At Brava by Brad Kilgore, the two-time James Beard Award Semifinalist lands the starring role at the Adrienne Arsht Center's culinary maestro.
Alaskan halibut with spinach nage, golden potato, zucchini, pistachio relish, and lemon verbena reflects the chef’s “elegant but casual” approach.
Louis CK. Courtney Love. The Beach Boys. Dirty Dancing. The Nutcracker. These are just a few of the high-profile attractions that the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts will bring to Miamians as part of its 10th-anniversary season. But venture upstairs to Brava by Brad Kilgore and you’ll find an entirely different type of performance, with Kilgore—a protégé of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a Food & Wine “Best New Chef” for 2016—taking center stage in a show involving whipped clam chowder and popcorn chicken (and not the fried KFC type).
“Cookery is a form of performance art,” says Kilgore, who has dramatically elevated the city’s culinary standing since exiting the world of traditional fine dining and opening Alter last year. Perhaps that’s why, when it came time for the Arsht Center to revamp its on-site restaurant, Kilgore was the natural choice for John Richard, the Center’s president and CEO. “He gave me a tour and asked what I would do if the restaurant was mine,” the chef recalls, “so I submitted a menu geared around the design and mind-set that people are in when they go to the theater”—a mind-set that he describes as elegant but casual.
That preliminary menu is now the playbill at Brava, open whenever there’s a performance at the Center, with seating available before and after the show for Arsht patrons as well as the general public (a nice bonus since the focus at Alter switches to a tasting menu on December 1). Fragrant house-baked loaves of rosemary focaccia, served with a duo of olive and sweet cream butters, set the table and the scene for the recognizable acts that follow, like a clam chowder that’s both dense with black truffle butter and potato purée and as nimble as the Florida clams and celery root that infuse the aerated broth.
“There are plays and symphonies that have been around for decades, even centuries, and people are still appreciating them,” says Kilgore. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be like that with the food. Clam chowder is a timeless and rich dish, but we made it lighter and just new.” The same credo applies to the extraordinary Arsht Caesar, made with young artichokes, Grana Padano (often called the king of cheeses), and bottarga. The entrées are equally enthralling, with the celeriac “steak” and the poulet rouge—which Kilgore refers to as “the underdogs”—sharing the spotlight. “Chicken and vegetables tend to be unmemorable,” he says, “but really good chicken shows skills from the kitchen.”
In the case of the poulet rouge, that means a full day of preparation that involves infusing hollandaise with popcorn and stuffing it with a farce using the thighs and herbs, then roasting and finishing it with asparagus, rosemary, and more popcorn, says chef de cuisine Jeff Maxfield, formerly of Toscana Divino and Ironside Pizza.
Maxfield is part of an ensemble cast at Brava that includes Kilgore’s other half, pastry star Soraya Caraccioli-Kilgore. Like any performance, a meal is only as good as its finale, and at Brava that means three possible sweet endings—a chèvre cheesecake (with morello cherry and tarragon), the Key lime cube (featuring a quartet of citruses encased in toasted meringue), or the decadently dark chocolate ganache—each one worthy of a standing ovation. 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-949-6722