Go Away With … Edward Lee

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
August 8, 2017

Born and raised in New York, Chef Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, MilkWood) now splits his time between Washington, D.C., and Louisville, Kentucky. Lee, 45, is the chef judge of FOX’s “Culinary Genius.” He also starred in the documentary, “Fermented,” which explored the tradition of fermented foods and their cultural impact. The author of “Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen,” Lee is active on social media via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Q. Some cities get a bad rap for their cuisine. Are there any that you can think of that have surprised you favorably?

A. I think Cincinnati has always been overlooked when it comes to being a food city, but watch out. The city has got some great bold young chefs like Jose Salazar, Ryan Santos, Dan Wright, David Falk and veterans of the industry like Jean-Robert de Cavel, who has been one of the nation’s top chefs for a generation.

Q. If you could time travel and return to any city for a meal, where would it be?

A. I would go back to New York in the ’50s and eat at Cafe Nicholson when Edna Lewis was the cook there. She helped popularize Southern Food and she’s my hero.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. Maine in summer, sailing off the coast and then having a dinner of fried clams, lobster and steamers. Relax, walk on the beach, take a hike through the coastline, rent a sailboat and go far out into the Atlantic and watch your problems disappear.

Q. What untapped destination should people know about?

A. The Gulf Coast. It’s beautiful, full of warm people and the food is great.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child? And did you love it … or not so much?

A. I think we went to Walt Disney World when I was a young kid and it was miserable and hot and I thought Mickey (Mouse) was a monster.

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your travels?

A. Patience. The process of traveling has gotten worse and worse and it won’t get better anytime soon. It tries your nerves as a human being, but it also gives you an opportunity to find an inner patience that is valuable in all life lessons. If I can stay calm through a 12-hour delay, well, I can pretty much stay calm through anything.

Q. Have you traveled to a place that stood out so much that you felt compelled to incorporate it into your work?

A. I am always deeply influenced when I go to Korea. It is an endless source of inspiration for me. I have ties there, so it is special. But I also approach it as an outsider and learn new techniques and cooking traditions. I always look forward to going back again and again.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. As a chef, I don’t get away on weekends. But having said that, there is nothing better than spending a day on a farm in Kentucky or Maryland, picking fruit with my wife and young daughter. I always look for farms that allow the public to come pick fruit. It teaches my daughter so many lessons about food that will stay with her forever.

Q. Where is the most romantic destination?

A. Any place with my wife is the most romantic, but if I had to choose one place, the Cayman Islands are hard to beat.

Q. What are your five favorite cities?

A. Washington, D.C., Louisville, London, Portland, Houston. Yes, Houston!

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. India. I have always been hesitant to go there, because I don’t have enough time. I don’t want to go for a week. I want to spend an entire month or maybe more to really get an understanding of the food and culture.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. An engrossing book, a few Clif bars for emergencies and aspirin. That’s all I need.

Q. What would be your dream trip?

A. Sailing down the coast of South America and eating at every port of call.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?

A. Doritos and chewing tobacco. Please, don’t tell my wife about the tobacco.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. I research the food, but that’s it. I love arriving in a new place and asking the locals. They are still the best resource.

Q. What is your best and worst vacation memory?

A. Best (was) standing on the ground that my grandmother was raised on as a child in Seoul, South Korea, and feeling the connection to that land. Worst (was) when an ice storm diverted our flight from Arizona to Ft. Lauderdale. My wife and I packed for a desert adventure. Instead, we arrived in spring break hell.

Q. If you’ve ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. I am always home for the holidays.

Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A.  21C Hotels are creative and fun. The Blackberry Farm is not really a hotel, I guess — more of a resort, but it has no peer.  For something simple, I love what The Pod Hotel does — sleek, modern, good service and cheap. When it comes to high end, I am a dedicated fan of Four Seasons Hotel. They have a level of service and luxury that I haven’t found in any other hotel, independent or chain.

Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. Too many to name!

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?
A. None, really.

© 2017 JAE-HA KIM

Comments (9)

  1. Edward Lee says:

  2. Janet Austin says:

    I didn’t know who Chef Lee was until we watched a documentary on Bourbon. You talked about your Resturant 610 Magnolia and how you incorporated Bourbon, Southern flavors, and Korean cuisine influences. My son gave us a gift certificate to your Resturant to make sure we’d make reservations. We had the best experience ever, and your staff was truly amazing. Im so glad that we chose to add the Bourbon and wine pairing with our meal❤️❤️ Chef Lee, as we were walking out your door, we felt like we had just experienced a miracle with food. Our wallet was a little lighter, but you gave us a food experience that we’ll never forget. Great article and congrats on the new show with Chef Gordon Ramsey.

  3. Robert Lilienstern says:

    Love the love for Houston and Gulf Coast, chef!

  4. Alaina says:

    I have his book. It’s wonderful!

  5. Alex Catalan says:

    Thank you for the Cincinnati plug!

  6. Connie Ross Ciampanelli says:

    I read Chef Edward Lee’s writing when he was a judge in a cookbook “contest.” I was immediately captivated by his writing style and his heart. The next year, his “Smoke and Pickles” was one of the books being judged. I borrowed a copy from the library and loved it so much my husband bought one for me for my birthday. It is not only among my top five favorite cookbooks, but one of my top favorite books of any kind. I will add that with a degree in English and a writer myself, I read a LOT of books.
    My dream is one day to eat at Magnolia and meet Chef Lee in person, shake his hand.

  7. Edward Lee says:

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