Gilbert's Underground Kitchen

July 25, 2015 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

From Chef Kenny Gilbert is a Top Chef star and is launching his restaurant empire in the NE Florida . His first concept, Gilbert's Underground Kitchen opened in Fernandina Beach in early 2015.

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Nancy Parliment Photography.

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.

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.

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!

510 South 8th Street @ Elm Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
(904) 310–6374




About the writer interviews are conducted by Jacksonville Beach resident Gerry Glynn. When Gerry isn't talking with restauranteurs he is working for a local software company, training for his next road race, and hanging out with his wife and dog.

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