In The Kitchen: Chris Ross

Dundee Gastropub opened its doors on this year’s Black Friday, of all days. A partnership between Chris Ross and business partner Susan Conway, two Bristol Bar & Grille alumni, wanted to stamp their authority on the space that has been occupied by the Dundee Tavern for so many years. We sat down with head chef Chris Ross to hear his musings on his beginnings, why all chefs need validation and his hopes for his venture into owning a restaurant.

On not sleeping since taking over, and opening on Black Friday…
My brain is scrambled, I’m sorry. I’ve totally given up on sleep. I worked at The Bristol until the week that we opened. We took ownership on Nov. 24 and had a few days to clean everything, order food, prep the food and work 15 hour days, and open on the morning of Black Friday. That morning was a nightmare and it felt like Kitchen Nightmares. The liquor license was delayed, so we could not serve liquor until this past Wednesday. It was a soft opening; it was rough, but Saturday was much better and ever since then we have been busy. We got crushed a few days ago when we did a promotion with an elementary school, where we had 180 covers. Everyday we look to change things and do things better, and last night we did 210 covers. It’s all really exciting.

On why his food will work at the new look Dundee Gastropub…
I think my food is current; it can appeal to foodies, but also translates to the people who want to come in for bar food. This restaurant is right off restaurant row and if you can’t make it here on Bardstown Road or right off it, then you would never make it anywhere. I like to think of my food as fancy Southern food. 90 percent of the food they had here before was deep-fried bar food. We still want to serve bar food, too – you’d be crazy to have chicken wings and not serve them – but our sauces are homemade and we have other appetizers that we created. For example, one of our signature dishes is white bean and ham soup, it’s a classic dish and we serve it with homemade cornbread and a sweet onion chow-chow. We have some cool sandwiches that have taken off too, like our short-rib grilled cheese, or a grilled pimento cheese and bacon.

On his beginnings…
I was born in Lexington, but spent a lot of my life in eastern Kentucky. I have an odd accent, because I’ve tried to not have an eastern Kentucky accent, but have now developed a weird accent (laughs). People think I have an Irish accent, which I get all the time. I’ve tried not having an accent, but by trying not to have an accent I’ve created one. I went to culinary school in Louisville, then went back to Ashland, Kentucky, and worked my way up to be an executive chef at a country club, but I knew I always wanted to move away and eventually open up my own place. Louisville is a great city to do that in.

On why he picked cooking…
Growing up in Ashland, I worked as a waiter at the same country club I would eventually become executive chef at. The chef there was Scott Sutton, who is still one of my mentors. I got intrigued by the stuff that he was doing and would stay after my shift and do stuff for free just to be able to learn and be around the kitchen. I honestly think I got on his nerves, because he just told me I should go to school, and so I came to Louisville. To be good at cooking you have to have passion; a passion for food, and a love for pleasing people. It’s one of those things where you get instant gratification. Within a few minutes of putting something out, you know if someone likes it. I think chefs are narcissistic, and need validation, and you have to love self-torture a little. It’s grueling work, but you can ask any chef and they’ll tell you it’s the most satisfying work you can do – to feed somebody and make them happy.

Dundee Gastropub is located at 2224 Dundee Road, Louisville, Ky. 40205. For more information, call 502.458.6637.

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune