All Articles
All Articles
FOOD + DRINK

Interview: Chef Edward Lee

FOOD + DRINK

Interview: Chef Edward Lee

Louisville's rising chef on the cross-cultural appeal of smoke and pickles

by CH Contributor
on 18 April 2013

by Stephen J. Pulvirent

You might remember Chef Edward Lee from his stint on Top Chef Texas, but that's hardly the most interesting thing about him. The Brooklyn-born chef actually honed his skills in some tough New York kitchens before a road trip to the Kentucky Derby in 2001 ultimately led Lee to find his culinary home in Louisville and move there a year later.

Combining his Korean roots with fresh Southern ingredients and modern preparations has become Lee's signature. His Louisville restaurant, 610 Magnolia, is described on the menu as "a modern approach to the Southern Table," highlighting fresh produce and historically-inspired dishes. We spoke with Lee about his approach to cooking and his forthcoming cookbook "Smoke & Pickles."

Edward-Lee-Smoke-Pickles-1.jpg
What are your earliest memories of cooking?

My earliest memories are watching my grandmother cooking in our small Brooklyn apartment. I was fascinated by her movements, the rhythm she had in her kitchen, the confidence she exuded in that little kitchen that created so much delicious food.

Are you a big cookbook user?

I collect antique cookbooks and read through all the latest stuff. I rarely cook from them though—to me they are like reading history books. I read them and catalog them in my head. Together, they shape the history of food that we are living through.

What do you miss from the New York City food scene? And what does Kentucky offer that New York doesn't?

I miss getting a quick slice of reliable pizza, I miss the roast duck at Bo Ky in Chinatown, I miss Crif Dogs, I miss the pastrami salmon and the pickled herring at Russ and Daughters, I miss Senegalese food in Harlem, I miss rotisserie chicken from Astoria and Korean food from 32nd street. Other than that, I don't miss much, except for the pig's feet hot pot at Hakata Ton Ton and the cheese at Murray's, and, oh well, I guess the list can go on and on. But here in Kentucky, you can get a proper plate of fried chicken—crusty, greasy, hot and salty. And a sublime plate of fried chicken makes you quickly forget all the rest.

What made you want to do a cookbook and how did you come up with Smoke & Pickles?

Everyone I meet always asks me, "How'd you end up in Kentucky?" This book started as the long answer to that question and evolved, like all projects do, into something more personal and more expressionist. I wanted to show something more than a set of recipes—an expression of the way I approach food, life and culture. The title "Smoke & Pickles" is, for me, the intersection where Southern and Korean cuisine meet. In both, you can't serve smoked meats without pickles—it is simply the way both cuisines balance out flavors. I find that idea in and of itself to be mind blowing: that two cultures so far apart can have a cuisine that so closely mimics one another.

The title "Smoke & Pickles" highlights two preservation techniques—how do you see preservation fitting into the current movement towards fresh, seasonal eating?

Preservation has always been at the heart of agricultural cooking. It is historical and it is what gives meaning to the way we cook. In order to follow the rhythm of the seasons, we have to use preservation techniques. During harvest, we are inundated by an abundance of crops—it is the force of nature that tells us that it is now time to start preserving. It is in our DNA.

What other similarities do you see between Southern and Korean cooking?

I see smoke flavor and the love of pickles. I also see tenacious, stubborn people that refuse to let go of their history and tradition. I see the love for spice and the importance of gathering around the family table and also the joy of getting messy at the dinner table.

What is it like to write a cookbook in the age of online recipe books and websites?

I wanted to put my recipes in context. I wanted my cookbook to be a narrative: to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I don't want my recipes to be plucked out of context and splashed onto a website (though I know some of them will be). It's like listening to a Van Morrison song without listening to the whole of Astral Weeks—it's nice but you don't get the whole story until you sit in a quiet room and listen through the entirety of the album. I'd like for people to live with my book for awhile, for days, maybe even weeks, not the minutes that it takes to scroll through a website.

What is the one recipe from the book that you couldn't live without?

Fried Chicken. It's how I make it at home.

What is one great food to pickle that we'd never think of?

Grapes.

And one to smoke?

Milk.

If you had to choose, smoke or pickles?

That's unfair. That's like yin without the yang. That's like peaches without cream. That's like summer without baseball. You get the idea.

Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen is published by Artisan Books and will be available from May 1.

Images excerpted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Grant Cornett.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity
Loading More...