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The culmination of his life’s work, Kevin Gillespie opens Nadair in Woodland Hills on May 22

Roasted lamb loin with fire-roasted carrots, sumac, coriander, and smoked lamb jus

Photo by Angie Mosier

Chef is a family man. The 2022 James Beard Award finalist named his Glenwood Park restaurant as a tribute to his father; his newest venture celebrates his Scottish heritage, particularly paying tribute to his father and grandmother. Named Nadair (“nuh-DARE”), it means “way of nature” and focuses on cooking over an open fire—something Gillespie says he misses from his time at Woodfire Grill. Located in the former space in Woodland Hills (1123 Zonolite Road), Nadair will focus on sustainability, locally sourced fare, and highlighting the simplicity of ingredients, while reflecting on Gillespie’s 27 years of cooking in Atlanta and the Pacific Northwest. It also features influences from time spent with his relatives in New England, Scotland, and the South.

“Nadair is a way for me to share my heritage with guests and to also celebrate the family ties that unite all of us,” he says in a press release.

Pan-roasted diver scallops with Stornaway-style black pudding, crushed peas, smoked bacon, parsley sauce, and young mint

Slated to open May 22, Nadair marks Gillespie’s return to the kitchen after a fight with renal cancer. As executive chef, he’ll work with sous chefs Olivia McCoy formerly of and and Lane Williams Gunshow and to prepare a six-course tasting menu ($175 per person), three-course prix fixe with diner-selected choices ($89 per person), and a la carte options only at the bar. He’ll even wear a tartan kilt—one of eight in his closet—to cook.

The menu may include pan-roasted diver scallop with Stornaway-style black pudding, crushed peas, smoked bacon, parsley sauce, and young mint; Heritage muscovy duck breast with braised cabbage, grilled mushroom salad, and black cherry Cumberland sauce; and Scottish cheese dumplings with butter-poached radish, asparagus, salted turnip, and cinder-roasted Vidalia onion sauce. For dessert, there’s Grandma Coylene’s Banoffee pie, warm blueberry dumpling, and a Tipsy Laird trifle made with orange cake, strawberry confit, rosewater custard, and boozy Chantilly cream.

Like the food, the decor will nod to Gillespie’s heritage. The carpet sports a tartan pattern like that worn by Gillespie’s great-grandfather, who served in the Scottish Royal Regiment during World War I. Paneling and wainscotting will adorn the walls. The furniture will be a combination of contemporary Scottish and handmade classic Shaker-inspired pieces from Chilton Furniture in New England. Reservations are required for the 70-seat dining room. The bar will be first-come, first-serve.

“If we do this well, every guest who comes to dinner will feel like we opened that night just to host them,” Gillespie says. “I hope people will try food that they haven’t seen before and feel like it reconnected them to some memory or experience they’ve had.”

He shares more below.

Lightly cured and marinated shellfish with green garlic, pickled beets, cultured butter, and crumbled oatcakes

Photo by Angie Mosier

For those who aren’t familiar with it, what is Scottish cuisine?

It’s rooted in sustainability because it’s a rural agrarian country. The focus is on total and absolute utilization. They cook entirely with the seasons and what is provided to them. That sounds an awful lot like Southern food to me. In New England, where my mom’s father is from, it’s very similar because they were Scottish immigrants who made the same dishes and changed their names.

So, when I say Nadair is influenced by Scotland, it’s not in the campy, cliché way, but inspired by the commitment to seasonality, locality, and utilization—things I’ve done for most of my career.

How will you make people comfortable with unfamiliar menu items?

I see this as the cuisine of a person who identifies as Scottish-American. This is not textbook Scottish.

We don’t need to write everything in Gaelic or with its Scottish name. We can pick and choose our battles and pick and choose our verbiage. It’s about finding the relatable point and asking our staff to discuss that with people. Cullen skink is a smoked haddock chowder. We need to explain it along the lines of American dishes people have had before.

Tell me more about the food.

The presence of cooking over an open fire is prevailing theme. The Floataway space already had a wood-burning oven, and we adapted it to an open hearth. I’ve missed that since selling Woodfire Grill.

My style of cooking has become more intentional. It’s less experimentation, more drilling down into an idea to focus on a specific impact. These dishes are hyper focused on an ingredient. We add to that only what we truly need to make it great. Elegant and restrained is what I want. I don’t care that the dishes be novel or new.

Günter Seeger [] said he wanted to get a specific emotive response for each dish. I think a lot about that now. I’m going to find a way to tap into the singular most important thing to happen as a chef: For someone to eat a dish and have it remind them of a certain place, person, or time in their life. People feeling connected on a personal level is very valuable to me.

We made a commitment to take our already big drive to be sustainable to the next level. We needed a literal goal, so we picked the Michelin Green Star [the award Michelin gives out for sustainable efforts]. If we do everything it’s going to take to win a Green Star, we could probably also win a Michelin Star. [But] if we focused on what it takes to win a Michelin Star, I’m afraid we’d lose our compass bearings and get away from my values. 

How much of the menu will be cooked over an open flame?

