the Inn at Little Washington as a guest judge,  I won a Quickfire Pie Challenge, I won a Baby Food Quickfire Challenge for $10,000 and there is another Quickfire that I won, but I don't remember the name. I was the first anchor of the Blind Fold Relay Race which we won and split $10,000 amongst 4 of us. I was eliminated in Restaurant Wars.

14. Has the Top Chef experience changed your career?

Yes for sure. When millions of people see you on TV for several weeks, you gain a fan base. It's very humbling and an amazing experience.

15. What’s your proudest moment as a chef, so far?

Opening of my first solo restaurant project. My wife Anna ended up pushing me to take the leap of faith with minor funds that we both invested to make it happen. Best thing I ever did. 

16. Why Fernandina Beach for Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen?

It's where I began my career with The Ritz-Carlton back in 1992. It's a home coming of sorts.

17. How would you describe Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen?

Local neighborhood Southern restaurant with a Pop Up element based on the weekly specials.

18. What’s an “underground” kitchen?

Underground Kitchen is a term used for Supper Clubs and Pop Up kitchens. We use this as term that we link with our weekly themed specials that change every Wednesday. They run only for dinner, Wednesday through Saturday and on Monday evenings.

19. What do you mean by “deep Southern” cuisine?

It means that I am putting out hardcore Soulful Southern Cuisine. Items like I grew up on. You see Cornbread Dressing, Black Eyed Peas, Biscuits, Smoked Ham Hocks, Pigtails, Smoked Neckbones, Pig Ears, and those types of dishes used throughout my menus.

GUK - Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread and Drop Biscuits. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

20. What is it about Southern cooking that appeals to you?

My Mom is from St Augustine Florida. Although I grew up in Cleveland my mother cooked Southern food all the time and that's what I know.

21. Where do you see Southern cooking in terms of a cuisine in America today?

It is one of the original cuisines and to me it is what American cuisine is based upon. Native American cuisine is obviously the first. They get no credit at all and I really try to incorporate that cuisine all the time. Use of the land and water is what it's about. Africans through the slave trade are the people that brought so many ingredients to this country and the Native Americans taught us how to grow the seeds.

GUK - Slab of Alligator Ribs on the Bone...served with SC Mustard BBQ Sauce

Slab of Alligator on the Bone with South Carolina Mustard Sauce. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

22. Is Southern cooking evolving?

Constantly. Like every other culture people are going to find ways of using their cuisine that's reflective of our times today. For instance the use of smoked turkey in place of pork is very common because so many people associate high cholesterol and high blood pressure with pork. I use smoked turkey drums and stock in the majority of my dishes for that reason.

GUK - Whiskey Glazed Florida Peach with Hazelnut Praline Turnover with Raisin Toffee Sauce

Whiskey Glazed Florida Peach. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

 23. What’s your role at the restaurant?

I’m Chef, Owner, Bookkeeper, Maintenance and Kitchen Cleaner!

24. Do you get much opportunity to cook?

I cook everyday. I have a station that I touch. I prep daily. 

25. How did you come up with the recipes for Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen?

From the heart and over the years.

26. Did you draw on proven dishes from the past or did you create a whole new menu?

I tested lots of dishes while I was in Maui last year cooking for Ms. Winfrey and her family and friends for several weeks. One of my best friends is her Private Chef and I was invited to cook with him and a few others.

27. What’s your favorite thing on the menu?

That’s a hard question to answer. I would have to say right now it’s the Hot Chicken, only because I just developed that dish the other day.

GUK - Fernandina Hot Chicken

Fernandina Hot Chicken with Jalapeno Cheddar Biscuits. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

28. What dish or dishes best exemplify your style of cooking?

The entire concept. It's an evolution of my career this far.

29. If someone is coming to Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen for the first time, what would you recommend?

Cornbread and Biscuits, Baby Kale Salad, Shrimp and Grits, Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Stewed Tomatoes and Okra, Hoppin' John, or Sweet Potato Pie Turnover.

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BBQ Alligator Ribs with Carolina Gold Rice Porridge, Brussels Sprouts, Padron Peppers and FL Citrus Mop. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

30. What would you recommend to someone who is an “adventurous foodie?"

Ask for Grandma’s special. You could get Pig’s Feet, Chittlins, or Menudo.

31. Are there any hidden gems that don’t get the attention they deserve?

Nope. Everything gets love.

32. Can you tell us about your decision to open Gilbert’s BBQ Shack?

I always wanted just a simple BBQ place.

33. How will it compare to Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen?

It's only BBQ.

34. When will Gilbert’s BBQ Shack open?

This Fall [2015].

35. Can you tell us about Gilbert South?

It's a combination of both Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen and the BBQ Shack. It’s a larger project that brings both concepts together. 

36. How will that compare to Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen?

It will be Southern dishes only! Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen serves as a think tank because of the international specials that we serve.

37. What attracted you to the Forsyth Street location?

It's a beautiful space that we found on

38. When do you expect Gilbert South to open?

I’m still looking for investors that believe in my vision.

39. You have a passion for Jacksonville and have said that you want to help rejuvenate the downtown. Where does that passion come from?

I used to live at Berkmann Plaza and I always asked myself: “why don't more people stay down here?" It's a clean city that seems to be pretty safe. I also used to come here as a kid visiting my family. To me it's the best kept secret city in the country. It’s easy to get around, there’s lots to do, and it’s the largest city in the U.S. It's an untapped market. 

40. You have a lot on the go. How to you keep on top of everything?

Time Management. I'm pretty good at it. I need to get better at the personal side of it, but I can manage a lot.

41. With so much going on we hate to ask “what’s next?”, but where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Having a restaurant empire. 

42. Anything else?

No, I thinks that's it for now.....thank you for the talk!

GUK - Kenny and sign

Chef Kenny Gilbert. Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

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