The Fridges of Fayette County: A Lexington sizzling summer sequel

The Fridges of Fayette County: A Lexington sizzling summer sequel

The Fridges of Fayette County

A sizzling summer sequel 

BY KRISTINA ROSEN

 

“The Fridges of Fayette County” series kicked off in the late 90s when Ace visited with prominent Lexington chefs in their home kitchens and reported back.

Ace Archive: the birth of a series, 1990s

Over the years, readers were introduced to (then) newcomers like Ouita Michel and Jonathan Lundy. Rob Bricken grilled—so to speak—Lexington chefs about food, society, and whether riblets were destroying humanity. (Spoiler alert: he concluded that they were.)

Nearly two decades then passed before a chilling summer sequel of “Fridges” returned in 2019, as part of Ace’s Lexington Restaurant Week partnership.

We discovered a lot of love for burgoo, an overwhelming desire for a country ham tattoo, and that chefs’ fridges continued to be stocked with a general assortment of 438 condiments, just as they were decades ago.   

 

The “searing” exposé returns this summer—in the early stages of a post-pandemic restaurant landscape—as we once again invite ourselves into the homes and kitchens of the pros.

The more things change…the more they stay the same and the Fridges sequel proves it. 

Cover art by Megan McCardwell

We visit with chefs and restaurant owners alike; surveys include returning faces, emerging talent, and of course, a veteran or two.

For every fridge we found stuffed with jugs of kombucha (my kind of person), there was another stocked with fancy wines (also my kind of person).

A world of condiments, booze, butter, and now…maybe…homemade spam.

We revisit the spirited debate about Ronni Lundy’s Tao of Cornbread (should there really be sugar in it?), discuss what Lexington needs, and discover favorite restaurant trends in the “After.”

We learned that Lexington’s finest chefs are just like us — with fridges that serve as a refuge for condiments and more often than not a half-empty Budweiser — while the finest restaurant owners eat a lot of their own restaurant food.

 

 

Cole Arimes

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

The last thing Cole Arimes ate (on the day we met) was a cheeseburger and fries.

Photo by Austin Johnson for Ace

Cole is a returning champion for this year’s round of Fridges. When we last chatted in 2019, he shared with us his accommodating food philosophy and a bias towards a sugar-free Tao.

As for what we found in his fridge this time around? Homemade spam, strawberries, watermelon, pork taco filling, and marinated olives.

Cole describes his cooking style in two words as “organized chaos.”

He still identifies as more of a procrastinator than a planner in the kitchen. “Many of my best dishes have come out of creating something in a hurry.”

His motivation for a life in food began with a love to eat, but he says, “Once I was a part of the industry, it was the fast pace and high pressure that I enjoyed.”

The most obvious new restaurant trend that he has noticed over the past year is the proliferation of delivery options, but he isn’t fully on board.

He explains, “Mainly due to the fact that it is hard for any restaurant to represent themselves in a carryout container. For restaurants, the experience is an all-inclusive package of food, service, and ambiance. With delivery, the guest only experiences a small fraction of what we are capable of. To quote my wife, ‘delivery has taken the fun out of eating because everything is one click away.’”

LIGHTNING ROUND

What Lexington Needs?

An old school butcher shop with housemade salumi 

Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?

It’s a border state.

If he could prepare a meal for anyone dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Chef Robert Bovey and I would make beef stroganoff.  

 


Lawrence Weeks

Executive chef of Honeywood

On the day we spoke with Chef Lawrence Weeks, the last thing he’d eaten was a microwave dinner at 1am the night before.

Lawrence has been executive chef at Chefpreneur Ouita Michel’s Honeywood since October 2019.

This past December, accommodating the industry’s newfound slower pace, he introduced CurryCurry Katsu, a westernized Japanese sandwich shop that operated as a ghost kitchen out of Honeywood in The Summit at Fritz Farm.

Open his refrigerator door (ask first, of course), and you will find: miso, Gatorade, sun noodles, andouille sausage, and kombucha.

His interest in cooking was inspired by his grandmother. “I grew up in a southern family. My mom’s side was from SW Louisiana and my grandmother would cook for us all the time when around. We’d have gumbo, pinto beans and pork chops and cabbage often in the household. My interest in cooking sparked from watching her.”

With that in mind, his answer to whether Lexington is the South or the Midwest didn’t come as a shock. “Kentucky is without question the South.”

He describes his cooking style in three words as “connecting cultural parallels.”

His food philosophy follows suit. “Culture isn’t stagnant, it is constantly transforming and molding to its surroundings.”

