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)

Table Talk with Chef Kyle Knall