Former ‘Top Chef’ contestant Kenny Gilbert opens new restaurants in Jacksonville Beach


Chef Kenny Gilbert, a suburban Cleveland-native who appeared on "Top Chef" season seven, opened two new restaurants in Jacksonville Beach this week.

Gilbert hosted an opening preview event for Southern Kitchen & Bar and Hot Chicken, Fish & Shrimp Jan. 8. The restaurant concepts opened the next day, Jan. 9.

Gilbert began his culinary career after enrolling in a local vocational program. Following high school, he attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and received a degree in culinary arts.

"About two months ago, I was approached by Jim Franks who actually owns this facility and they were looking to consult," Gilbert said in a monologue at the Jan. 8 preview event. "So, I came out, met him and his fiancé and we had a couple drinks. We were talking, then that talk went to another talk and next thing you know we became partners in this project."

After Gilbert's initial assessment of the property, formerly known as Seachasers, the chef decided that the facility necessitated a change in presentation.

"After walking around this property, I decided to rebrand it," he said. "I said, 'That's important, I think we have a bad name for whatever reason, whether it's inconsistency with this or inconsistency with that.' I think it's important to rebrand with something positive and kind of do a do-over."

The former Top Chef contestant liked the building and wanted to elaborate on it by creating two new concepts - a fish and shrimp bar on the bottom floor and a southern kitchen restaurant and bar on the top floor.

In addition to appearing on "Top Chef," Gilbert has cooked for the G8 summit during the Bush 46 presidency and for celebrity talk show host Opera Winfrey.

Gilbert's Hot Chicken, Fish & Shrimp menu features smoked boneless chicken thighs, 24-hour brined birds, catfish fillet, local wild shrimp, signature sandwiches (hot or not), sides and more. Gilbert's Southern Kitchen & Bar features North Florida surf & turf, smoked beef brisket, southern curry, Anna's mac & cheese, salads, soups and more. Both restaurants are located at 831 1st St. N. in Jacksonville Beach.