Kyle Knall, a native of Birmingham Alabama, has been cooking professionally since he was 16. The youngest of three, he followed his siblings to the local restaurant where they were employed and got a job working the salad station as a busser before moving to the front of the kitchen. The rest, as they say, is history. He went from high school to culinary school in his hometown of Birmingham, AL while also working, first at the Daniel George kitchen and then with legendary Chef Frank Stitt at his restaurants, Highlands and Chez Fonfon.
Post-graduation he moved to NYC and landed at Gramercy Tavern before moving onto Chef at Maysville, an American whiskey bar and restaurant in the Flatiron district where he’s winning rave reviews for his understated American style.
Among the number one questions Chef Knall is often asked centers on ingredients: What does he use most? What does he like best? “The answer sounds like a cop out, I know,” he says, “But the reality is, it all depends on the season. I like to use what’s available and so that means now, in the dead of winter, we’re using a lot of squash.”
(Since Symrise caught up with him on a snowy winter day, he said he’s very much looking forward to spring produce.)
In terms of everyday cooking, he says he’s always looking to add some acidity, often a kind of vinegar to spice up a dish.
Oysters also play a big role in his cooking. “It’s a huge part of how I grew up,” he says. Ditto the spirits of the South, meaning bourbon. “Instead of using cognac or another kind of wine or spirit, we use bourbon,” he says of the Maysville style. He says it has a lot of depth and that he even uses it to de-glaze pans.
“We like using bourbon to build flavors,” he says. That means roasting oysters, or sautéing with another ingredient like apple cider.
PHOTO: Chef Knall at Starchefs ICC 2013 in Manhattan
The use of charred wood is another Southern touch he uses a lot that gives dishes depth. “I think the smoke flavor makes you think of the South,” he says, “But for me, it’s the backbone of American cooking.”
As for when he’s off-duty, he says the same kitchen rules applies. “I’m always joking with my sous chefs because I always seem to do the same things I do at the restaurant at home. I go to the market, I see what’s available and I make something from that. And anytime I can cook outside on a grill is terrific.”
He knows it sounds cliché but he sees the trend continuing in terms of seasonal and local though he admits he’d like to see it be a part of American cooking and not what’s talked about as a trend per say. “Cooking with what’s local and having a relationship with area farmers should be part of our everyday culture,” he says.
As for what’s next on his plate? Chef Knall says he’s in the process of opening a restaurant in New Orleans similar to Maysville. “We’re working on it now,’ he says, “A lot is still very much up in the air but it’s something we’re hoping will work out.”
Diners, we’re sure, agree.