Kevin Gillespie grew up in Locust Grove, Georgia, outside Atlanta, with nine cousins within five years of age living five hundred feet from each other. While his parents worked, his paternal grandmother watched the kids, cooking three meals a day so the family could always sit and eat together. At age ten, Kevin became interested in cooking and decided his grandmother shouldn’t be the only one feeding the family. The family supported him one hundred percent, even when he turned down a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to attend culinary school at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
Fire in My Belly is a collection of Kevin’s memories and stories on how he came to love food with classic recipes tweaked and made simple for the home cook. Almost every tale focuses on family and the person who introduced him to a new food or way of cooking. There’s an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, just the way his grandmother always cooked. Nothing is too fancy and every component is easy to find, no matter what part of the country you live in.
Kevin’s recipes are written to bring out the chef in all of us, to get us to move outside the recipe box and play a little with our food, so to speak. Recipes are written with the ingredients leading, measurements second, “The right order of things, if you ask me,” he writes. There are only two recipes from the menu at The Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, where he was, until recently, co-owner and executive chef. All the others were dreamed up because he wanted something delicious to eat that he could share with his friends and family. “That’s what drives me to cook. That’s the fire in my belly,” he says.
We chose Kevin’s Peach Party Liquor recipe to prepare because, well, we love our cocktails, and because peaches are in season and wonderfully delicious here in North Alabama right now. We prefer Chilton County peaches, which we buy locally from Jack-O-Lantern Farms. We (mostly) followed the recipe, but as Kevin encourages readers (and cooks) to do, we added our own touch.
Don’t let the Moonshine scare you. Junior’s Midnight Moon is handcrafted in small batches in North Carolina and triple distilled, making it extra smooth. Of course, it’s still potent.
PEACH PARTY LIQUOR
2 cups water
4 Black tea bags
1/2 cup Agave nectar
8 ripe baseball-size peaches, pitted and peeled
2 cups Midnight Moon moonshine
1/4 cup lemon juice
Bring the water to a boil in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Add the tea bags, and steep the tea in the hot water for about 30 minutes; you want to end up with very strong tea. Add the agave nectar to the tea and stir until blended. Cool the tea to room temperature.
Using a juicer, food processor, or heavy-duty blender, puree the peaches until they are completely smooth (we used a hand emulsifier with success). Pour into the pan of tea along with the moonshine and lemon juice, stirring to blend. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Cover, chill, and serve ice-cold.
We skipped the straining step, opting instead for a rich, thick peach smoothie, of sorts. We even tried pouring it into a blender with ice and making a daiquiri, which was refreshing in the Alabama August heat.
Kevin’s new venture, Gunshow, in Atlanta, Georgia, features a seasonal menu and is “as close to dining in Kevin’s home as possible.” We’re planning our road trip as we sip our peach-moonshine daiquiris. In the meantime, we’ll watch re-runs of Top Chef to get our fill of Kevin Gillespie (he’s one of our favorites on the show).
Fire in My Belly, by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim is published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Peach Party Liquor is re-printed here with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing.