Table Talk with Chef Kyle Knall

Current Gig
Executive Chef, Maysville

About the Chef
Chef Kyle Knall began cooking at a neighborhood restaurant Birmingham, Alabama, when he was fifteen. He them worked for his brother, who is also a chef, at a fine dining restaurant in Birmingham while in high school. After graduating, Chef Kyle attended culinary school in Birmingham and went on to work for Chef Frank Stitt at Chez Fonfon for several years. Chef Kyle moved  up north to New York City and worked under Chef Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern for five years, where he was the  sous chef for the last two.  In late 2012, he opened Maysville, the Manhattan offshoot of Brooklyn’s Char No. 4. Maysville is an American whiskey bar and restaurant named after the Kentucky port town where bourbon was born. Chef Kyle’s menu features  fresh, seasonal ingredients, many of which are smoked or charred in some way.

Maysville: 17 West 26th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenue)

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Chef Kyle Knall at Maysville  

Where did you grow up?
I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in the suburbs right outside of the city. There was tons of great food and lots of variety, from really nice restaurants to soul food restaurants and barbecue. The food is unbelievable!

What did you enjoy eating most as a kid?
Growing up, we always had a big salad with dinner along with everything else we were eating. When my mom would clean the kitchen,  I remember grabbing the salad bowl, tilting it, and drinking the rest of the vinaigrette. To this day, I love acid and always use it when I cook. My mom would make dinner for us four days a week so we always had home-cooked meals. Her father is from Italy, so if we didn’t go to my grandfather’s house on Sunday for pasta, my mom made it at home. I have such great memories of eating her food.

At the moment, what is your favorite ingredient and what do you like to make with it?
Right now, I would have to say tomatoes because they are just coming into season.  We are doing a tomato salad with a basil emulsion featuring a few different kinds of tomatoes prepared in various ways, along with some marinated fresh cherries and red currants. That’s probably my favorite dish right now. My number one ingredient of all time is lemon. I use lemon juice as much as I use salt. Just like everything needs to be seasoned properly, I think everything needs a little touch of acid. It’s something I always have at home and every station in the kitchen has it as well.

What kitchen items are important for a home cook to own?
Definitely a microplane. Also, a fish spatula – a small one that you have a lot of control over when you’re using it. And a cake tester for when you’re cooking meat. You put it right on your lip and you can tell how done it is.

If your food were music, what music style(s) would it be and why?
I think it would be along the lines of something similar to Neil Young.  Just classic American music – very soulful. For me, Neil Young epitomizes what my food is all about.

Where are your favorite places to travel for the cuisine?
I really like to travel throughout the United States. I was in California recently – Napa, Sonoma, and San Francisco. The food out there is really fresh and super seasonal.  It’s most like the food that I learned how to cook. I also enjoy traveling down south to experience the soul of the food down there. I love Alabama, of course, and Charleston, South Carolina, is great.

If you had not gone the culinary route, what would you have done instead?
I have no idea. (Laughing) I went from being a child that always misbehaved to getting into cooking. There was no in between. (Laughing)  Maybe if I wasn’t cooking, I would be growing food in some shape or form, or raising animals on a farm. But not out in the country – I’d like to stay in the city.

Which chef do you admire most right now?
I would have to say Frank Stitt and Michael Anthony. My two mentors. If you look at their approach to food, their philosophies, and their ingredients, they are very similar. I’m very lucky that they were my two chefs.  I would also have to say Michael Tusk of Quince and Cotogna out in San Francisco. All three are so talented and very humble to the ingredients. They are very thoughtful chefs and I appreciate that about them.

When you get a chance to dine out, where do you like to go?
I usually stick to one restaurant, which is Frankies in Brooklyn. That place is amazing. But I do like to try a new restaurant every few weeks. I went back to Luksus, the restaurant that’s in the back of Torst, a beer bar in Greenpoint, for the second time. The chef/owner, Daniel Burns, worked at Momofuku and was the pastry chef at The Fat Duck and Noma. I really liked it a lot. In Manhattan, I like ABC Kitchen and Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, along with Prosperity Dumplings in Chinatown.

