Explore The World Through Cooking With Chef Kenny Gilbert

The Florida chef distills a lifetime of cooking and traveling into a gorgeous new cookbook.

Southern Cooking, Global Flavors
Courtesy of Rizzoli New York .

“Cooking is a form of storytelling,” writes chef Kenny Gilbert in the introduction of his debut cookbook, Southern Cooking, Global Flavors. Through recipes that span regional Southern cuisine, Gilbert explores international ingredients and techniques, seamlessly meshing his Southern roots with dishes inspired by the people and places he’s encountered during his prolific culinary career. 

Although he grew up in the Midwest, Gilbert's mother is from St. Augustine, and he now calls Jacksonville home. He grew up cooking in the kitchen with his mother, and brother, Kirk, who also went on to become a successful chef.

To name just a few of Gilbert's cooking career highlights: He became the youngest African-American chef to run a Ritz-Carlton Hotel restaurant at just 23 years old; he competed on Top Chef and has worked as a personal chef to Oprah Winfrey.

Kenny Gilbert

His new book, out now, touches on these experiences, but at its core the book is about introducing readers to a wide range of pantry ingredients and through them, a wider world of cooking. Gilbert's recipes compel you to get outside of your comfort zone, and prepare old favorites like meatloaf in a new (and delicious) way. 

Gilbert’s career has taken him to kitchens across the U.S. from Colorado to Miami, and abroad to restaurants in Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. Through his travels he learned to work with ingredients he didn't grow up eating, like Makrut lime leaves, and now applies them to Southern cooking, which itself draws on cuisines from around the world.

“I look at this book as a way to bring us together,” Gilbert says, “This book forces you to think about how these [global] ingredients are relatable to your culture.”

Take the chapter on oxtail. He starts this section with a recipe that might feel familiar: Oxtails slowly braised in a brown gravy with roasted root vegetables served over rice. He follows this recipe with four variations, each inspired by a different part of the world.

One adaptation, his Filipino Oxtail Adobo with Garlic Rice and Red Quinoa, originates with a close friend and chef named Rey that he met while working in kitchens. Rey, who's Filipino, introduced Gilbert to chicken adobo through a staff meal he prepared when they worked together. The salty and tangy Filipino stew is made with peppercorns, bay leaf, soy sauce, and vinegar, exactly the kind of bright and savory flavors that rich and fatty oxtails require.

Chef Kenny Gilbert's Oxtail Recipes
Three of chef Kenny Gilbert's oxtail recipes. Courtesy of Rizzoli New York.

Inspired by time spent living in Barbados and learning about Guyanese culture in the country, Gilbert created a recipe for Oxtail Pepper Pot with Rice Fritters. He also includes oxtails recipes influenced by his time working in Osaka, Japan and another derived from his love of Italian food. Although each recipe uses the same central protein, a global pantry and different braising techniques from around the world allows Gilbert to tell a different story with each plate. 

“Stories are told in kitchens over cooking as much as they are told through cooking,” writes Gilbert in his cookbook, “Our pantries all have their own stories to tell, and we all have a lot to learn from sharing them.” 

Get a sneak peak of Southern Cooking, Global Flavors with Gilbert's Florida Citrus Cake, a recipe from the new book inspired by the citrus of the state he now calls home.

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