It’s no surprise that star chef Edward Lee is a bourbon lover; after all, he runs two of Louisville’s hottest restaurants, 610 Magnolia and the brand-new MilkWood. He even has a collection of vintage whiskies in his home bar that go as far back as 1917. (“I don’t drink them,” he says. “They’re part of the American history of whiskey.”)
But that’s basically the only traditional Southern thing about the hip 40-year-old former Top Chef contestant who has helped put the city on the foodie map.
The self-taught Lee grew up in New York and in 1998 opened the acclaimed Korean-inspired Clay in NoLita. Five years later, after that establishment closed, he went on a cross-country trip and stopped in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. He’s never left. Lee explored the city and ultimately purchased local institution 610 Magnolia.
Originally, he didn’t change the menu much, but slowly he began to replace old favorites with new dishes. At first, he was met with resistance and sometimes even hostility, but his cooking has now become a source of pride for residents. For his efforts, he was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast Award in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
If running two restaurants—not to mention raising a newborn—wasn’t enough, Lee just published his first cookbook, Smoke & Pickles. The glossy and engaging oversized volume features dozens of his unique and innovative takes on Southern classics, like Collards and Kimchi, and Tamarind-Strawberry-Glazed Ham.
It also includes a chapter on bourbon & bar snacks. In it, he writes, “I have never met a bourbon I didn’t like.” After one night with the chef at the Bourbon Classic in Kentucky, we can attest to the veracity of that statement.
He also likes cocktails. But he insists that they not be complicated, especially when they call for whiskey. “Good bourbon, you don’t mess with it too much,” he says. “You have a Ferrari; you don’t add to much to it.” In fact, at MilkWood all of the drinks have only three ingredients. “I also believe it should take no longer to make a cocktail than to drink it,” he says.
So it makes sense that he’s a fan of the simple and restorative Bourbon Sweet Tea, which he says is “wildly popular” during the summer at both MilkWood and 610 Magnolia. We can understand why: It’s truly a delicious taste of the South.
(Recipe excepted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee, Artisan Books. Copyright 2013.)