A decade ago, almost on a whim, Brooklyn-born, Korean-American chef Edward Lee moved to Louisville, Kentucky. He didn't set out to teach Southerners about Asian food. But he sure has opened our eyes to how we look at today's global South. We love Edward's bold flavors—a mix tape of Southern and Asian ingredients—and each plate's balance of brash personality and classic technique. His new book, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes from a Southern Kitchen (Artisan; out May 1), exemplifies why, in 10 short years, he's become one of our favorite chefs.
More from Southern Living
Between the strength of his recipes and his natural knack for storytelling, we've dog-eared the bejeezus out of this book already. Take his Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Peach Glaze. The soy and bourbon in the cooking liquid is the one-two punch that gives the meat incredible depth of flavor. Or his Collards and Kimchi, a celebration of two humble ingredients that just work together (recipe below). And with each recipe, a backstory—on flavor combos, on local artisans, on his obsession with pork rinds—demonstrates his unique ability to synthesize the crazy, raucous, thoughtful, delicious caucophony of his life. Here, a few choice Edward Lee-isms from Smoke & Pickles:
On food and music: "Critics have always used musical descriptors to talk about food. Dishes sing...flavors harmonize, BBQ rocks...When I say I want to cook like Elvis, you know what I mean. ...I want to cook the way Elvis lived his life—bold and untethered and agitated."
On growing up in a Korean household: "Despite my childhood immersion in all things rice, I knew there was more out there. I was twelve. ...I'd peek into issues of Gourmet like they were Playboy, lusting after lamb roasts and tartes Tatin the same way I lusted after nude women in all their airbrushed glory."
On acclimating to the Kentucky Bluegrass: "Take a city kid out of his hood and drop him in the middle of the Bible Belt without a lick of knowledge about his environs, and you've got me when I moved to Kentucky. The first thing I did...was sign up for horseback-riding lessons. I figured that's what everyone did on the weekends. I nearly broke my groin the first day."
The next time you're in Louisville, be sure and check out Edward's new restaurant, Milkwood, to try dishes like miso smothered chicken, a pork burger crowned with kim-chi and cracklins, and sorghum and grits ice cream. It's this brand of thoughtful daring that's propelled him to a James Beard nomination. Stick around town late night and, if you're lucky, you might even find him singing karaoke. As he says, "Put a mike in my hand, and something primal takes over."
Collards and Kimchi Edward Lee's dish works well with King's Mild Kimchi Korean Marinated Cabbage.
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings Total: 50 Minutes
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoons lard or bacon drippings
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup large-diced country ham
1 1/2 pounds fresh collard greens, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 (14-oz.) jar mild kimchi, drained and chopped
1. Melt butter with lard in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until butter begins to foam. Add onion; sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until onion just begins to brown. Add ham, and sauté 3 minutes.
2. Stir in collards and next 2 ingredients. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to desired degree of doneness (about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your color and tenderness preference. Collards should be a vibrant green and tender but still have a little chew to them at 10 minutes).
3. Add vinegar, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and toss with kimchi. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Smoke & Pickles: Recipes from a Southern Kitchen by Edward Lee (Artisan, May 2013)