Story by Chad Thurman
Meet Chef Kevin Purdy of the Highlands House Café & Bar in Santa Rosa Beach.
Chef Purdy envisions and creates the menu using his experiences, influences, and educational knowledge to offer coastally inspired and French technique influenced meals. Purdy credits the free and creative atmosphere that Highlands House owner Marc Russack encourages as instrumental to the variety of the menu he has crafted for the guests of Highlands House.
Recently, 30afoodandwine.com spent a few minutes with Chef Kevin to discover his influences and inspirations for his menu.
Chef Purdy’s Highlands House style in his own words:
“The menu is all my creation. Marc has been very generous in letting me have free rein to show my influences, my style of cooking. He has been very supportive of my influences that span a whole lot of different regions and styles of cooking.
I grew up in Miami where the food is a melting pot of South American, Cuban, Haitian, Bahamian, and other Caribbean cuisines. My family had a scuba diving cruise company, and we would take people out on weeklong scuba diving trips. I’d always worked for them growing up, and one day I started cooking on the boats for the passengers. I took an interest in that while we were out cruising the Bahamas catching fish straight from the water and going to the galley to make sashimi sushi, or pulling conch off the bottom of the ocean and making conch salad. It was an incredible job; it was a lot of fun. That was where it all began; ever since I was born my parents have been in the hospitality yachting industry. That’s where I got my passion to cook.
The first restaurant I ever worked at was a Peruvian restaurant at the Sonesta Hotel in Coconut Grove. I worked there for about a year then I took a job at an Italian restaurant. All the while I was going to Florida International University studying restaurant management and hospitality. I started to realize how much I loved cooking while taking classes and cooking in these restaurants. That’s when I decided that I wanted to go to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I began studies at CIA in 2007 and graduated in 2009.
While studying at CIA, I moved from New York to Charleston and did an internship at the Peninsula Grill under Chef Bob Carter, who is a James Beard nominated chef. It was a really phenomenal restaurant with South Carolina Lowcountry influenced southern cuisine but with a French technique.
After I graduated CIA, I went to Nashville which is where my career got a kick start. I worked at the Capitol Grill in the Hermitage Hotel under Chef Tyler Brown, who is also a James Beard nominated chef. Then I went to work at F. Scott’s in Nashville which is kind of a Southern-French fusion, a Southern style but with a French technique. I started to get a lot of wine knowledge working there too. Paring food and wine is one of my passions.
From there I went to Watermark Restaurant in Nashville under Chef Bob Wagner, another James Beard nominated chef. It is in a booming spot right downtown; a high end modern place. I went on board there and during my time there we filmed a PBS TV show called Sing for Your Supper recorded at the Ryman Auditorium. We would prepare meals for different singers and musicians who would have to literally sing for their supper. We would cook on stage, and I would showcase a dish that I was making – it was a blast. My fiancé and I moved to South Walton in 2013, and I took a job at Marina Café. I was there about one year before I came aboard with Highlands House this past May.
With my cooking style, Chef Wagner is definitely one of my biggest influences; he brought all of the finesse together for me. He cooked in France for several years and his influences on me are largely French – heavily sauce based. Everything I make in-house from scratch. We do our own stocks, our own sauces, and our own accompaniments. Definitely something that Wagner instilled in me was that you can always make food better.”
Chef Purdy’s diverse coastal history and the educational experiences of having cooked with some of the best culinary artists in the industry enable him the creative vision for food that is much sought after by casual diners and foodies alike. The adventurous spirit to cooking that he retains from his days in the galley while on scuba tour through the Caribbean is embodied in the flavors of his food, while his inventiveness is evident through dishes like his Korean inspired bibimbap kimchi burger, or his German influenced pumpkin spaetzle dish. With the many tapas style offerings and entrée dishes drawn from his extensive background, Chef Kevin Purdy of Highlands House will certainly have your new favorite on his menu.