If you had to give up one of the five food groups (Bread & Potatoes; Milk & Dairy; Meat & Fish; Fat & Sugar; Fruits & Vegetables) and could not eat anything from that group for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
Bread and Potatoes, for sure. I like bread, pasta, and potatoes, but for me, vegetables are the center of the way I cook. Proteins like meat and fish are just as important. And I am obsessed with cheese and milk, so that was a super easy one for me to answer! (Laughing)

Ippudo [West Side]

Checked out Ippudo Westside for an early dinner — surprisingly, the wait was only about 45 minutes. (Much shorter than the two and a half hours that we waited a few years ago!) A friend and I grabbed a quick drink at a local bar and then headed over to Ippudo when they texted me that our table was ready. We already knew what we wanted: the Akamaru Modern (thin ramen noodles topped with Ippudo’s secret “Umami Dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions and garlic oil). Haven’t had this dish in years… and it was just as amazing as I remembered! The broth is rich and comforting — it’s the epitome of umami — and the pork belly was silky and luscious (wish I had like, ten more pieces). So happy there are now two Ippudo locations!

Ippudo: 321 West 51st Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenue)

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Akamaru Modern

Giovanni Rana

Had so much fun celebrating a good friend’s birthday at her favorite Italian restaurant, Giovanni Rana.  I can see why she loves it so much — the food is incredible, from the caprese to the charcuterie and the pastas. We both ordered the same entree: Spinach & Mascarpone Ravioli in a Crispy Parmigiano Reggiano “Basket”. It was heavenly! And for dessert we naturally had to order more pasta… in the form of fried chocolate raviolis. Yum! I washed it all down with a crisp, chilled glass of Lambrusco — it’s my favorite summer wine. Great times catching up with old friends. Happy birthday, J! :-)

Giovanni Rana: 75 Ninth Avenue (inside of Chelsea Market) 

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Lambrusco – a sparkling red wine served chilled

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Buffalo Mozzarella and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

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Charcuterie Board with Artisanal Cured Sliced Meats and Italian Cheeses

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Spinach & Mascarpone Ravioli in a Crispy Parmigiano Reggiano “Basket”

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Chocolate Ravioli Fritti with Raspberry Jam 

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Tiramisu

Pizza Vinoteca

For happy hour, I checked out a new pizza & wine spot in Union Square called Pizza Vinoteca. I absolutely love the look of the upstairs dining room — it’s so modern and fun. I also love how the wines are concisely categorized in the wine dispensing machines against the wall.  When ordering, each guest gets an iPad at the table to browse the wine list and food menu. The detailed descriptions are really helpful in choosing the exact wines that you want, either by the half glass or full. One person has the master iPad which allows you to send your order to the kitchen. Servers are also available to assist you with questions or requests. I sampled a few tasty half glasses of sparkling wine, which were really refreshing, before moving on to a delicious red that was recommended by our server (totally blanked in the name). Naturally, you’ve got to have some tasty eats while sipping vino, so we tried a variety of cheeses with focaccia. I had a great experience at Pizza Vinoteca and am looking forward to trying some of the grilled pizzas next time around!

Pizza Vinoteca: 15 Union Square West (at East 15th Street)

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You place your order via iPad. Pretty high tech.

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Wines can be ordered by full glass or half glass

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Two half glasses of sparkling wines: Cremant de Loire Rose and Finezza

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This wine was recommended by our server. Forgot the name, but it was delicious!

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Cheese Plate

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The modern, high tech dining room upstairs

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Hop Kee

We are so excited to bring our foodie besties, SaraDish and Estevino, to Hop Kee for some deliciously greasy Chinese food. It’s their first time here, so we are ordering all of the best stuff: salty and spicy fried pork chops (there are no words for how awesome this dish is), beef pan-fried noodles (with no vegetables — beef and noodles only), and whole pan-fried flounder (tender and crispy). Hmmm, notice a pattern here? Everything is FRIED, which is why it’s so darn good! :). We brought our own stash of booze (two six packs of Brooklyn Brewery beer) and some vino. Cold beer pairs perfectly with Chinese food. (Heehee). In record time, we housed everything and licked our plates clean. The verdict from S & E: they loved it.  Hooray!

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Beef Pan-Fried Noodles (no vegetables!)

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Salty & Spicy Fried Pork Chops

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Whole Pan-Fried Flounder

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Beef Lo Mein

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Our feast