Friends Drift Inn – Real Life and Chefs
PHOTO CREDIT DUSTY LAYNE
Inn Step with 610 Magnolia’s Chef Edward Lee
Good Morning Ed….I think
Like every chef I have interviewed, Edward Lee was late. I think it must be a rule in the Culinary Handbook. Rhoda, Dusty and I poked around the dining room at 610 Magnolia awaiting his arrival.
The chef managed a sleepy smile and greeting, as he slid behind the bar to grab a pour. Last night, 610 Magnolia rocked. In addition to the normal Friday evening crowd, it is rumored Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert had a private event across the street in 610’s Wine Studio.
This evening, the former Top Chef competitor will be catering the Good versus Evil Show featuring Bourdain and Ripert. Obviously, Edward Lee has a lot on his mind.
We warm up with the usual questions.
How does a New Yorker, born to Korean immigrants wind up in Louisville, KY? Back in 2001, the chef had a successful restaurant in New York. He came to Kentucky for Derby; a most beautiful time of the year. In September, the World Trade Centers were attacked. Lee’s business suffered, and at that same time he began re-evaluating his priorities.
Lee came to Kentucky at the invitation of the former owner of 610 Magnolia, with the intent of staying a year. That was in 2002. He fell in love with Kentucky. He fell in love with a Kentucky girl. The rest is history.
I asked if his wife of one and a half years, Dianne, was involved in the business. Lee vehemently shook his head but laughed. “No she is not involved, but she does control me.”
A New Generation of Southern Chefs
Lee considers himself a Southern Chef. 610 Magnolia is known for using traditional Southern ingredients in innovative fashion. He has been nominated by the James Beard Foundation as “Best Chef in the Southeast.”
Lee does not talk like a Southerner. He dispenses his words sparingly. He is to the point. Some chefs speak from the heart, some speak from the brain. Lee is a thinker, a very deep thinker with lofty goals. He is not just about business; he is about truly impacting the way we consider food.
The chef is working on a project in Louisville’s West End designed to encourage kids to cook at home. He laments that many of the children have not had a home-cooked meal in weeks. He emphasizes healthy eating, introducing soul food classics to a generation in danger of loosing their food culture; their food identity.
What’s Cooking in Louisville?
In the past months, Louisville’s food scene has sparked national interest. I asked the chef about the competition in Louisville between chefs. “Competition makes us all better. The real story is not about the competition among chefs; but about local restaurants that must compete against the Applebee’s, TGIFridays, and Outback Steakhouses.”
He continued, “Many people are eating out five days a week. The food is marginal. We need to teach people to cook at home. The food will be better. To eat out once a week at a ‘real restaurant’ featuring fresh local ingredients is something worth celebrating.”
What About Top Chef?
He nods when I ask him about his Top Chef experiences. “There is a lot of drama. It is meant to be stressful. You do not eat and sleep properly,” he reports. “The Top Chef exposure was good for business but it has changed the way I do things here at the restaurant. I used to stay in the kitchen. Now two or three times a night guests ask to meet me.”
I get the impression Chef Edward Lee is a little shy. As we walk across the street to the Wine Studio, I wonder if he is always so quiet, so reserved and methodical. I get my answer in the wine cellar.
Ed has a brilliant smile. When he is pleased or amused, his eyes sparkle. The chef was beaming as he showed us bottle after bottle of his wine collection. His passionate enthusiasm gave us all a high voltage charge.
Chef compared Napa Wine Country to Kentucky’s Bourbon Country. He sees possibilities. He has a vision.
Back Up The Stairs
Upstairs, the chef shows us props for his upcoming cookbook/storybook. He is excited about the use of textures, and the contrast between elegant and rustic.
He eyes Rhoda suspiciously as she makes the camera shutter snap. He is a little self-conscious.
But then he realizes it’s not him in the photo; it’s his bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. You cannot blame the girl for recognizing good Kentucky bourbon! Giggles
The interview with the elusive Chef Edward Lee ends in the courtyard with the Kentucky sun gently easing through morning grey skies. It’s going to be a good day!