Venerated Chef Bob Kinkead Leaves Behind D.C. Legacy

The much-loved Kinkead's chef died on Sunday. 

Bob Kinkead
Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Bob Kinkead, a chef best known for his restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area, has died. The force behind mid-Atlantic institutions like Kinkead’s and 21 Federal, Kinkead inspired a generation of chefs, many of whom passed through his kitchens.

After getting his start in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Kinkead came to D.C. in the late '80s, where he began to make his name with 21 Federal. In 1993, he was named "Best Mid-Atlantic Chef" by the James Beard Foundation for Kinkead's.

Chef Chris Newsome, a friend who worked with the late chef at Kinkead's for eight years in the early 2000s, tells Food & Wine, "Bob had the whole package. He taught young men and women about passing the torch."

"There are several chefs like Bob that are kind of the underbelly, the foundation of where we are," said Newsome, who now helms the kitchen at Ollie Irene in Alabama. "There are some guys get a lot of press, and there are some guys who have maybe faded into the fold. There aren't many chef like him anymore who are really all about building good human beings and trying to teach something really serious about technique and ingredients and how you treat one another. Bob was one of those guys."

In 2000, then-Food & Wine editor Pete Wells wrote a story on the most noteworthy restaurants in 16 North American cities, with Kinkead's earning "Best Restaurant in Washington, D.C."

"Kinkead's may be the best restaurant in the nation's capital, yet it still has a small-town feel," Wells wrote. "Recently the menu has been hawking raffle tickets to help the sous-chef get to France for a culinary competition. Chef Bob Kinkead listens to the local community, too. He changes the menu daily, but by popular demand he has never dropped the pumpkin seed-crusted salmon with crab, shrimp and chiles."

Perhaps more striking than the quality of the food at Kinkead's—which many credit for ushering in an era of more internationally-minded New American cooking—is the quality of chefs who passed through his kitchens. Many saw the chef as the driving force behind the explosion of the D.C. food scene. In 2016, the Washingtonian published a story detailing the family tree of prominent D.C. chefs whose careers Kinkead helped shape, including Ris Lacoste, Tracy O'Grady, Brandon L'Etoile, and many more.

On Sunday, December 15, Lacoste announced that the chef had died that morning. At the time this article was published, there has been no statement on the cause of death.

Many D.C.-area chefs and restaurants took to social media to share their condolences and memories. Marcel's + Beck tweeted, "He was a kind and generous chef and one of the original Old Guard who helped shape the DC dining scene."

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