We continue our conversation with Chris Kearse, the owner-chef of Will BYOB and Forsythia, an Old City restaurant serving “modern French cuisine with classic undertones” opening this August (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
On whether Chef Kearse considers himself a “rebel”…
One of eight siblings, half of a set of twin boys, Chris seems like an anomaly. Most of his family is in the sciences in one way or another; his father is even a doctor. So we had to ask—does Chef Kearse consider himself the artistic rebel.
“I love science, and I gravitate towards science a lot when cooking. I can’t taste or smell, and I can hardly hear, [so] my approach is very intellectual. I process a lot in my head when it comes to food. I can taste sweet, sour, salty, [but] for example, I can’t taste rosemary. So when I cook, I really have to understand what’s really going on: science-wise, visually, all of that shit. If you break it down, cooking really is all science. I really do take that approach strongly. I need that leverage personally.”
The chef isn’t afraid to do his own thing, but he doesn’t consider himself a rebel. As a matter of fact, he finds himself taking after his father in a lot of ways from the keys he carries to his fondness for his motorcycle to his entrepreneurial spirit.
On the relationship between dining and entertainment…
FEASTIVAL blurs the line between the culinary world and the performance world. According to Chris, the line is a lot less opaque than we traditionally think it to be.
“[Dining out] is show business! We are in show business. We are in entertainment.
Every culture is based around food. From the primal days to now. [Food is the center of our] culture and community. It’s entertainment. It is a memory.
When I was in Chicago, people went out to eat every night. That’s what you did. Like I don’t drink; I don’t go to the bar. What I do is go out to dinner. That’s where the industry is going—[it’s about the complete experience] not just the food or the wine or the liquor. It’s about everything. It’s cooler to be seen some places than other places. That’s fun for us as restaurateurs—to push… and keep [the excitement] alive versus us getting complacent.”
On his favorite meal to prepare…
“At home? Probably cacio de pepe. It’s like spaghetti with parmesan and black pepper. It’s such a great late night eat. By the time you boil water, you’re done. It’s pretty simple but really good. I’ll show you how to do it. Plus, if you are lazy or don’t have a lot of time, you can use instant ramen noodles. Just don’t use the seasoning packets. Throw that shit out. Just add butter and cheese. It’s pretty cool.”
His least favorite meal to prepare…
“Black bass. The skin curls up too much. It’s very fishy. I don’t like putting flour in my fish. I never use it. It tastes good. When I do it, it holds well, but I hate cooking that in the restaurant. But besides that, it’s all the same.”
And what he does, where he goes, and what he eats on his days off…
Even Chris’ days off are busy and filled with CrossFit, trips to the gym, motorcycle rides, running errands, and Target adventures. “I tend to be out all day long and get home at like nine o’clock, which is horrible… I don’t sit down.” That’s starting to change. “Now, I’ve started to do nothing. Sometimes I’ll get a haircut or a message, [and] I play guitar at home.”
“I’m a pretty lowkey person. A loner. I love people, but I just have a lot of stuff to do. With my days off, one day is a homework day, and the other is a chill and personal [day]. One day is [for] research and going out to eat, and one day I have to do something for the brain. That’s my self-care: learning something”
When it comes to the foods an award-winning chef eats on his days off,” I love cheeseburgers with mayo.”
On his legacy…
Listening to Chris’ friends, colleagues, mentors, mentees, you get a pretty clear idea of the legacy that the chef has been creating for himself, so we hear Chris’ own thoughts about the path he’s creating.
“That’s a good question because I think about that a lot.” Back in college, “I got turned down from a lot of jobs just because of how I looked…, [and] all I needed was a shot. That’s why I give people chances. It’s really on them. It looks like I’m doing a lot for them, but it’s really them reaching their full potential. And that’s what coaches do. The coach doesn’t throw the ball. The coach makes you want to throw the ball harder and perfect. That’s my job. People think that for the chef the hardest part is making the menu up. No, the hardest part is getting the talent.”
And what’s next…
“Definitely expanding. We would like to offer something more and different than what we’re doing. We have had a lot of support from the city in the past last seven years. I don’t want to do the same song and dance. I want something new. I want to keep evolving just like we all are in the city. That’s it another full-service restaurant will be my next project.”
Before we let Chef Kearse go, we had one last question. Seven years in business is a huge accomplishment for a chef—had it felt like seven years had gone by since Will had first opened its doors?
“Yeah, it does. You should see pictures of me from five years ago to see the difference. It’s scary.”
Thank you to Chris Kearse and Will BYOB!
Will BYOB (1911 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148) is a modern French-inspired BYOB, located on East Passyunk Avenue in the heart of South Philadelphia.
* Edited for clarity