Eli Kulp is busy with a 2-and-a-half year old toddler and wife at home, but somehow has found time to manage three full-time, high-end restaurants.
As the executive chef for Fork, High Street on Market and as of last Tuesday, a.kitchen + bar, Kulp is well-known to many local foodies.
When Kulp graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2003, he started to work in numerous restaurants in New York until he eventually became chef de cuisine at a restaurant called Torrisi Italian Specialties. It was there that Ellen Yin, who opened Fork in 1997, knew she had found a replacement chef to fill in for former employee Terence Feury.
And although he’s only been in Philadelphia for about a year and a half, Kulp was recognized by Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan as “Best Chef of 2013.”
“[Kulp] impressed me with his initiative, questions, the food he was preparing at this former restaurant as well as coming to Philadelphia to do a tasting,” Yin said in an email. “I loved the fact that they took farm to table – which is now somewhat cliché – to a new level, almost ‘uber locovore’ being influenced by the restaurant’s locale in NYC and the many influences of culture on food.”
Yin offered Kulp the chance to run his own kitchen at Fork, and now as executive chef since Fall 2012, the two have been a dynamic duo of the city’s food scene.
Their partnership, known as High Street Hospitality Group, has produced High Street on Market, the transformation of the former café, Fork: etc., that was tied to Fork. Now a full restaurant, Kulp continues to lead his team and provide morning and brunch sandwiches, as well as guest dinners.
“I think for High Street, we really want to make it a community-oriented restaurant,” Kulp said. “Because of the way it’s built, being about pastry and local products, it’s very humble and comfortable.”
LaBan has praised how Kulp has managed to integrate his new home into his cooking. Kulp emphasizes this with his new seasonal tasting menu introduced to Fork in February, called “Our Terroir,” which focuses on Pennsylvania and New Jersey food made from produce and ingredients from local farmers and growers. The restaurant even uses dishware made in Pennsylvania, reflecting Central Pennsylvania’s history of glass making.
Kulp said he finds the French word “terroir,” meaning “the entirety and makeup of the land,” as the best definition for his menu. The six-course menu includes Dallastown, Pa., venison, apple salad and roast pork.
“The roast pork dish is very Philadelphia-inspired,” Kulp said. “Everything on that menu is very preparedly sourced.”
While Kulp said he sees Philadelphia as a culturally rich city with plenty of history, he realizes there is a lot of opportunity and potential for the food scene to grow, especially considering the strong ties going on with local producers.
“The sources of the food and products are so close,” Kulp said. “It’s really been hardly tapped when it comes to the producers around here.”
Kulp and Yin are extending their influence with the collaborated reopening of a.kitchen+bar in Rittenhouse Square, where a newly installed charcoal grill has Kulp excited for the possibilities.
“The use of live fire and charcoal that we’re doing gives us a chance to really keep the food very simple and really focused on the quality of the ingredient,” Kulp said. “This is a whole new level of simple.”
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.