In case you haven’t planned your Turkey Dinner coming up in exactly a week (who, me? menu? what’s that?), here’s a collection filled with irreverently toothsome suggestions. Having grown up eating kimchi with every chestnut-stuffed bird or surreally spiraled pink ham (or both), I couldn’t help especially salivating over the Koreanized southern creations – how about Collards and Kimchi or Kimchi Rémoulade or Kimchi Poutine (“This recipe falls under the category of ‘everything tastes better with kimchi’”!)? Admit it … your taste buds are totally perking up!
Meet Chef Edward Lee. If you’re a television watcher, you may know him from Iron Chef or Top Chef. If you’re southern, you might have visited his James Beard Foundation three-time finalist-ed restaurant, 610 Magnolia, in downtown Louisville, Kentucky; if you’re a theater addict headed to the legendary Humana Festival of New Plays, perhaps you’ve imbibed at his smaller venue, MilkWood, installed in the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Brooklyn-raised Lee grew up surrounded by multiple cultures – “The great thing about Americans is not the identity we’re born with but our reinvention of it.” His beloved grandmother who cooked daily at home “refused to make ‘American food.’” If he wanted a PB&J sandwich, he had to make it himself. Her ability to recreate “all the Korean dishes she had learned before she immigrated to America … [as] a Korean widow yearning for a homeland that had been destroyed before her eyes,” would become the foundation for Lee’s eclectic palate: his worldly culinary training led him right back to the memories of his grandmother’s meals and inspired Lee to create his unique brand of award-winning Asian-enhanced southern cooking.
Moving to Louisville in 2003, Lee “reinvent[ed his] identity, both culinary and personal, through the lens of tobacco and bourbon and sorghum and horse racing and country ham … Over time, Louisville, and by extension, the American South, embraced me as an adopted son … What I didn’t expect was how I would come full circle and rediscover myself as a child of Korean immigrants.”
Blended with family memoir (his own and his German Catholic Midwestern wife’s – his mother-in-law apparently makes killer sauerkraut which she hides in a secret cupboard!), tidbits and anecdotes from the kitchen and beyond, friendly neighborhood gossip, and, of course, the outrageous recipes, Smoke & Pickles is a cookbook to read cover-to-cover, word-for-word. The immense (shocking) variety of dishes (Grilled Lam Heart Kalbi in Lettuce Wraps, Beef Bone Soup with Kabocha Dumplings, Curry Pork Pies, Bourbon-Ginger-Glazed Carrots, Rhubarb-Mint Tea with Moonshine) are really just a delicious bonus to an already savory, delectable read.
One cautionary reminder: just in case you’re ever tempted, don’t ever use the word ‘fusion’ around Chef Lee! “I can’t stand the word … not only because it is dated, but also because it implies a kind of culinary racism, suggesting that foods from Eastern cultures are so radically different that they need to be artificially introduced or ‘fused’ with Western cuisines to give them legitimacy.” I’m just agreeing: ‘everything tastes better with kimchi’!