Story by Kanara Ty.
We check out the debut cookbook of the three-time James Beard finalist (Best Chef, Southeast) — and yes, it’s a culinary classic.
When I saw that Edward Lee, executive chef of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky., opened his Southern Asian fusion cookbook with an homage to a bowl of rice (“the fundamental Zen of the Asian table”), I knew Smoke & Pickles was going to be something special. For me, a clear indicator of a good cookbook is the amount of personal stories that are juxtaposed with the recipes. This is something Lee does skillfully as he takes us on a culinary journey of personal family stories (with photos and Korean superstitions) and his own relationship with the kitchen, writing, “My relationship with food developed in three stages: (1) as a memory, (2) as a history, and (3) as an ingredient.”
Lee’s voice is rather poetic throughout the book, making the anecdotes for every chapter a pleasure to read from beginning to end. (He was an English lit major at NYU.) One of the more enjoyable stories is from the chapter “Pickles and Matrimony,” where he describes how he and his wife Dianne were accepted into each other’s families through pickled cabbage: his parents first welcomed Dianne (who’s Jewish) into the family after she ate a pound of kimchi, while Dianne’s mother blessed their courtship with six jars of her homemade sauerkraut.
As for his culinary concoctions? They’re full of hearty recipes, all made with a lot of heart. For anyone who loves fried chicken, the Adobo Fried Chicken and Waffles definitely does not disappoint. Also give the Chicken-Fried Pork Steak a try — the crust is made with dried ramen noodles! There’s a lot for the kimchi lovers out there (he dedicates quite a number of recipes to kimchi), including Red Cabbage-Bacon Kimchi and Collards and Kimchi. And Lee is quite open about his love affair with bourbon, including a number of cocktail recipes featuring the dark spirit, like my personal favorite, the Kentucky Mule.
With every single one of Lee’s recipes, you can tell that he put a lot of thought into the process, learning from experimentation with different ingredients. Another thing I love about his cookbook is his non-intimidating approach: he’s welcoming and accommodating — no doubt a reflection of his Southern hospitality. Details Hardcover, $29.95, Chefedwardlee.com.
TIPS FROM THE CHEF
1. Cilantro stems are edible! Instead of discarding them, snip the stems as you would do with chives, and add them to your dish along with the leaves for delicate crunch and added flavor. You can keep cilantro fresh for up to a week by storing it in a glass of water in the refrigerator.
2. A pinch of salt can be the difference between a good dish and a great one. Slow-cooked meats and stews change so dramatically every few minutes that it’s important to season them right before the dish is served.
3. When shopping for asparagus, be sure the asparagus tips are tightly closed, the stems firm, and the color bright green. Excerpted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Grant Cornett.
This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.