Chef Kenny Gilbert closes in Fernandina Beach

The “Top Chef” competitor will leave Northeast Florida for North Carolina after shutting down his last area restaurant.

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Popular chef Kenny Gilbert has closed his second restaurant in as many months, ending his restaurant ownership in Northeast Florida.

On Sunday, he closed Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach. He closed Gilbert’s Social on Southside Boulevard in October.

Gilbert said both closings were planned around lease expiration. However, Hurricane Dorian in September caused unexpected expenses and business did not recover after being closed for a week. He estimated the storm cost him $20,000 to $30,000.

“We closed (because of the hurricane) and the next thing you know business didn’t come back. People were living off all the food they bought for the evacuation,” he said.

While the closings, which were announced on social media, surprised loyal customers, Gilbert said he told the staff weeks in advance so they could make arrangements for other work.

“I have always laid everything out with my staff. They are the foundation of what is going on. It is important for them to be part of the process,” he said.

Gilbert said he employed 15 people at each location.

Gilbert rose to prominence after working at The Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island where he rose to become chef de cuisine. Later, he competed on the seventh season of “Top Chef” in 2010.

Before opening Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen in 2015 and Gilbert Social in 2016, he was co-owner of Caribbean-inspired Nipper’s Beach Grill in Jacksonville Beach. It closed in 2015.

Gilbert said he will relocate in the coming weeks to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he is opening Cut and Gather Kitchen and Bar in February or early March.

It will serve traditional Southern-style food with a modern twist, much like the food he served at Gilbert’s Social and Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen.

Although he will move north, he retains ties to Jacksonville. He serves as executive regional chef for Florida Blue. He operates a catering business and sells his line of spices. He also wants to do pop-up events when he is in town.

Pop-up restaurant events are when a chef prepares a special menu for one night only in a surprise location. While open to the public, only those who follow Gilbert on Instagram (@chefkennyg) will know when and where it is scheduled.

“Jacksonville has been very supportive of me. We’ve done a lot of great things. But sometimes things happen that are out of your control and maybe it is time to make a change,” he said.