By Chester Simpson
Chef Edward Lee
186 Waterfront St.
Chef Edward Lee is a Brooklyn-born chef and restaurateur currently based in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a multiple finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast. He has made numerous television appearances on shows including season 3 of The Mind of a Chef on PBS, a contestant on the ninth season of Top Chef and is a guest judge on MasterChef. He has written a cookbook, Smoke & Pickles, that celebrates his cooking honoring Southern cuisine with Asian flavors.
When did you first become interested in cooking and what made you choose a culinary career?
I don’t think I chose a culinary career…I think a culinary career chose me. I’ve been interested in cooking since I was a young boy. I don’t know why or how or when but I remember telling my parents at 8 or 9 that I was going to be a “Chef”. I really didn’t know what it meant and they didn’t either and they thought I’d outgrow it like everything else. I never out grew it. The older I got, the more interested I got and the more research the more I found. I started working and here I am. I just knew I wanted to do this.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration during your career?
There’s not a single person or event. I’m influenced by the people I meet along the way. Every chef I meet has an influence on me and every book that I read and every article that I read. To me, it’s not one single influence it’s a million little ones and I think those are actually more important than the “one”.
Which of your “Southern Fare with Asian accents” culinary creations have you been most anxious to see how it is received by Succotash diners?
I think it’s the Collards and Kimchi – it’s the one dish that you’d just love. We serve it at Milkwood in Louisville and we sell it like crazy. It’s one of the things that really people sort of remember and go nuts over. It’s a very simple dish and in its simplicity it says a lot. Thankfully we’re selling a lot up here too.
What do you feel sets your cuisine apart from others in your field?
That’s not for me to say, so I don’t judge my cuisine. I just do what I do and I don’t think it’s any better or worse than any other cuisine.
If any chef in the world (past or present) could prepare a meal for you, who would you want that to be?
Again, I don’t answer sort of questions like this because I find it to be weirdly hypothetical. There are some incredible chefs in the world and if you really want a meal prepared by them, you go to their restaurant and get a meal….prepared by them. And that’s what I do. Everyone from Daniel Humm in NY, David Kinch in Manresa, and everything from Willie Mae’s Scotch House to Frank Stitt in Alabama. These are chefs that are my heros and I make it a special point to journey to their restaurants to have a meal and keep that meal in my memory as a catalogue. That’s a really huge part of learning as a chef. When you deal with hypotheticals, you don’t really understand the world around you. I try not to deal in hypotheticals.
I go out there to eat and spend money and travel and learn!
What is your guilty food pleasure?
I don’t know if I have a guilty food pleasure because I really don’t feel guilty about eating anything. But…to me it’s cold fried chicken with hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice. That’s what I eat in the morning when I’m hung over.
Fried Chicken & Waffles, Collards, Kimchi and Country Ham, Slab of Baby Back Ribs with House Rub, and Shrimp’N’Grits.
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