Chef Chit Chat: Skillet’s Kevin Caskey and Family

July 23, 2019

            Columbus foodies know that Skillet is a must-stop destination in the city’s German Village.  Chef Kevin Caskey, wife Angela, son Patrick, and daughter in law Cece have created a comfort food paradise featuring Ohio’s finest ingredients.  With a continuously rotating menu, driven by local, seasonal products, Skillet brings awareness and admiration to Ohio’s farmers and cheese makers.

            Born in Kentucky, Kevin grew up primarily in south central Ohio, and returning to the area to open a restaurant was all about returning home. “For the most part, cooking was fairly innate and became a catharsis for rough spots in my life.  I’ve been involved in many other industries and trades, but somehow have always returned to the kitchen,” says Caskey.  The origin of Skillet was a family collaboration with Angela and Patrick and was envisioned as a food truck that the family could run, since Kevin was involved in another restaurant.  However, before the food truck came to fruition, a brick and mortar opportunity presented itself.

            “It all goes back to the simple adage of putting yourself in a position to do what you love, and everything else will fall into place” says Caskey.  “Early on, Columbus was just barely on the threshold of accepting field to fork cooking or menus being driven by the season.  To develop a network of growers and makers that we could rely on took a lot of research, phone calls, miles driven all over the state, collaboration and selling to others of the idea behind our vision that this was how we really wanted to do things.  Ten years in now, and things have become much easier as far as confidence in the concept, and especially in procurement, as others have seen the value behind it.” 

On any day’s menu, Chef Caskey likes to highlight the area’s artisan cheeses.  “We really love working with local cheesemakers,” says Caskey.  “I think people have yet to learn how really good Ohio-produced cheeses are, whether they are cow, goat, or sheep’s milk derived.  The best domestic Swiss is made right here in the state, as well as many other cheeses that have received awards both in the U.S. and internationally.” 

            When talking local products, Caskey has a deeper appreciation than most.  “Inspiration for us comes from the products that the farms and makers we work with bring to us.  Once a personal relationship is forged with them, it brings with it an understanding, and therefore an appreciation for the work and passion that they have for the product they are delivering to us,” says Caskey.  “It then becomes our goal to showcase that product with as few hands as possible involved, for the benefit of our guests.”

            One way that Skillet is able to serve local produce year-round is by preserving many ingredients.  “A real game changer for us has been practicing heritage techniques, such as canning, pickling, and fermenting because they extend the life of local, seasonal products, as well as making our daily menus more interesting,” says Caskey.  “We put up a lot of ramps, green strawberries, in addition to pickles, hot peppers, and various hot sauces and vinegars.  As we work our way through the growing season, we’ll either dry or suspend most fruits in a half-acidic/half-sweet brine, or in jams and preserves.  In the fall, our minds turn to lacto-ferments, such as krauts and kimchi.  Brussels sprouts make a great kraut, and you can kimchi almost anything.  This year we’re thinking about attempting hosigaki, a Japanese process for preserving persimmon.” 

Many of these unique items make their way to the cocktail menu at Skillet.  Patrick Caskey excels in this facet of the restaurant.  While Patrick doesn’t have a background in mixology, many of his cooking principles correlate to the cocktail program.  Again, the menu is driven by the seasons, utilizes local spirits, and changes often. 

            Skillet operates with mainstream sustainability practices as they pertain to water, energy conservation and the minimization of waste.  “We push even further on this by working with farms and makers that preserve and protect the local terroir and employ best practices as well, such as maximizing the natural resources available to them, as in second and third crop plantings, which utilize less water,” says Caskey.  “I’m hoping “slowcal” will continue to grow.  Basically it’s about having a greater awareness and responsibility concerning the impact on the personal, social, economic, and environmental spheres.  In other words, consumption that is predominated not only by personal enjoyment, but also balance, sustainability, and accessibility.”

            “I believe nothing speaks more to a city’s culture than its culinary scene, especially as represented by independents.  I feel Columbus holds its own, and even outshines against other similarly sized Midwest cities,” says Caskey.  


Written by Kirk McElroy