Chef Brad Kilgore’s Creative Vision

Simone Sutnick

web AMA Pachinko Machines
Vintage Japanese pachinko machines at Ama, Kaido's hidden speakeasy

Chef Brad Kilgore, the mastermind culinary creative behind Alter, has quickly become a local favorite for paradoxically down-to-earth experimental cuisine. Chef Kilgore’s boundless imagination generates mouth-watering and photo-worthy dishes that are almost—but not quite—too beautiful to eat. With the addition of a new restaurant, Kaido, Kilgore is quickly expanding and spreading his vision of culinary delight across Miami. We sat down with the chef to pick his brain about the artistry of his work and his next moves.

You just recently opened your new restaurant, Kaido, in the Miami Design District—what have the first few months been like? It has been amazing! I have always wanted to do a concept with a focus on the bar and cocktail game. To be able to partner up with Nico de Soto, who is one of the best in the game, is one thing that makes Kaido one of a kind. There are many facets to the space, which allows a guest to come and experience what we offer for many occasions. It’s a bar, it’s a restaurant, it’s a lounge, and it even has a hidden room—shhhh—where we offer a 16-course omakase—Ama-Kase—experience and a late night drinking den.

An installation of golden knives evokes the form of a sea urchin at Kaido. Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora.

How do you approach food differently at Kaido versus Alter? Of course I am the Chef at both, so it is still my palate and creativity, but the menus are very different. Alter is a tasting menu format with some enhancements, so you can add some dishes to customize your experience. The style at Alter is basically cuisine with no boundaries, which lends itself perfectly to Progressive American, since America is a melting pot of so many cultures—especially Miami! I like bold flavors and twists on words and ideas in order to stimulate the mind and the palate.

In Kaido, I take a different approach. I am inspired by Japanese street food but there are other dishes that draw inspiration from other parts of Asia, like Thailand, or even Americana Chinese. And we want to respect the creations of Nico from the bar; that helped inspire the style of menu. When you are hanging out at a lounge or bar, you’re having a fun time with your friends and enjoying each other’s company; with the dinner menu, it’s designed to be shared. Lots of sashimi/raw selections, robatayaki dishes from the Japanese grill, and issho-ni section in the middle of the menu, which means “together” in Japanese.

Then in the hidden back room named Ama (Japanese for mermaid) we offer a 16 course tasting menu called an Ama-Kase (omakase). Since I am not traditionally trained to do sushi, I do my interpretation of an omakase. These seats are limited to about eight people per night, three days a week. You can find those tickets on our Kaido website.

How is the energy of the Miami Design District different from that of Wynwood? Wynwood is a pretty special place! There really is nothing like it in the world; I feel the same way about what Craig Robins has done with the Design District too. Although they are very different they have one similarity: nearly every single wall is covered with art. There is definitely a respect for creative minds in both neighborhoods and that’s where I feel the most comfortable and free to do what I can imagine.

Chef Kilgore’s Uni Fondue at Kaido

What kind of experience are you aiming to cultivate at Kaido? We want to offer a new experience for any evening craving you have. The bar offers amazingly creative and delicious cocktails from Nico de Soto that are perfect in the Japanese-Luxe-Punk design of Kaido from designer Mark Alan Diaz (MAD Design), with whom who I traveled to Japan for inspiration. It’s sleek and sexy, with a chandelier that is over 30 feet long and contains over 1000 golden butterfly knives in it, to represent a sea urchin. You can find inspiration from the sea urchin on the menu with our signature Uni Fondue, which is made to share at the table and be interactive; the synergy of all the pieces is what makes Kaido so special.

Your approach to food is incredibly artistic—what do you look to for inspiration outside of the culinary realm? I find inspiration in so many things: nature, art, plays on words. I really like to travel, which allows my brain to relax and let the ideas flow.

Can you talk about what draws you to the curated menu style for Alter and Ama-Kase? There is a level of trust that you put into a chef or restaurant when you do a tasting menu; to me, that makes me feel like we are a success—that so many people trust us to cook for them. It also allows the guest to try so many different things, rather than just an appetizer and an entree. Most dishes lose their pop on the palate after four to five bites, so doing a tasting menu keeps it exciting.

A Kilgore-style spin on something familiar to locals: The Floridian Fugu is Lionfish prepared as sashimi. Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora / Lucky Frog Studios.

What would you say is the most inventive or innovative dish you’ve created? I really like new techniques—I try to come up with my own techniques and ideas in my menus. We have a seared foie gras dish on at Alter right now that I think is very cool and innovative, but still respectful of classic cooking. We paired the seared foie gras with Lambrusco, which is a delicious sparkling red table wine that almost tastes like Concord grape juice. Even the plate is special like a piece of art—it’s bent at a 90-degree angle in the middle to create a straight wall, and up that wall we recreate the bubbles of a freshly poured glass of Lambrusco, like stopping a moment in time. From there we make a green sauce from jalapeño juice and another one from grape and Lambrusco, and dot the plate to recreate a bunch of grapes on a vine. The other components are a verjus curd, sage leaves and oil, crisp of gingersnap cookie, and freeze-dried grapes.

Can you share any new ideas you have for 2019? I am excited to get our fourth restaurant, Ember, open in the next two months. It is located directly below Kaido in the Paradise Plaza of Design District. It will be a throwback to some of my favorite places I ate and worked in Kansas City, with an Art Deco design again from Mark Diaz, highlighting cooking over an open fire: working with smoke, wood and fire to create delicious bistro food for lunch and dinner. There will be a Chef’s counter where up to six people can sit and watch the Chefs work in the beautiful open kitchen. From there I want to go and do a refresh of Alter this fall—all exciting things.