Miami’s Brad Kilgore Is the Restaurant Empire-Builder to Watch Now
Food & Wine
By Michael Kaplan
Chefs face their share of terrifying moments. Gustatory literature is loaded with tales of chopped fingers, incendiary stew pots, and, as recounted on GrubStreet, at least one knife fight in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant. For Brad Kilgore, who recently launched his hot and sexy, neo-Japanese spot, Kaido, in Miami’s retail-intensive Design District, the moment of fright involved hot oil and one of the world’s most desired cuts of steak.
Recalling a scenario that repeats itself every night in his restaurant’s compact kitchen, the 32-year-old, Kansas City-raised chef says, “Deep frying A5 Wagyu beef is the scariest thing. It goes against everything you have ever been taught about respecting product, letting steak rest, and not treating it like a cheap cut of pork.” But Kilgore fights his better instincts, coats the precious meat in panko, and drops it into hot oil. His superior version of the trendy A5 Wagyu Katsu Sando is served on brioche toast and punched up with shitake-Gruyère jam and freshly grated wasabi. “We do it as East meets West. It’s almost a Stroganoff sandwich.”
The dish reminds me of a decadent cheesesteak turned all the way up to eleven—although, this iteration goes for $99, comes perfectly rare, and does not require a single squirt of ketchup.
“I did it as inexpensively as possible,” Kilgore continues on a recent afternoon, sitting in Kaido’s empty, 25-seat dining room (there are an additional 35 seats outside) as his kitchen crew prepares for the night’s service. “The same cut goes for much more on South Beach. But I don’t want to be that guy. I want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy it.”
A 2016 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef—plus a veteran of kitchens run by the likes of Grant Achatz, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Laurent Gras—Kilgore began working in restaurants at age 10 (washing dishes “for video-game money”) and made a name for himself with his 2015-opened Alter. Still quite popular, the restaurant focuses on New American cuisine in Miami’s scrappy Wynwood neighborhood. The place is fantastic, beloved by locals and critics alike. But as soon as you enter Kaido, look up above the bar and see a giant sculpture of an uni from which over 1,000 gold knives hang down (blade first), you recognize that this is something else altogether. Kilgore characterizes the design as “Japanese luxe punk”—and I am not arguing with him.
While the statement-making Kaido is clearly inspired by Japanese fine-dining—the chef and world-class mixologist Nico de Soto, who plays a key role in Kaido by devising stunning cocktails to pair with the cuisine, spent a string of memorable nights researching Tokyo’s food and drink scene—Kilgore likens it to a culinary version of a remix.
“For example,” he says, “I like sushi, but I am not going to disrespect people who spent 30 years washing rice and call myself a sushi chef. My version of nigiri is with Thai sticky rice, local fish, and a peanut emulsion on top. Plus, we include what resembles soy sauce but is actually nuoc cham, lemongrass, cilantro, and other aromatics. It looks black and tastes like Thailand. The fish I use is wahoo—creamy, soft and silky, like white tuna. Look, I’m not going to serve bigeye tuna here”—that’s for the Hawaiian sushi guys. “And you can get [ordinary] tuna sushi in your local gas station these days.”
If the menu does wind up including a tuna dish? “It will be black fin tuna,” says Kilgore, who once wowed his idol Alain Ducasse with anything-but-pedestrian steak au poivre that had the iconic chef “drinking my sauce.” “I want to bring black-fin tuna here. I know the guys who fish for it and it is different to me than bigeye. This restaurant is all about me doing things my way. I am interpreting Japanese fine-dining, not copying it.”
That means patrons will do well to start their meals with a pot of Kilgore’s silky fondue. Designed to inspire camaraderie—which is a subtext of Kaido’s menu and general vibe—it is made mind-blowingly inclusive with a potion of uni, aged parmesan, chili flakes, and a king crab add-on. Alongside the fondue pot: steamed buns and veggies for dipping. “Some people love uni, some don’t; but this you can enjoy either way,” says Kilgore, making a point that was underscored by my sometimes-vegetarian daughter, Chloe. While dining there, she proclaimed her distaste for uni even while she went at the fondue as if it was manna (wisely, Chloe granted herself a non-vegetarian cheat-night for dinner at Kaido).