Fridges of Fayette County: A Lexington Chef Series Sequel

Fridges of Fayette County: A Lexington Chef Series Sequel

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21c's Lockbox Executive Chef Cody DeRosett

Lexington Chefs get grilled in this chilling summer sequel

BY KRISTINA ROSEN

“If God had meant for cornbread to have sugar in it, he’d have called it cake.”

Ronni Lundy, The Tao of Cornbread

Summers are all about sequels. In the 90s, Ace began a series called The Fridges of Fayette County, a “searing” expose where our writers visited with prominent Lexington chefs in their home kitchens and reported back. 

Ace Archive: the birth of a series, 1990s

In 1998, the late Lucie Meyers confessed, “I like to eat rice with ketchup. Minute rice… Sometimes I’ll put chili or hot sauce on it to spice it up. It’s so good.”

John Schweder admitted “I love a bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise,”

Chef John Foster schooled us on eel (he was once the eel catcher for a fish market in Portland, Maine). 

In subsequent years, Ouita Michel — then at Emmett’s — told us about her lack of patience for quirky food trends, saying, “I once had a Cornish game hen, where the chef had put it upside down into a pile of mashed potatoes with a sprig of Rosemary sticking out of its butt. That doesn’t make any sense!”

Asked about the prevalence of a certain chain in town at the time, Jonathan Lundy said, “I went there once and had a riblet and I never went back. I don’t think I even ordered it, it just sort of… appeared.” We found his fridge at the time well-stocked with Ale 8 longnecks and at the end of the interview, he offered our writer a grilled fig rubbed with cinnamon, olive oil, and date sugar. 

Harriet Dupree told us about the time she spilled hollandaise in transit to a catering job and had to sell the car. 

Every chef surveyed taught us about the joy of condiments — not all of them had food in their fridge — but they did all have a dizzying array of condiments…

The more things change…

This summer’s crop of fridge surveys includes emerging talent alongside a veteran or two, and a spirited debate about age-old cornbread feuds (sweet or savory?), what Lexington needs, and what Lexington eats. 

We discovered a lot of love for burgoo, and that country ham is a popular option for potential food tattoos. 

And just as we learned many decades ago, all the most reputable fridges in Fayette County still stock Duke’s Mayo, Ale 8, bacon grease, and a general assortment of 438 condiments.

Cole Arimes

Coles 735 Main, Epping’s on Eastside, Poppy & Olive

The last thing Cole Arimes ate was a “slice of Prime Rib,” and his current favorite ingredient at the farmers’ market is “kale greens and tomatoes.”

His Tao remains sugar free, “Cornbread is meant to dip in bean soup or soak up juices, no sugar needed!”

His food philosophy is accommodating, “If you like peas and you like carrots they will probably go well together. That is the simplest form of how I feel. That being said, just because something is labeled southern and something else is labeled Greek does not mean that they are not meant to share the same plate. Spanakopita and stewed tomatoes are delicious together!” 

He’s more of a procrastinator than a planner in the kitchen, saying, “I might begin the ideas early but it is not until I am close to the deadline do I solidify the menu.”

Asked to summon a favorite memory of a bygone Lexington restaurant, he says, “Everything at Yamaguchi’s Sake and Tapas. Especially the ton toro.”

His current favorite restaurant in the world is “Restaurant L in Cincinnati. The attention to the detail in the food and the service. Every item on the plate has a purpose and is meant to be there. The service was just as good as the food. We felt like we were the most important people there. They guided us through the menu with the time restraints we had to maximize or experience.”

Of our evolving cuisine scene, he says, “I think in the past few years Lexington has become a small city. The culinary landscape has grown leaps and bounds.”

His motivation for going into a life of food was a simple one. “First and foremost I love to eat. To keep up with my belly I had to learn to cook. Once I was a part of the industry it was the fast pace and high pressure that I enjoyed!”

The nicest thing anyone’s ever told him about his cooking is, “That the food that was prepared made them happy. That is the ultimate compliment.”

The meanest? “That they could have had a better meal at a fast food chain.”


What Lexington Needs?

More chef driven restaurants. 

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky? 

Hot brown

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night? 

