In the kitchen with…
Chef Brett Knipmeyer of Kinley's Restaurant & Bar
Story By Sarah Gonzales • Photography by Danny Daniels Photography
Chef Brett Knipmeyer, owner of Kinley's Restaurant & Bar, "couldn't see putting on a suit and tie every day," so he opted to pursue a culinary career after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in architecture. "I'm a manual laborer, a blue-collar worker at heart," he explains, confessing his love for long hours in a hot kitchen.
Knipmeyer whet his appetite for cooking during his post-college days in Boulder, Colorado taking his first "no experience necessary" job at a bar and grill. "It was a lot of flipping burgers and deep frying for three years," he remembers, yet despite the greasy labor, "it seemed like I really wanted to cook." He left the grill to attend the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon and has been in casual fine dining ever since.
Although swapping blueprints for menus, the chef reflects that cooking remains technically similar to architecture because, he explains, the two share "the three basics of building." He starts with "the base, like making stock from bones. Then it's the structure – the meat, the starch, the veg. And last is the aesthetics – the garnish, the drizzle, the coulis." It all makes for "a happy medium because you have the science of cooking and then the artistic presentation," he says.
Knipmeyer's holistic passion for the culinary perhaps took root during his childhood in a Chicago suburb. His mother prepared well-balanced, family dinners (always accompanied with three vegetables, or "two greens and a yellow," he smiles), while his grandparents owned a farm nearby where the family still continues to raise cattle, grow vegetables, and hunt pheasant and deer on the property. Because of his upbringing, Knipmeyer relates that he "grew up with an agrarian sense of produce what you eat, eat what you produce."
These days Knipmeyer's culinary senses have grown to include more than just producing and eating. "It's all about the yin and the yang, the balance of it all," he says speaking of the symmetry between art and science, taste and aesthetic, and marrying various ethnic flavors with classical cooking methods. He says he takes "those French-based procedures and worldly flavors and combines them" to create savory dishes such as ahi tuna tacos, Cajun-style duck, and Moroccan meatballs.
An evocative meal's flavors and aromas will later recall strong memories of place and time, a sensual experience Knipmeyer seeks to preserve and share by offering an international array of flavors on Kinley's menu from the places he's traveled. "I just returned from a trip to Michoacan, Mexico for the butterfly migration. I'm up in the mountains eating taquitos from an old woman's cart and cold beer from the corner store and it tasted so great," he recalls, smiling. "I also ate lots of mole there. That flavor is on the menu now."
He recalls his own favorite evocative meal while on a high school trip to the tidal island Mont-Saint-Michel in the North of France. Painting a picture of the old abbey surrounded by water at night, the smell of sea air and the ocean breeze, he remembers: "They brought out bowls and bowls of mussels and crunchy bread. Absolutely delicious." Then he adds with a grin, "I think I kissed a girl that night too." Ooh la la!
Knipmeyer's success stems from a desire to try new things. His advice for the home cook wanting to test a new recipe? "Just try it. People get intimidated by cooking and it's not rocket science. I mean, what's the worst that could happen?" His response to the cautious diner considering foreign flavors? "Just try it. With every new experience comes acceptance."
Knipmeyer's culinary philosophies may be a recipe for a wise and happy life, as well. Delicious food, hard work, good balance, exploring the unfamiliar and also taking advantage of the local are the tenets by which he abides. "My main food philosophy? Good food, good service at a good price. There's nothing earth shattering about that, right?" Absolutely not, Chef.