His wife, Dianne Kinkead, confirmed his death and said her husband had heart disease and diabetes.
For years, Mr. Kinkead was one of the most prominent chefs in Washingon, with restaurants that included, at various times, 21 Federal near Farragut North and Ancora at the Watergate building. With no formal culinary training, he had worked his way up from washing dishes on Cape Cod to presiding over the kitchen of his flagship Kinkead’s, the Modern American brasserie he opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1993.
It became, in the description of The Washington Post, the “cafeteria of the Clinton administration” as well as one of the most popular seafood restaurants in town, serving as many as 500 guests on any given Friday or Saturday. At times, the volume was so great, Mr. Kinkead told Washingtonian magazine, that the fish of the day was finished before the next day’s catch came in.
His menu drew from French, North African, Latin American, Thai and other traditions that he learned from his travels and from his study of a cookbook collection that grew to include 1,500 volumes. But the foundation of his kitchen was an appreciation for fresh fish that he had learned from his boyhood in New England. Popular appetizers included Ipswich clams, Nantucket scallops and what Washingtonian described as “the only purely authentic New England clam chowder being served in the city.”
“The seafood ravioli is so airy, gossamer and flavorful that it rivals the finest Italian pasta or Chinese dim sum,” Post restaurant critic Phyllis C. Richman wrote in a 1998 review of Kinkead’s. “The char-edged grilled squid is the tenderest and most flavorful version you are ever likely to encounter, its accompaniment of polenta with tomato fondue and pesto tastes as if squid and polenta were meant for each other.”
“The classics,” she continued, including tempura soft-shells, crab cakes, fried clams and tuna tartare, “are as good as they get anywhere. And those are just the appetizers. The signature entree, pepita-crusted salmon with shellfish and chili ragout, still tastes like a fresh and brilliant invention.” (The ragout, Mr. Kinkead quipped, was so popular that it financed his home in Great Falls, Va.)
In 1995, Mr. Kinkead received a James Beard Award recognizing him as the best chef of the Mid-Atlantic. He was widely revered for his efforts to cultivate the careers of his employees, who over the years included Ris Lacoste, now owner of the bistro Ris in Washington’s West End, and Tracy O’Grady, executive chef at the Georgetown restaurant 1789.
“If you took the top restaurants in this city, I promise you you’re going to find threads of his impact in every single one,” Jeff Black, a partner of the Black Restaurant Group and former junior sous-chef for Mr. Kinkead, said in an interview. “It may be the pastry chef, the sous-chef, the owner. It could be the sommelier, a waiter or a captain. Even the youngest people in this business, they were influenced by someone who was influenced by him.”
Mr. Kinkead’s philosophy, Black said, was “don’t bother putting it in front of me unless it’s good enough to serve to your mother.” Lacoste told the Washington Business Journal that he once tossed across the kitchen an overly tough chunk of grouper, demanding a piece of fish that he could work with. But colleagues said that beneath his gruff exterior was a deep concern for his staff and his patrons.
“I loved going to work every day,” said Lacoste, whom Mr. Kinkead first hired in 1982, shortly after she had finished culinary school in Paris. She credited him with teaching her and others how to construct a dish in which “each ingredient brings out the best in the next ingredient.”
In the heat, literal and metaphorical, of the kitchen, Mr. Kinkead wore a headset so that he could communicate with his staff without shouting. He declined to don a toque blanche, as the classic pleated and starched white chef’s hats are known.
“I think they are really stupid,” he once told The Post. “They are extremely impractical; they fall off, get dirty real easily.” If he wore anything on his head, it was a baseball cap.
Other impracticalities that he disdained included faddish presentations that in his view detracted from a dish, such as the construction of vertical food or the sprinkling of spices or garnishes around the edge of a plate.
“The rim is sacrosanct,” he told The Post. “It frames your work. All this nonsense of sprinkling something on it is just horrible. Invariably, some waiter will stick a thumbprint in it, and it looks like a murder scene.”
Robert Hugh Kinkead Jr. was born in Providence, R.I., on June 1, 1952, and grew up in Massachusetts. His father was a television general manager, and his mother cared for the 10 children in the family. (With a younger brother, David, Mr. Kinkead would one day run a restaurant in Boston called Sibling Rivalry.)
Mr. Kinkead cooked for his fraternity at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he studied psychology and was three credits shy of graduating with his class. In 2004, a vice chancellor of the university happened to dine at Kinkead’s and discussed the matter with the former student. She arranged for Mr. Kinkead’s recently published book “Kinkead’s Cookbook: Recipes From Washington D.C.’s Premier Seafood Restaurant” to count as his final paper. A degree was conferred upon him that year.
Mr. Kinkead worked as a disc jockey and as an insurance salesman before pursuing a culinary career. He first hired Lacoste in 1982 when he was a chef at Harvest, a noted restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. They later partnered in opening 21 Federal on Nantucket, Mass., before starting a sister restaurant by the same name in Washington in 1987. The Washington location closed in 1993 after seeking bankruptcy protection following what Mr. Kinkead described as “a bad lease, bad financing, a bad location and the 1991 recession in D.C.”
He opened Kinkead’s later that year and ran it until 2012. He also operated Colvin Run Tavern in the Tysons area of Northern Virginia, where meal specials were served from a carving cart, and Hell Point Seafood in Annapolis. Later ventures included Ancora and Campono near the Kennedy Center. His restaurants regularly ranked on lists of the best places to dine in Washington.
In addition to his wife of 31 years, of Pawleys Island, S.C., survivors include three stepchildren, Amy Frye and Jeffrey Gill, both of Eastham, Mass., and Kelly Gill of Genga, Italy; four sisters; four brothers; and six grandchildren.
Reflecting on his career, Mr. Kinkead once told The Post that it was more than the food that had drawn him to cooking. “Mostly I liked the business,” he remarked. “What drew me in was the work, the interaction of the people, the ‘Show Time’ when the service starts, the frenzy of it all.”
Adam Bernstein and Tim Carman contributed to this report.
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