Eat It – Weird Al

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?  

Cast iron skillet

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Salami, eggs, heirloom squash, leftover stroganoff, chocolate chip pancakes


Jeremy Ashby

Azur

The last thing Azur’s Jeremy Ashby ate was “Stir fry shrimp and broccoli with oyster sauce, cashews and fried rice.” 

He’s open minded about the Tao of Cornbread, responding, “There is no sugar in cornbread. That being said, if someone wanted to serve me a version of cornbread with sugar in it, I would gladly eat that ‘cake.’”

As for his own philosophy of food, he says, “I tend to react to food as it enters our little sphere of a kitchen. Ingredients are the inspiration which sparks our conversation about the ingredients past. I love hearing from my chefs their favorite way they have eaten a given ingredient, or the way their family prepared it in the past. Somewhere between that reaction and modern technique and current culinary trends is what we usually end up creating.”

Is he a planner or procrastinator in the kitchen? “Sometimes planner, sometimes procrastinator. I contradict myself often, I contain multitudes!”

Mourning a favorite menu from a bygone Lexington restaurant, he echoes a popular local sentiment, “Ed and Fred’s Desert Moon was way before its time.”

Asked to name his favorite restaurant in the world, he admits it’s “AZUR! I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but imagine you got to dictate (create, cook and eat) the food at YOUR favorite restaurant. I get to do that and I can’t wait to show you why it’s my favorite.”

He defines it as “kind of heirloom contemporary. Heirloom foods, techniques and loving recipes and ideas with a modern spin.”

Asked if Lexington’s culinary landscape is a big town or small city, he says, “Lexington is on the verge of having a very big local/independent restaurant scene with a lot of culinary identity. I think having Sullivan Culinary program has been a great incubator for our town.”

Asked to recall the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him about his food is “That it was transcendental and I was their food god.”

The meanest? “Having my food called pedestrian was mean.”

What Lexington needs?

It needs a lot less corporate restaurants and chains serving junk.

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Bill Best’s Heirloom Tomatoes from Berea

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night? 

If there is a song about biscuits and gravy, it would be that one.

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

Fish

Name 5 things in your fridge right now:

miso, cherries, eggs, rosehip, buttermilk


Cody DeRosett

Lockbox

The last thing Cody DeRosett ate was quinoa with grilled chicken and local kale. 

DeRosett, a Kentucky native, was recently promoted to executive chef at 21c’s Lockbox, after Jonathan Searle returned to Louisville and 21c’s Proof as executive chef. 

Both Searle and DeRosett came up in the Lexington food scene via stints at Bellini’s and Dudley’s. 

Asked to sum up his food philosophy, DeRosett described it as “Refined southern cuisine. An emphasis on preserving the season in a traditional Appalachian way.”

Asked to take a stance on the Tao of Cornbread, he responds, “Agree, at the same time I am not opposed to using sugar in cornbread more for the fact that sometimes it needs it,” following up with the shocking admission, “I’ve been known to use Yankee cornbread, too.” 

I’ve been to other areas, I’m always going to come home and appreciate what we have here.

—Chef Cody DeRosett, Lockbox

Lexington is a… “Big town. People know what they want and they expect certain things which helps in guiding the creative part of building a menu and being a chef. You know that people want and expect a high caliber experiences.”

Reminiscing about a favorite menu item from a bygone Lexington restaurant, he recalls, “Suganos had a nigiri style snapper.”

He was inspired to go into a life of food by family. Specifically, he says, “My grandfather. He was always the cook on Sundays when I have some of my fondest memories.” It was “fun to hang out in the kitchen with him and see him in his element.” 

The nicest thing anyone can say to him about something he cooks is, “‘That reminds me of…’ when it brings them a memory from a good time in their life, those are the best compliments I could get.”

What Lexington Needs? 

More diversity, and higher caliber within diversity. More refinement and cultural diversity, and elevation within specific cuisines. We need challenging cuisine around town.

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Benedectine

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night? 

