One of America's most beloved chefs, Kevin Gillespie, is known for his outstanding style of Southern food as well as his commitment to cooking with fresh, organic, and sustainable ingredients. This is demonstrated in every inch of Gillespie's work, from the way he selects his suppliers to his activism within various associations for sustainable food. But unless you have watched Gillespie compete for Bravo's Top Chef title on season six in 2009, you may not realize that he is obsessed with pork. And Gillespie wants you to love pork just as much as he does through his second cookbook, Pure Pork Awesomeness: Totally Cookable Recipes From Around the World. Featuring 100 unique recipes with global flavors, Gillespie shares the ins and outs of this delicacy as he aims to teach readers how to properly select, cook, and enjoy pork.
Gillespie discusses his influence for writing his second cookbook, how the book helps readers, the backstory of his obsession, and other interesting things about pigs.
New Times: You became known for your love of pork on Bravo TV's season 6 of Top Chef. Is there a certain moment on the show where you knew you were going to write a cookbook on pork? And if it wasn't the show, what was it?
Kevin Gillespie: Well, before I ever went on the show, one of my goals was to author cookbooks. That was my main goal early on in my career, but I wasn't sure what date that would become a reality. It was not until the show was over that I thought to myself, "OK, I think I can actually make this happen. I can actually do this now." It's hard to know when you are inside the tornado of your career to recognize the appropriate time to do something. When I came off the show and decided to write a book, I didn't know what I wanted the book to be about, but I knew I wanted it to be very real and not too sculpted. Fire in My Belly was free-form in the way it was written. We didn't have any chapters. We just created dishes and wrote and wrote and wrote. It's a different way of approaching the cookbook-writing process. After that book was published and I was in the middle of my tour, I made it a point to ask people, "What would you want me to write a book on?" I wanted my fans to speak directly to me, and I hope that they do. They said they wanted me to write a book on pork, so I came home and wrote a book on pork.
How does your book appeal to both experienced home cooks and kitchen novices?
We tried to put a mix in both of my books. We aim to have the vast majority of the book — the meat of the book — be at a difficulty level that the average home cook can handle. That's the first step. We also put challenging recipes for the more experienced home cook, someone who considers themselves an amateur chef, and then we also have easy, approachable, three component, three-step dishes in there for someone who isn't very experienced in the kitchen but will hopefully be encouraged through simple and successful recipes, to try something else. It also bridges the fact that I try to build dishes that work off one another. In one dish you can learn a technique, and then later in that chapter, you can use the same technique again and then expand upon it. It's a teaching book. If you cook through the book, you'll be a better cook than when you first started.
Tell me about your obsession with pork. I know you have a pig tattooed on one of your sleeves. Is there a certain memory that made you start to love pigs?
My love of pigs began at a very early age. There was a place near where I grew up called Noah's Ark. It was an animal rehabilitation center that treated wounded, hurt, or sick animals that were rescued from somewhere and then were eventually placed at another facility or re-released into the wild. But they always had a bunch of pigs while I was growing up, and I wanted one. My parents were like, "Yeah, sure! If you can catch one, you can have one!" What you don't realize is that a little small pig is incredibly fast and nearly impossible to catch, so as a little kid I would just run around attempting to catch them, and, of course, it never worked. I never ended up having one as a pet, but I always sort of admired them.
Now, my tattoo is actually a wild boar, and it comes from a childhood memory. The men in my family are very into outdoorsy stuff — camping, hunting, fishing, and other things like that. When I was 13 years old, I was chased by a wild boar in the woods. I wouldn't call it a traumatic experience, but it's one that's very clear in my memory. Part of that entire arm of tattoos are all memories of growing up in the South. That particular instance seemed so impactful that I needed to get a tattoo of it.
What's your favorite type of pig? How does that pig vary in terms of taste and texture?
They're all very different. There are so many varieties. We only put a couple of selections in the new book because we don't want to overwhelm anyone, but one of the the most popular heirloom or heritage varieties of pigs is the Berkshire. It has really great flavor, feet, and meat to fat ratio. One of my favorites from a flavor perspective is a Hereford. Most people know that name as a braised cattle but they're also a herd of pig, and the meat can be incredibly sweet and the fat is really juicy. I think that's one of the best but it's not a popular variety to raise, and I don't really know why because they're docile and easy to raise. It just hasn't caught on — but those are my two commonly used and favorite variety of pig.
What is the most interesting fact about pigs that's mentioned in your cookbook?
Well, we talk about pigs as an animal in the book, and I think one of the things most people are surprised to discover is that pigs are very clean animals. In the animal world, some animals are not particularly hygienic. People think pigs are dirty because of words like "pigsty" and "pig wallow," but in fact they are tidy and organized animals. For example, if you fence off an area of woods and reserve it specifically for pigs, they will go in and clean up all the brush. They will make it very neat and orderly. They will make their beds, and they will make their watering hole in a particular spot so they don't go to the bathroom in that spot. Overall, they're very particular as compared to other animals.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Green Peppercorn Sauce
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar 1/4 cup kosher salt
- Ice cubes
- 1 pork tenderloin, about
- 11/4 pounds
- 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. grapeseed oil or canola oil
- Ground black pepper
- 1 carrot, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1/2 cup
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1/2 cup
- 1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice, about 1 cup
- 1/4 cup bourbon or rye whiskey
- 11/2 cups Chicken Stock (page 26)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. jarred green peppercorns, crushed
- 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
Classic steak Diane is served with a sauce of sautéed and cooked-down onions, garlic, whiskey, stock, cream, and crushed green peppercorns. Unlike black peppercorns, the green ones have a bright fruitiness to them. I love the same sauce on pork. I brine the tenderloin first to keep it juicy and then grill it whole. The grilling only takes about 10 minutes, and while the meat's resting, you make the sauce.
In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, salt, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to completely dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and pour into a large metal bowl. Stir in ice cubes until the mixture is cooled. It should take about a quart of ice cubes. Pour the brine into a gallon-size zip-top bag and add the pork. Squeeze out excess air and brine the meat for 1 hour.
Remove the pork from the brine and pat completely dry. Brush the tenderloin with 1 tablespoon oil and season on all sides with pepper.
Heat a grill to medium heat. Grill the pork, with the grill top closed, for 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 5 minutes more, and repeat on the final side until the interior temperature reaches 145°F. If using a grill pan, heat over high heat, and grill the pork covered with a domed lid for the same times. Transfer the pork from the grill to a plate and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. The pork will cook a little more as it rests. The pork needs to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing. Make the sauce during that time.
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Heat a skillet over high heat, add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and swirl until shimmering. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, lower the heat to medium, and cook, tossing occasionally until the onions are translucent and soft, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the whiskey, and carefully tilt the pan away from you, toward the flame (if you have a gas stove), to ignite the whiskey. You can also use a long match to ignite the whiskey. Toss the vegetables and agitate the pan until the flames burn out. Add the stock and cream, bring to a boil, and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced in volume by half, about 5 minutes.
Strain the sauce into a bowl and discard the vegetables. Return the sauce to the skillet, and stir in the mustard and peppercorns. Return the sauce to high heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, swirl in the parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve a spoonful of sauce over each slice of pork.
Worth Knowing: Try making this recipe with pork leg fillet too. The back leg of a pig has a cluster of muscles and connective tissue holding the meat to the bone. You can use your hands to separate all the muscles, using a knife only when necessary. Just take out any of the whole muscles from the leg; for this recipe, you want a piece that weighs about 11.4 pounds. Trim off the silverskin, tendons, and ligaments, because these cause toughness. Trim off any excess fat too. You'll be left with a long, beautiful, boneless, lean piece of meat.