The Atlanta dining community is reacting to news announced Monday that Kevin Gillespie, one of the city’s most prominent and popular chefs, has been diagnosed with renal cancer.
Gillespie, 35, is a chef and partner with Red Beard Restaurants group, whose dining concepts include Gunshow in Atlanta’s Glenwood Park neighborhood and Revival in Decatur.
A native of Atlanta, Gillespie was diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer after feeling ill for months. In the coming weeks, he will undergo surgery to remove one of his kidneys. The medical procedure will take place in Atlanta. Gillespie plans to return to his restaurants as soon as he is able, according to the statement released Monday. “Until then, he is deeply grateful for your support,” the statement says. “As he recovers, Kevin requests that he and his family are afforded the time and space to fully restore his health.”
“It was sudden,” said Gunshow executive chef Joey Ward, who has worked with Gillespie at Gunshow since the restaurant’s debut in 2013 and, prior to that, for two years in the kitchen at the now defunct Woodfire Grill. “We’re all really supportive of Kevin and hoping he can use his strong will to get through this thing. We’re ready to do anything we need to do to help him and his family through it.”
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Andreas Muller, chef for Red Beard Special Events, echoed similar sentiments. “It’s shook us all pretty much,” he said.
Despite the turn of events, the restaurant group will continue to operate as normal.
“When Kevin’s out, we all know our roles and we’ll run the company just like we have been,” Muller said.
“There are no changes for the restaurants or special events. We’re still conducting things as business as usual,” said Marco Shaw, Red Beard Restaurants partner, vice president and chief operating officer.
In addition to Gunshow and Revival, Gillespie’s is the name attached to Gamechanger, a concession stand that opened last year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Terminus City BBQ pop-up is another venture from the Red Beard team.
Shaw stated that the company is still moving ahead with plans for Cold Beer, a beer garden and cocktail bar that will open along the new extension of the Eastside Beltline next spring. The space will include a rooftop bar and two patios.
“Kevin is still part of the design part of that right now,” Shaw said of the Cold Beer project. The group has tapped Atlanta firm ai3 for design services.
Gillespie will also be part of the Gunshow anniversary party taking place this evening. “It means a lot,” Ward said. “To still be a thriving restaurant after five years is really amazing. Kevin will be cooking with us. It’s going to be great.” Ward and Gillespie will each prepare a dish that was offered on the restaurant’s first night of service back in 2013.
As Gillespie’s relatives and his restaurant family rally around him, area chefs likewise are locking arms.
Steven Satterfield, chef and partner at Miller Union, learned of Gillespie’s condition last month. “He just wanted to reach out to somebody who had already gone through this,” said Satterfield, who battled stage III testicular cancer in 2012. “Of course, I’m deeply sympathetic and understanding of what he’s facing. It’s a real tough personal journey.”
“He has an amazing team of doctors,” Satterfield continued. “They are ready to do whatever they can to save his life.” According to Satterfield, Gillespie has been working with a personal trainer and focusing on strength training. “He’s been having to physically train for this because it’s so hard on your body,” Satterfield said. “He’s looking at it as, ‘This is a challenge for me that I’m going to overcome.’”
Satterfield’s battle with cancer took nearly a year, and he respects Gillespie’s request for privacy during this period. “This is something only he can do. He just wants some peace and quiet, and he needs to dig deep inside himself and get through this.”
Restaurateur Linton Hopkins successfully fought non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 22 years ago. The cancer survivor also considers Gillespie a close colleague. “We share a lot of the same dreams and ideals and value systems for how we do our work,” said Hopkins. He texted Gillespie after hearing the news. “My first thing was just: I am here for you.”
“I know what it means to just say you’re there. It’s important when friends say, ‘I heard and you’re in my prayers,’” Hopkins said. “I just stand with him and his family through the process.”
Hopkins underwent chemotherapy and radiation as part of his six-month cancer treatment. “For me, it was complete exhaustion. I had no stamina. I look back on it, it was a time to reconnect with my parents.”
Restaurateur Kevin Rathbun said he and his wife were stunned when they heard the news about Gillespie. Rathbun saw Gillespie last week when they both participated in the Taste of the Nations charity function to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America. “Talk about a guy with so much future ahead of him. It’s unbelievable. We wish him all the best — and prayers.”
Ford Fry said Gillespie “is grounded in his food, culture and heritage. That’s what I really respect about him.”
Fry — whose Atlanta concepts include Bar Margot, Beetlecat, The El Felix, Jct. Kitchen, King + Duke, Marcel, No. 246, The Optimist, St. Cecilia and Superica — recalled first meeting Gillespie in 2009 during Cochon 555, the heritage breed hog barbecue competition and celebration.
“He was the real deal,” Fry said. “I remember when he was just moving back in town. He was going to be the chef at Woodfire Grill. Woodfire was kind of quiet. But after ‘Top Chef’ aired, it blew up.”
Gillespie was one of that season’s final three chefs, competing for the “Top Chef” title in Napa Valley, Calif. He was also voted “fan favorite” by viewers.
Gillespie began his culinary education at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Apart from his dining concepts, Gillespie has penned two cookbooks, “Fire in My Belly” and “Pure Pork Awesomeness,” and has received numerous nominations and awards for his restaurants and writing.
“As far as cancer goes, I am the world’s biggest optimist,” Fry said. “I don’t have any fears or worries that he’s not going to bounce back. Kevin is a beast. I am sure it scares him, but he’s going to be good. He’s going to be all good.”
While numerous colleagues have sent Gillespie private notes of support, there has also been a public showing of encouragement. Mara Davis, co-host of the TV program “Atlanta Eats,” tweeted on Monday: “Thinking about @topchefkevin and wishing him a full, speedy recovery, #Atlanta loves you. Get well soon!!”
Numerous fans of the celebrity chef have also taken to social media to express their surprise at the news and to send him well wishes.