Meet the Chef: Kenny Burnap talks kitchen tools, avant garde music and customer favorites at Kenny's Southside Sandwiches

Chef Kenny Burnap opened Kenny's Southside Sandwiches in June 2018.
photo Chef Kenny Burnap opened Kenny's Southside Sandwiches in June 2018.

Kenny Burnap grew up in Ringgold, Georgia, and was taught an important lesson by his grandparents.

"They introduced me to gardening - flowers, vegetables and fruits - at an early age," he says, adding that they also taught him to appreciate foods, such as blackberries, paw paws and muscadines, that he could find by foraging through nearby forests. Add to this a grandmother who loved to cook, pickled the foods from her garden and made lip-smacking jams, it's little wonder that Burnap would pursue a culinary career.

"I loved helping my grandmother cook and helped her often in the kitchen," he says. "Also, watching public television cooking shows were uniquely exciting to me as a kid. I had a couple of different kitchen jobs before I realized I could be good at cooking. When I got the opportunity to go to culinary school in another state, I went for it."

In 2004, Burnap received a degree from Oregon Coast Culinary Institute. After returning to Chattanooga in 2006, he started working at St. John's Restaurant and St. John's Meeting Place, tasked with food prep work and ordering necessary foods and kitchenwares.

"During that time, I was able to learn and craft meat and fish butchery and learned how to reduce stocks for sauces, smoke sausages and cure bacon," he says.

In June 2018, he struck out on his own, leaving St. John's to open Kenny's Southside Sandwiches in partnership with St. John's owner Josh Carter. The restaurant is located on Market Street across from St. John's and serves artisanal foods for breakfast and lunch only.

Q: Whom do you consider your mentor in the culinary world?

A: I have been fortunate enough to have many culinary mentors - Tom Roberts, one of my culinary instructors at OCCI; and chef Daniel Lindley who owned St. John's and now has Alleia in Chattanooga and 5th & Taylor in Nashville. Chef Rebecca Barron is another one. She's the executive chef at St. John's now. All of these folks taught me the importance of sustainable and locally grown food and dedicating my cooking to always being imaginative, professional and caring.

Q: It appears that restaurants serving only breakfast and lunch is a trend. Why did you decide to just offer these two meals?

A: Offering local foods and artisanal, prepared foods during breakfast and lunch is something that's unique for busy Southside working professionals, neighborhood inhabitants and families. I hope Kenny's can be a part of the growing development in the Southside.

Q: Do you think it adds a new dimension in food service around the Southside?

A: Yes I do. I worked at St. John's Restaurant for over 11 years and during that time saw that people wanted the option to have more local, thoughtfully prepared and creative dining options. Kenny's is in the same family as St. John's Restaurant and Meeting Place and hopes to continue serving our regular customers with great service and food, as well as new casual diners, too.

Q: What's one thing people may not know about you?

A: I'm vice president of the nonprofit arts group Shaking Ray Levi Society, which was responsible for Wayne-O-Rama, and have been an active member since 1998. Around that time, I organized and promoted shows for popular indie rock and pop acts - Neutral Milk Hotel, Cat Power, Smog, Bright Eyes, Of Montreal, Vic Chestnutt and the free improvisational guitarist Derek Bailey. I was also the first person to book these shows at the historic Lamar's restaurant and lounge.

Q: If you hadn't become a chef, what would you have done?

A: I'd be a professional record collector or graphic designer for avant garde music posters.

Q: What appears to be the favorite item of your guests on your menu?

A: The Fried Chicken Biscuit for breakfast, created by Brandon Moore, our sous chef. It's a fried Springer Mountain Farms chicken thigh, with both housemade buffalo sauce and apple butter. The Brisket Reuben for lunch, a sandwich with smoked beef brisket and a thin slice of spice-crusted pastrami served on Niedlov's Bakery marble rye bread, is also popular.

Q: What's one of your personal favorites?

A: Our Pork Belly Bao Buns for lunch. We stuff three steamed and pillowy bao buns with house-smoked and hoisin-glazed Heritage Farms pork belly, spicy kimchi, cucumbers, cilantro and sesame aioli.

Q: How would you best describe your cooking style?

A: Playful, creative and greatly influenced by rustic Southern traditional cooking.

Q: What do you like to cook the most?

A: I enjoy meat cookery like braises and confits. But I love preparing and smoking sausages best.

Q: What do you consider the most important cooking tool in your kitchen? How does it help you and your food preparation?

A: A sharp knife. When a food, like homemade breakfast sausage, is cut by a sharp knife it will greatly affect how that item will stay fresh, cook consistently and, most importantly, eat well.

Here's Kenny Burnap's recipe for a make-your-own breakfast sausage using fresh pork shoulder and spices.

Sage and Ginger Breakfast Sausage

2 1/2 pounds fresh pork shoulder (a fatty breed like Berkshire is best)

1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 tablespoon roasted garlic

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 tablespoon dried sage

1/4 tablespoon black pepper

1/4 tablespoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Cut shoulder into 1-inch dice. Mix diced pork with remaining ingredients, and spread evenly on a tray. Chill pork mixture along with grinder parts in the freezer for 30 minutes. Place a large bowl on a bed of ice. Grind pork mixture through the fine-grinder plate into bowl. Wearing gloves, knead the mixture into one cohesive ball. Mixture should not crumble and should be sticky and soft.

Portion mixture into 3-ounce balls. You should have 13 to 15 portions. Press each ball to flatten into patties. Or you can freeze mixture tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for later use.

Cook sausage patties in a medium-hot cast-iron pan with a small amount of neutral cooking oil, such as corn, canola, safflower or peanut oil. Cook each side until brown. Do not smash patties and be careful not to overcook and dry the sausage out.

Email Anne Braly at [email protected].