Q & A With Chef Kevin

Q & A With Chef Kevin
  • March 11th, 2015
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Kitchens are environments in constant motion; knives cut and chop, ovens churn out heat, mixers blend dry and wet ingredients, and chefs move from one task to the next in rapid succession. Despite this quick-fire kitchen lifestyle, we were able to capture a few minutes with Southport Grocery’s new chef de cuisine, Kevin Church, and got to know a bit more about the man behind the food. We chatted with Kevin about his journey to Southport, some favorite foods, and how great Chicago is for food and neighborhood restaurants.

Kevin, you became chef de cuisine at Southport Grocery back in September, can you tell us a bit about what originally inspired you to become a chef?
I got a job dishwashing when I was 15 and I never really considered any other profession after that. I love the kitchen.

What do you love about it?
The kitchen is action packed. My days just fly by; it is not like sitting at a desk job where you are watching the clock and counting down the minutes. There is always something to do. And I love cooking; food is a huge part of life, so we might as well pay attention to it.

You attended Johnson and Wales for culinary school and have previously worked at Mockingbird, Owen and Engine, and Commonwealth Tavern, but is this your first chef de cuisine position?
No, this is actually my fourth “head chef” position. I was really lucky and I found a management sous chef position right out of school. I was a kitchen manager at 22 and then a head chef at 22.

Wow, that’s impressive and young to become a head chef! What have you found to be the biggest change from being a sous chef to being a head chef?
There’s a pretty big difference between being a sous and being a head chef. Sous chef is a tough job because you have to be the bad guy, whereas as head chef, you get to be the good guy. It is a good-cop-bad-cop game in a lot of kitchens. Not so much here [Southport] because we don’t really have a sous chef and we don’t have that mentality of needing a bad cop. In other restaurants, though, the sous chef is definitely the bad cop because kitchens are so intense; someone has to be the leader of that intensity, they have to push everyone to work harder, and someone has to crack the whip all of the time.

And you like being the good cop better?
I’m not a bad cop kind of guy [laughs], it doesn’t work for me.

As chef de cuisine of Southport Grocery, what is your favorite part of working here so far?
I love learning from Lisa. The way that Lisa does things here is extremely different from other places, and I like that a lot. She has a lot more foresight and is well prepared for running this business. She diversifies her business in a variety of ways too, she doesn’t just do the café, she does the grocery side, the wholesale side, not to mention all of the canning as well. There are just so many different aspects to the way that we are drawing in customers. It’s cool; I’ve never seen someone diversify so much.

That’s true, Southport’s grocery section alone is incredibly diverse and has so many options. As a chef, you’re used to variety and diversity in the kitchen as you work with and taste so many different foods everyday. Do you have a favorite food though?
That’s such a loaded question for a chef because I’m always thinking about food. In general, though, my favorite food to eat is potatoes.

kev3Prepared any way?
Yeah, I just love potatoes. It is a comfort food for me.

And do you have a favorite food to cook?
My favorite cuisine to make is seafood.

Would you like to add seafood to Southport’s menu?
I did with the lox, but there’s not really too much else that I think fits our brunch concept. We can’t really do fish entrées, whole fish or anything like that. But if I see another way I can, I will.

Last question for you (for now), what do you think of Chicago as a food destination?
It is the best that I know of. I haven’t traveled all that much, but my wife and I used to go to New York City every year and try out new places. I went to Seattle and I love the whole Northwest region’s food, I think they’re doing a cool job up there, but all-in-all Chicago restaurants are top notch. There are so many great neighborhood restaurants here; the everyday places, not necessarily Michelin starred restaurants, just the good neighborhood spots are better in Chicago. That’s what I love about it; you don’t have to go out to some destination place to find a great meal. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, you can just go to some place on the corner and it’s going to be really good.

Even though we only got a chance to chat with Kevin for a few minutes, it was great getting a snapshot into the life of Southport’s new chef de cuisine. As a neighborhood spot ourselves, we are excited that you’re here with us, Kevin, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for Southport with you at the kitchen’s helm! If you see him, say “hi!”

— Interviewed and written by our staff, Julia

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