Almost every dish has some element that is being cooked over the fire at some point in its lifespan. We have a dish that’s like a ricotta gnudi with onion sauce. The onions roast to pulp in the embers of fire.

Why did you decide to offer the three- and six-course options?

At Woodfire Grill, when we only did a tasting menu, it allowed us a lot of focus. I like the idea of a guest enjoying multiple dishes, but I didn’t want to replicate Gunshow. This gives people the opportunity to taste different things.

I wanted to make sure that regardless of budget and savviness, you could eat with us. Not everyone wants to sit for two-and-a-half and eat eight things. By giving people the prix fixe with the choices (three per course), we’re allowing them to get comfortable. In my perfect world scenario, that’s just a stopgap and we move to only the tasting menu. At Woodfire Grill, in time, the prix fixe was no longer needed, so it went away.

I realize there is nothing else around here to eat. I don’t want to turn you away without a reservation, so we wanted to make sure we had limited seating for the bar if you show up. We’re in a neighborhood—people might want to grab a bite to eat.

Gingerbread shortbread and Scottish tablet

Photo by Angie Mosier

How do you feel taking over such a notable space?

It’s an enormous weight on my shoulders. I have so much admiration for what Annie [Quatrano] and Cliff [Harrison] have done for Atlanta. I know it’s going to be an uphill battle because there will be a lot of folks who loved Floataway, and this is not like Floataway. I have to be authentic to myself. I am not Annie or Cliff and can’t resurrect their restaurant. I am very excited to be the steward of this space here. I have big shoes to fill.

What are you doing to achieve your goal of winning a Michelin Green Star?

Requiring reservations is part of it. I saw that at Gunshow, when you cook for a guestimate of people, you throw away a lot of food. When you know how many people are coming, that doesn’t seem to happen.

We sit next to Zonolite Park nature preserve [and] the Nickel Bottom Community Garden. We worked with Asana to expand the program. We are diverting rainwater off our roof, underground into cisterns powered by solar energy, and into the gardens to grow stuff onsite for the restaurant. It’s a step in the right direction, utilizing something that’s otherwise wasted.

We’ve repurposed things—we’re using vintage flat wear. We’re supporting artisans from small mom and pop places that show commitment to the environment. Our tables and chairs are from Maine, old Shaker families who handmake furniture using sustainably harvested woods.

Tell me about the cocktail, beer, and wine programs.

Angela Guthmiller, who worked with Marcus Samuelsson in London, is leading the cocktail program. What we are doing culinarily is very rooted in tradition. In other words, we won’t go bananas with our cocktails in a very avant-garde way and will focus on the classics. For example, penicillin is a great drink made with blended whiskey. We chose two single malts from the two parts of Scotland where my grandparents are from to make it more personal to us.

We’ll have beer from small craft breweries stateside and Scottish beers that are favorites of my family. Innis & Gunn cask-aged ale is the pairing for the amuse course on the tasting menu because I love it. It’s aged in whiskey barrels but super drinkable. Tennent’s Lager is like the Budweiser of Scotland. My dad loved it, and I love it, too. It’s not a sophisticated beer—it’s cold, thirst quenching, and delightful. Belhaven Brewery is pushing the envelope in Scotland. That shows that craft brewing doesn’t only exist in the U.S.

As for wine, we’ll have pairing options for the tasting menu and suggestions for the prix fixe. The sommelier is Ashleigh McFadden from Kimball House. We’re not going for the bible of wine here. In my opinion, the best wine program in Atlanta is at Spring in Marietta. It’s not loads of bottles but only excellent ones. We’ll follow that roadmap with a focus on American making, reflective of the half a decade I spent in Pacific Northwest.

Tipsy Laird trifle (Georgia strawberry confit, orange cake, rose water custard, and boozy Chantilly cream

Photo by Angie Mosier

Why are you digging into your personal whiskey stash for the bar?

Because it’s better than what is available! I wanted to have some that were favorites of my father. I can’t get a lot of those anymore. A lot of them don’t exist. In my mind, he would’ve wanted them, so they will be here for him.

Spirit allocations are a horrible form of gatekeeping. [For example], only certain places can get Pappy Van Winkle. I wanted to make sure we’d have a bunch of approachable, reasonably priced whiskeys. I knew the ones that would be generationally special would not be available to us out of the gate. The only way we could do that is to tap into the ones I have.

Rosebank Distillery has been closed for decades. It’s 31 is an old expression of whiskey. The bottle costs about $4,000, which, when you break it out, amounts to hundreds of dollars for a single pour. I’m expecting to take a lot of these back home having zero drops poured from them. 

Are you ready to return to the kitchen four days a week?

I’ve had nine surgeries in last five years. My journey through cancer was not clean and easy. I’ve spent the last five years really frustrated and feeling guilty for not being able to play a more significant daily role in my own businesses. I decided I didn’t want to live that way anymore. Whatever I have left in the tank, I’m going to throw at this thing. We’re going to hope that I hold out and don’t have an issue that sidelines me. I will not be a chef forever. If this is my last [restaurant], I want to give it everything I have, but I hope it’s not.