Eli Kulp had already committed to a life in the industry when he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in 2003. He had starting cooking professionally at 14 and knew he needed the refinement and skills CIA had to offer. After graduating in 2005, Kulp made the natural move to New York City, where he cooked at Italian Casa Lever before working under Rising Star Chef Josh DeChellis at Fonda del Sol. Kulp returned to Italian cooking at Del Posto. While working there with Chef Mark Ladner, something clicked for Kulp. He grew as a leader in the kitchen, and the philosophies behind the food pushed him to develop his own style
Kulp then took his training and new-found culinary inspiration to Torrisi Italian Specialities, the experimental Italian restaurant that burst onto the New York scene in 2010. As chef de cuisine, Kulp helped solidify the restaruant’s creative dominance established by Chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone. Although Kulp anticipated staying in the Torrisi family for the long haul, in 2012, Fork owner Ellen Yin offered Kulp the opportunity to run his own kitchen. Now, just a few months into his role of executive chef, Kulp is making a big mark on Philadelphia and the future of Fork, which he’s transforming—one brilliant bite at a time—into the city’s premier dining destination.
Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Chef Eli Kulp
Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Eli Kulp: I've always cooked. Since I was 14 I’ve been in the kitchen. I had gotten off track with my style of food and came to New York to get centered. I went to the Culinary Institute of America in 2003, and finished in 2005.
CH: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
EK: If you have the mentality to learn and not just fuck off, you actually can learn a lot. The CIA is an incredible institution. They have amazing programs. If you want to get into learning, you can. A higher percentage of students tend to get sidetracked. Then they get pissed that they don't learn anything.
CH: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
EK: Find a restaurant you connect with. Don't worry what you're going to get paid—take it as a craft that you're learning, not a paycheck you're earning. The more time you put in, the faster you'll learn.
CH: When you’re creating a dish, what’s your creative process like?
EK: All dishes are influenced by long years leading to this point. I try to make the plate mean something other than just food to putting in your mouth, a way to feed yourself, and an idea beyond mozzarella and prosciutto, or mustard and dried guinea hen. There’s a connection between flavors, ideas, and the etymology.
CH: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
EK: We're only 7 weeks old. It’s 100 percent American with Italian influence. I’m not trying to be traditional. I like to eat, and it’s a vehicle to express a style of cooking.
CH: What’s your definition of success?
EK: Day to day, it’s to have customers appreciate what I’m doing. Ultimately, they're the reason I’m here. Long term, that’s still to be determined.
CH: Who are your mentors, and what have you learned from them?
EK: Josh DeChellis and Mark Ladner. While working under Ladner, I found myself. It wasn’t direct mentorship, but the philosophies behind his style made sense to me—I could grab onto something.
CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to really secure the legacy of Fork
and have it be one of the longest lasting restaurants in Philly. We’re flying under the radar, but that’s the level we're aspiring to. Once we get there, the restaurant will get remodeled, and we’ll put more kitchen back here. It’ll be a nighttime, chef-driven, boutique restaurant with 40 seats. Fork etc.
will serve the best sandwiches in Philadelphia. I have an amazing bread oven, and the baker I have is truly talented. Before I got here, no one was utilizing him. He’s working to create really great breads. They’re going to be banging sandwiches.