“It was so much fun hosting these world-class chefs who were all so stoked to be here.”
—Chef Edward Lee on the James Beard Celebrity Chef series at the World Equestrian Games
“Will Chef Lee, the former Lit major, be written out in the last chapter, or will his sudden Southern spin slam the book on our newest Iron Chef Jose Garces?” Alton Brown asked at the beginning of last Sunday’s Iron Chef America.
Louisville chef Edward Lee, of 610 Magnolia, triumphed against Iron Chef Jose Garces in the November 7 episode of the Food Network’s *Iron Chef America,* “Battle Tongue and Cheek,” what some have described as an “offal” challenge. (Though as Alton Brown explains, they’re classified as “offal,” because everything from the head is, “but they’re really just muscles.”)
Chef Lee has been a popular guest in the bluegrass this Fall. He and Chef Garces were both in Lexington in September for the James Beard Celebrity Chef Series, as part of the World Equestrian Games. Chef Lee was also part of the “Sunday Supper Series” at Lexington’s Incredible Food Show in October. His culinary approach is fresh/seasonal/local New American, and inspired by farm-to-table creativity.
In an interview this morning, Chef Lee says he actually “loved the secret ingredient,” because “it was actually a lot of ingredients,” (everything from duck tongue to halibut cheeks), “it wasn’t like Battle Cauliflower.” He also says that he had “some experience growing up Korean, eating tongue…knowing to get it tender is key.” (Pressure cookers were a popular tool of the battle.)
Chef Lee and his team also brought tastes of Kentucky and southern regional ingredients to the menu—Kentucky sorghum, grits, bourbon (which he served in an iced tea). They even brought along fresh corn from home, and his secret weapon: his mother-in-law’s handmade sauerkraut (which turned up in a soup, and a tongue Reuben). He loves sorghum as “one of the only natural sweeteners,” and adds it to his tea. (Alton Brown described it as “a very sweet yet bitter syrup. It’s like molasses, but much stronger, grassier.”
The first course he served the Iron Chef judges was a cow tongue reuben with sauerkraut and okra mayonnaise, alongside a sauerkraut soup (croutons made from cow tongue). He stuffed halibut cheeks with a shrimp mousse, over a puree of celery root with fried caper leaves and mushrooms. He then served lamb tongue meatballs rolled inside pork cheek arancini, over scallion pesto. He concluded the meal with braised beef cheeks (pressure cooked in a base of southern barbecue sauce with Asian influences, like black garlic) served over fresh cornbread (southern grits with “fresh corn added at the last minute”). He explained, “This is a very heavy dish, there’s a lot of bold flavors, so we cut it with some bourbon iced tea.”
Asked about his favorite meal in the last year, coincidentally, it was a place in Montreal, Au Pied De Cochon, famous for its offal menu, though he had no way of knowing what his Iron Chef challenge would be. He describes it as “not the most refined menu, but definitely one of the most inspiring” he’s had in the last year. If he had to select a restaurant for his last meal (as Oxford American asked chefs to do earlier this year), he would, after much deliberation out loud, choose Town House (in Chilhowie Virginia).
On the topic of Kentucky chefs, he admits “as chefs, we don’t get the time to dine out very often. When we have time off, we just eat a pizza,” adding “Ouita Michel… everything she does is so top notch. It’s great to have both that competitive spirit where we feed off of each other, and we help each other.” He also enjoyed a recent “chance to eat at the new Dudley’s,” and spoke glowingly of the food and the new setting.
Chef Lee concluded the James Beard Celebrity Chef Series at the World Equestrian Games, and characterized the series as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to put the spotlight on Kentucky. How many chances does a city get for something like that… maybe the Olympics?” He says, “it was so much fun hosting these world-class chefs who were all so stoked to be here.” One of his favorite moments was the opportunity to take some of them to tour Kentucky’s distilleries.
After his Iron Chef victory, does he admit to any guilty pleasures in food shows? He watches Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations when he can, and describes it as “witty and smart.” He adds, “I love some of the competition shows,” and then laughs, “but some of the drama is overdone.”
Asked if we might someday see him on Food Network on The Next Iron Chef, he laughs and says, “Who knows?”
Chef Lee will re-create elements of his Iron Chef menu at 610 Magnolia on Thursday, November 11. Reservations required. 502.636.0783.
About Chef Edward Lee
Brooklyn native Chef Edward Lee has been executive chef at Louisville’s 610 Magnolia since 2003. He has a degree in literature from New York University, but said on Iron Chef, “Cooking is everything that I always wanted to do. One day I realized, Hey, this doesn’t have to be a hobby. This could be my life.” He told *Gourmet Magazine* in an interview last year, “You can have a casual meal without compromising true culinary endeavor.”