May Chef of the Month: Chef Chris Kelly
May Chef of the Month: Chef Chris Kelly of Driftwood Steakhouse, Ronin Sushi & Steak, and the Oyster Barrel
Every other month, we’re spotlighting one of our chefs or restaurateurs here at The Wharf. This month is Chef Chris Kelly of Driftwood Steakhouse, Ronin Sushi & Steak, and the Oyster Barrel (formerly Blue Chair Bar). Step into his kitchen to learn more!
Where were you born and raised?
Born in Tallahassee, FL and raised in Central Florida. I moved to the Pensacola/Perdido area when I was 17 to study at the University of West Florida.
Where did you train to be a chef?
I am a self-taught chef. I’ve been cooking since I was five years old. When I was a server, I showed a genuine interest in what the chefs were doing and was always back there asking questions. I had the arrogance to show up to a manager’s meeting uninvited in the hopes of receiving a front of house management position, but was ultimately offered a high-volume kitchen management position with virtually no experience. I literally had less than two weeks to train on every station, learn how to prep, order, and execute up to $100k in food sales a week on Pensacola Beach. From there, I spent ten years with Great Southern Restaurant Group (The Fish House, Atlas, Deck Bar) in Pensacola working every management position from operations manager to general manager, executive chef, and contractor.
What does a typical workday involve for you?
Work, work, and more work. Everything from prep and execution to restaurant financials, employee training, and restaurant concept development. Oh, and dishes. Lots of them.
Who’s the most noteworthy person you’ve ever cooked for?
I’ve cooked for a lot of famous people, but it would definitely be Bo Jackson. He was the first celebrity I ever cooked for, and it meant a lot because I was such a huge fan of his as a child.
What would you consider to be your culinary specialty?
I have many and it’s pretty broad. Italian and Irish because I’m half Italian and my last name is Kelly. Japanese because of my love for sushi. Creole because it is just awesome, and most importantly Southern because it embodies so many cooking styles as well as its historical significance. I am self-taught, and have done so by trying to learn the history of food. Especially locally. I love cooking things that have some sort of local feel. Essentially food that tells some sort of story of the area.
What’s your favorite meal to cook for yourself and your friends/family?
Hands down, Thanksgiving. Any and everything about Thanksgiving.
What’s your favorite annual event at The Wharf?
I absolutely love The Wharf Uncorked, but it is by far the Blue Marlin Grand Championship. I have never seen anything that comes close to it. I’m absolutely honored to be a partner with them and the event is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The fact that it literally surrounds our restaurants and bars is absolutely an awesome site.
Where do you like to shop or play at The Wharf?
Definitely Our Cigar Bar, but what I can’t wait for is the ziplines that are coming soon.
What’s something your customers might not know about your restaurant?
We are without a doubt, one of the most prep intensive restaurants on the Gulf Coast. We have over 400 prep items in house. More than half are homemade sauces. Everything from homemade Worcestershire to hot sauces, ketchups, BBQs, pickles, vinegars, and Thai chili sauces.
If you could spend the day with any celebrity or historical figure (living or dead), who would it be?
If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?
I love to learn. I’d study everything and spend years studying for multiple PhDs.
If you weren’t a chef, what sort of career would you pursue?
Winemaker and brewmaster.