Dwight Yoakam’s Readin’, Rightin’, Rt. 23. I think it’s a great song to represent my love for KY cuisine. It’s about being from Kentucky specifically, back in the holler. He talks about his life, moving up to Detroit, and the regret he had going up there, and realizing how much better home was. There can be a stigma to our home and our cuisine, but I absolutely love it. I’ve been to other areas, I’m always going to come home and appreciate what we have here.

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

South

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

A fish, I absolutely love seafood.

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Duke’s mayonnaise, cured salmon, lots of eggs, Ale-8, pickled okra

Click here to go behind the scenes with chef Cody DeRosett as he prepares one of his favorite dishes.


Samantha Fore 

Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites

The last thing Samantha Fore ate was a “burger from Pasture at the Barn in the Summit.”

Fore was already locally famous for her Sri Lankan fare when she hit national food news during the filming of Top Chef Kentucky. Host Padma Lakshmi managed to get herself invited to Fore’s house for an impromptu feast, later tweeting it was, “The best meal I’ve had in Kentucky!”

Fore is a fan of spur of the moment discoveries herself. Asked about her favorite restaurant in the world, she says, “My husband and I went to this tiny hole in the wall restaurant in Paris, France behind La Sorbonne called Les Petits Princes. We popped in one night with no reservations or expectations and had an incredible three course meal with some of the best mussels I’ve ever had in my life. I adore properly made French food — it was such a beautiful and unexpected treat. I plan to go back next time I’m there.” 

Fore enthusiastically agrees with the Tao of Cornbread, saying, “Savory (and spicy!) is where it’s at. The first cornbread recipe I ever learned was from a WWII vet and it was full of the spiciest peppers. I still crave it from time to time.”

Her path into a life of food wasn’t by design. She says, “I fell into it accidentally to be honest, but I stay in it to honor my mother and aunt’s recipes while proliferating the flavors of Sri Lankan cuisine. I’m the only one doing what I’m doing, so I have to keep it up.”

Asked to reminisce about a bygone Lexington culinary favorite, she swiftly cites, “Any of Stella Parks’ magical desserts from the Table 310 days.”

Fore’s food philosophy is one that’s made her successful, Work hard. Be kind. Pay well. Feed staff and hosts. Listen to suggestions but trust your gut. Never stop learning. Always be humble. When the water rises, everyone floats, unless there’s a hole in their boat. You know your flavors and techniques, don’t change them for trends. Build experiences that are honest, delicious and memorable and people will support you.”

Fore is both a planner and a procrastinator in the kitchen, saying, I love lists. I plan menus and procurement and punch lists a good bit ahead. However, I know how long things take to execute so I wait until the last possible second to make things happen — except my prep list is so long that it drags until the beginning of service. I should probably fix that.”

The nicest thing anyone’s told her about her food isThat it was worth the 15 hour drive. Or that it reminded them of being home in Sri Lanka.” 

What Lexington Needs? 

More/better avenues for smaller concepts to thrive. 

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Burgoo. 

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night? 

“Express Yourself” by Madonna 

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

South. 

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

A sprig of curry leaves. 

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Buttermilk, Kithul Palm Treacle (a special Sri Lankan syrup), Champagne, Saffron, A crazy selection of cheeses


Rob Ramsey

Ramsey’s Diner 

The last thing Rob Ramsey ate was crab cakes he made for fishing buddies in Florida. 

Ramsey is currently celebrating 30 years as the most popular purveyor of meat-and-three in Lexington. His food philosophy is “Life is too short to not eat well…as long as you don’t eat so well as to shorten life.”

Lexington owes this 30-year legacy to a stroke of luck, depending on how you look at it, as Ramsey admits, “I got into the restaurant business because I didn’t have the grades to get into medical school so I kept on bartending after college and got talked into management.”

Anyone who’s ever eaten at Ramsey’s will know his stance on the Tao of Cornbread, “cornbread should not be sweet,” adding “it is best as a fried patty.” 

His current favorite ingredient at the Farmers’ Market is “canning tomatoes.” 

His “favorite restaurant in the world” is… “The Rosebud in Chicago,” adding  “Taking her there was one of the few times my ex wife appreciated me.”

The nicest thing anyone’s ever said to him about something he’s cooked is, “Those are the best crab cakes I have ever had.”

The meanest? 

“’I don’t know why you go to so much trouble’ (again my ex).” 


