September 28, 2015
Chef Spotlight: Chris Kelly
Oyster Cook-Off winner Chris Kelly is still deciding how to top last year’s winning recipe but to hear him tell it he’s got even bigger fish to fry at the moment.
“I’ve got about three weeks to totally redesign this entire kitchen and implement my new menu,” said Kelly from his perch at the Flora-Bama Ole River Bar. “Luckily, I feel as comfortable building as I do cooking.”
The self-taught chef intends to make the Ole River Bar less of a fried basket beach hut and more of a gastropub specializing in local ingredients done differently. “We all know what a Reuben is,” Kelly said. “But if you taste a Reuben made with pastrami we’ve cured, it’s going to blow your mind.”
Kelly’s attention to detail brought him the top prize at the Oyster Cook-Off 2014 with oysters tucked inside tiny tortillas and topped with peppers that he cut out with a hole punch. They were completed with a tequila mignonette. “It was crazy,” he laughed. He used sterilized paper clips to help keep their shape while cooking. “But I just knew all that effort, all those flavors on that one bite were going to get a big reaction. I had to remind myself of that when I was frying hundreds of those little things.”
Kelly’s mother and her Italian relatives taught Chef to put more than just ingredients into his cooking long before he made it his career. “By 4 years old I was already touching food. When you make semolina dumplings you are pinching the food, actually leaving your thumbprint on each piece.”
But it was also tagging along with his father, an executive at a big food distributor, which helped Kelly decide what kind of cooking he wanted to do to his own professional kitchen. “All I’m saying is, if everybody gets their food from the same truck, it’s all going to taste the same at some point.”
Making his mark on the Ole River Bar seems to be all about super-serving his beach going clientele. “If we are going to be the definitive stop for oysters, that means 10 to 15 different varieties on the menu,” he said. “That means local corn and fresh sausage. I want every dish to be congruent enough that it tells a story.”
Watch Kelly’s story continue to unfold as he competes for the top prize again this year at the 2015 Oyster Cook-Off!