Interview with John Kunkel on pairing bourbon, wines & vintage spirits with classic Southern dishes

the bird southern table

December 20th, 2017


Opened in July 2017, The Bird Southern Table & Bar at Marina Bay Sands is the first Asian venture of James Beard nominated and award-winning Yardbird from Miami and Vegas. Renowned US restaurateur and founder of 50 Eggs, John Kunkel, runs some of Miami’s most popular restaurants, and now brings the best of classic American cuisine to Singapore.

In addition to serving The Bird’s signature 100-year-old fried chicken recipe, the new restaurant also features an impressive bar – with one of Asia’s most extensive bourbon and whisky lists – highlights among the multitude of signature bourbon options include rare favorites such as Pappy Van Winkle, Jefferson’s Aged at Sea, and expressions of Blanton’s.

Below we explore with John Kunkel the art of pairing bourbons and craft cocktails with the bold flavours of classic Southern dishes.

john kunkel

 AB&R  Can you share a brief background on the co-evolution of southern cuisine and bourbon makers?

 John Kunkel  American cuisine originated from diverse cultures and cuisines melting together. It is a great canvas to explore  different flavours, especially those that are associated with bourbon. Corn was plentiful and grew extremely well and thus found its  way into a myriad of American Staples such as grits, cornbread and spirits. This was the foundation of what would become the only true American Spirit, Bourbon.
At The Bird Southern Table & Bar, we offer one of Asia’s most impressive lists of bourbons, including some real gems, most notably the A.H. Hirsch Reserve from 1974. One of the rarest bourbons on the planet, it was famously distilled in 1974 at the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery which would eventually become the Michter’s Distillery in Pennsylvania. Only 400 barrels were ever produced. It was aged for 16 years and then periodically bottled over the years. There are now only a handful of bottles left in the world. It is a real treat for any bourbon connoisseur.

AB&R  How do the spirits complement the cuisine?

John Kunkel  The toasted oak and caramel notes of Bourbon make it an excellent complement to both sweet and savory dishes. Pecan pie, for example, paired with a fine bourbon on the rocks is an excellent way to end a meal. Alternatively, a beautifully made Old Fashioned with Bourbon would be a welcome addition to fried chicken and waffles or even shrimp and grits. The nuances of Bourbon pair well with a myriad of flavors of The South.

When we pair wine with our bird we consider the side dishes and other companions. The wines that pair the best usually have either a touch of sweetness, a brighter acidity, and/or a ripe fruit profile. Our chicken wines reflect that, as we offer our guests these three options to match their food. The current offering at The Bird has a rich white, a light red, and a medium red. They all interact with the chicken and enhance the taste profile of our 100-year-old recipe.

AB&R  How do you see the cocktails as an extension of the cuisine at The Bird?

John Kunkel  We try to utilize ingredients that are commonly seen in an American Kitchen, such as peaches, bacon, pecans and watermelon. We also use techniques commonly used in Southern cuisine, such as smoking and preserving. By using a combination of ingredients and techniques, we aim to create “Culinary Cocktails” that honor American Cuisine.

The Bird cocktails & Southern cuisine

  • The Bird Southern Table & Bar
    Chicken 'N' Watermelons 'N' Waffles
  • The Bird Southern Table
    The Great American Burger
  • The Bird Southern Table
    Ong Bak -Wild Turkey Bourbon, galangal lime cordial, bird chili & fresh mint, Chang beer
  • bourbon and whiskey
    The Bird - bourbons and whiskies
  • The Bird cocktails
    The Bird cocktails

(Images credit Marina Bay Sands)