Ace Archive: former Ramsey’s location on High Street

What Lexington Needs?

A good consistent Prime — Prime rib house.

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Good Country Ham

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night?

I don’t — and others would prefer it remain that way — sing !!

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

South

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

I would not get a tattoo for any reason.

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Lemonade, butter, bacon grease, blueberries, leftover crab cake


Mark Richardson

Dudley’s on Short

The last thing Mark Richardson ate was homemade spicy sauerkraut. 

Food fans can catch Richardson (and other local culinary geniuses) at the August Railbird Fest at Keeneland for Sip and Savor, a culinary experience.

Richardson became executive chef of Dudley’s in 2015. 

He agrees with The Tao of Cornbread, and adds “I’m not too fond of sweet breads, unless it’s a breakfast bread or cake. I prefer buttery and tangy!” He also prefers garlic scapes and squash blossoms over any other ingredients at the Farmers Market. 

When asked if he’s a planner or procrastinator, Richardson confidently claims, “I’m a planner for sure, at minimum a few days out. Whatever I’m cooking, either at home or in the restaurant, I have every detail planned out and even a backup plan if something goes wrong.”

His food philosophy is simple, “Get the best ingredients possible, don’t overdo it, and technically strive for perfection.”

As for Lexington’s place in the culinary pantheon, he says, “The culinary landscape of Lexington is a booming small city that’s starting to flex its muscle across the U.S.”


What Lexington Needs? 

I have been impressed by the local growth of the culinary landscape since being in Kentucky, but I still think that we need more locally owned and focused restaurants. 

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky? 

Benedictine

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night? 

My Old Kentucky Home

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest? 

Southish?

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be? 

Probably a butcher photo of a pig, I love bacon, pork, bacon, bacon, and bacon. 

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Pickles, beer, at least 5 different types of mustard, and my kid’s food/snacks


Jonathan Sanning

The Stave

The last thing Chef Jonathan Sanning ate was a pickled brined hot chicken sandwich for lunch at work. 

Sanning made a name for himself at Smithtown Seafood before leaving to head up the Stave. 

His current favorite ingredient at the Farmers’ Market is blueberries, because even though he’s “not a baker,” he does “make all the pies and berries make making pies easier.”

He is willing to go to the mat about cornbread. “I’ve gotten into some heated arguments about this before,” he says. “In my humble opinion, every dish needs balance, so I opt for 2 parts salt, 1 part sugar when making cornbread. So a little sugar to highlight the natural sweetness of the corn and balance it with the acid and fat of the buttermilk, the richness and fat of the butter and the salt.” 

His food philosophy is “Local and inclusive while still dealing with the reality of things.”

Like DeRosett, he says, “my inspiration for my career was my grandfather. So many reasons why, but simply he taught me how the act of cooking and serving food makes family, families and strangers family.” 

He believes Lexington is in transition as to whether our culinary landscape is a small city or a big town. He says, “I’d say we are getting to a bigger city feel. I think there is a quality representation of a lot of cuisines but would enjoy more.” 

The nicest thing anyone can tell him about his food is “when someone says, ‘That was better than my grandma’s/grandpa’s.’ That is always a huge compliment.”

The meanest thing anyone has said about something he’s cooked is a source of ongoing amusement, “someone once called The Stave un-American as a whole because we don’t offer American cheese or ranch dressing.” He says, “That one has stuck with me because of the hilarity…but [they] still don’t offer either,” and he reassures us, they never will.  


What Lexington Needs?

A late night downtown diner. A real old school late night diner that also serves drinks. Industry people need a place to eat and relax after work that isn’t just a bar, isn’t fast food, pizza, or just nothing. Also more ramen shops. 

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Burgoo. 

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night?

MMJ, “wordless chorus”

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

Trick question! Technically speaking Midwest. But as border states go I’d say Louisville and (I’m from umm, Cincinnati) aka Florence/Covington (no offense) that’s the Midwest, but I’d say the rest is more southern. I was born in Missouri but have lived in Lexington, Morehead, Columbia, Paintsville and Jackson, KY. 

