Edward Lee charmed national audiences when he competed on Top Chef in 2012 but he has been delighting diners long before that. He has been nominated for a James Beard award multiple times and is the chef/owner at 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky. A Korean-American raised in Brooklyn who was good at math and into graffiti moves to Louisville and becomes an acclaimed chef–only in America. We are all better off for Lee’s journey it allows him to see the links between the food of his youth and the traditions of the South. His cookbook Smoke and Pickles:Recipes From A Southern Kitchen is both a meditation on a life spent in food and a look at how cuisines from varying lands are connected by certain core flavors.
Smoke and pickles neatly defines Lee’s style. He cures and smokes meat, loves kimchi and fish sauce and other fermented food. The link here is concentrated flavors, both of these processes deepen and intensify existing flavors. His recipes are juxtapositions of the Korean food of his upbringing with traditional Southern favorites in meals like a chicken rice bowl with miso remoulade and macaroni and cheese given a different flair with Kabocha squash. There are also things that are uniquely his own like Kentucky fried quail with a fragrant salt of five-spice powder and Szechuan peppercorns to a bacon pâté BLT. When it comes to pickling, Lee is both a master and a tinkerer creating recipes like coffee pickled beets and peaches pickled with a piquant brine that includes jasmine tea. Even his mint julep is uniquely his own–his version of the Kentucky Derby standard features a sweet and spicy jalapeño syrup.
The book also includes extended profiles of food purveyors and of Lee’s own experiences from hunting ducks to slaughtering pigs. There’s a raucousness and a sloppy pig-laden, fried and sauced charm to the book. He’s picked up the best of his adopted town, taking on its ease and shabby gentility as his own. Lee is part of a growing cadre of transplanted chefs who are breathing life into the new culinary South and this book is the work of an artist finding his way using every tool at his disposal.