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

I’ve been debating that one for years. I’m sure it will happen one day. Right now I’ll say a watercolor “Three Sisters” (corn, squash, and beans growing together.)

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Pickles and sausages (my daughter’s favorites), ramen stock, roast pork, eggs (my favorites) and pizza (obligatory).


Wyatt Sarbacker

Porter Road Butcher; Gents Original

The last thing Wyatt Sarbacker ate was pistachio cheesecake at Gianna, a new Italian restaurant in New Orleans, while attending a conference on the study of flavor perception and memory. (Ouita Michel snagged a muffuletta from Central Grocery on the same trip.) 

Sarbacker, who received his culinary degree from Sullivan University, is best known for having a hand in the opening of several restaurants in Lexington and developing sustainability projects with Marksbury Farm. He rose to local celebrity status when he helped Samantha Fore prepare Sri Lankan fare for the Top Chef Kentucky team when they were in town for their Rupp shoot, prompting Top Chef Host Padma Lakshmi to demand, “I want to take a picture with Wyatt.” 

Photo by Ace Weekly

He agrees entirely with the Tao of Cornbread, admitting “I am not a fan of sweet cornbread at all, but I actually really miss the cornbread from Billy’s BBQ. His current favorite ingredient from the Farmers Market is Blue Moon’s garlic powder and paprika. He’ll take a garlic chocolate chip cookie from Sunrise Bakery over sweet cornbread any day.

Concurring with many of the chefs we surveyed, his favorite menu item from a bygone Lexington restaurant is “the pork jowl from Yamaguchis.”

He sees Lexington as a big town with lots of potential in our culinary landscape. But admits, “It’s hard to tell, I feel that few places are pushing the envelope or willing to try new things.”

The nicest endorsement for his cooking was a customer who traveled six hours to try his mussels before he sold out, while the meanest thing anyone’s ever done was refused to eat a sandwich he made because they didn’t believe a tomato could be any color other than red. (It was yellow.)


What Lexington Needs? 

Restaurants need to keep on pushing forward. There has to be evolution, it can never stand still. Places need to continue to get better and do more, be the best you can be.

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND 

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky? 

Burgoo 

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest? 

…Yes. 

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be:

A country ham being carved. 

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Chili oil, yellow miso, crystal hot sauce, broadbent bacon, Iberico ham


Josh Smouse

Executive chef, Honeywood

The last thing Honeywood executive chef Josh Smouse ate was, “Wheat toast with beans, avocado, Cheddar, egg and salsa verde,” and that was the Honeywood “family meal” (what the staff eats). 

His current favorite ingredient at the Farmers Market is “Beets,” he says. “We have a CSA and I love when the fresh beets arrive.”

Smouse is firm about his stance on cornbread, “I think many ‘Southerners’ have a soft spot for sweet cornbread. Both have a place. Cornbread dogma does not.”

His food philosophy is exactly what one would expect from any member of Ouita-Nation, “Good ingredients, prepared simply and served with the customer in mind.”

Is he a planner or a procrastinator in the kitchen? “Planner. All decent chefs are planners, I think. In a restaurant, you have to reduce the amount of variables that can affect the guests’ experience.”

He doesn’t have a favorite bygone culinary memory in Lexington, but he does say, “I do not/have not eaten lamb fries, but I wish that tradition was still alive in Lexington.” (Hint: they are available at Columbia’s.) 

While he doesn’t recall the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about something he’s cooked, admitting, “I am terrible at acknowledging or remembering compliments,” he easily remembers the meanest, “That’s interesting …”

What Lexington Needs?

A Middle Eastern bakery

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND

Name your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky?

Jake’s Sausage

What song would you sing to express your love for Kentucky cuisine at a karaoke night?

“Beans and Cornbread”

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

Lexington is in Kentucky. Being from Kentucky is plenty. No need to delve into South or Midwest argument.

If you had to get a food-related tattoo, what would it be?

A pineapple. I love it as a symbol for the hospitality business.

Name 5 things in your fridge right now: 

Beets, mayonnaise, triple cream, apples, yogurt. We keep a stocked fridge, generally.


This article can also be found on page 16, 17, 18, & 19 of the July 2019 print edition of Ace.

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