As for the Tao, there’s no room for debate. “Sugar belongs in many things,” he tells us, “cornbread is not one of them.”

LIGHTNING ROUND

What Lexington Needs?

Late night food that’s open past 10pm

Your favorite food that you only find in Kentucky? 

Country ham

Favorite current ingredient at the Farmers’ Market? 

Okra

Food-related tattoo, what would it be? 

A leaf of high mountain oolong tea

 


 

Eric Angulo

Chef of West Main Crafting Co

The last thing Eric Angulo ate was an oatmeal cream pie and peanut butter.

Eric moved to Lexington nearly nine years ago and began working at Jonathan at Gratz Park, home to his favorite bygone classic. “They had this fried pimento cheese grit tower of power that changed my whole perspective on what it [meant] to be cooking in Kentucky.”

Photo by Megan McCardwell for Ace

“My three other siblings and I have long since moved away from home, rarely being able to visit. So on the rare occasion we get to travel home, my mother has food cooked up for us kids (usually tinola—a Filipino chicken soup) steaming hot. Every freaking time she has me sobbing within the first few bites. That’s the kind of energy I want to try to invoke.”

He has a tendency to procrastinate in the kitchen and roll with the punches. “But,” he clarifies, “to not have some kind of battle plan? That would drive me crazy.”

Eric’s fridge might yield the most interesting meal if he was competing on Chopped: orange juice, pickles, hot sauce, butter, and a half-empty Budweiser?

The meanest thing anyone has ever told him about his cooking is “Your grits suck.” He took the constructive criticism well, and admits, “They were right. I think it took me a few months to not scorch a pan and get consistency ‘correct.’”

His stance on The Tao? “Yes, I agree. Asians love sweet corn and rice cakes. Cornbread = sin sugar.”

LIGHTNING ROUND

What Lexington Needs?

Six months. With restrictions being lifted and things slowly returning to something that resembles familiarity, we all are catching up on this end. Just can’t wait to see us all adjusted to the new norm.

Your favorite food that you can only find in Kentucky?

Nat’s

Favorite current ingredient at the Farmers’ Market?

Garlic scapes

If he had a food-related tattoo wish, what would it be?

Ginger root

 


 

Larry Hunter

Chef of Carson’s

The last thing Larry Hunter ate was a grilled 22oz. ribeye with charred asparagus with béarnaise, served with sundried tomato sourdough bread with fresh mozzarella.

His fridge wins the award for the most all-around variety: vine ripened tomatoes, garlic, 2% milk, havarti cheese, prosciutto ham. (Wait. What? Tomatoes in a refrigerator?!) 

Larry has been the executive chef of Carson’s since day one. He’s been in the industry for 25 years—as a Sous Chef at Boone Tavern, Executive Chef for The Pub Lexington, a stint at Keeneland, and some time spent at The Coach House.

Photo by Austin Johnson for Ace

A Lexington native, he recalls a powerful food memory, “There used to be a place called Burger Broil where McDonald’s is now on Harrodsburg Road. Used to love going there as a kid for the foot long hot dog with extra onions and chili.”

AS for his food philosophy, “Put your heart and soul into your recipes and take the time to let the recipe develop.”

Should cornbread have sugar in it? “If you are going for traditional cornbread then no! Sugar does not belong in it.” He does try to justify all sides of the debate, adding that, “But……if you are going for the sweeter, more buttery spoon bread then yes you most definitely want sugar.” 

Asked to recall the nicest thing anyone has ever said of his work, he remembers the time an older patron told him, “I know you have someone’s grandmother locked up in the kitchen because I haven’t had gravy that good since my grandmother’s.” Larry adds, “Now that will make you feel good.”

LIGHTNING ROUND

What Lexington Needs?

I would like to see some more elevated seafood offerings around town

Your favorite food that you can only find in Kentucky?

Hot Brown

Favorite current ingredient at farmer’s market?

Fresh blackberries (make great cobblers)

Food-related tattoo, what would it be?

Blue Chili Pepper with red, orange and yellow flames

 


 

Mark Fichtner

Owner of Carson’s

M ark Fichtner’s fridge wins the award for most prepared for happy hour: prosecco, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, beer (specifically Corona), and cheese.

With over three decades of experience in the food industry, Mark opened Carson’s Food & Drink in 2016. He developed the menu himself, somehow knowing that a soft-shell crab was exactly what a BLT was missing.

He recalls telling his mother his childhood goals, “I told her when I grew up I wanted to own my own restaurant and be a chef. She absolutely inspired me because she was a really good cook.”

His entrepreneurial philosophy matches his culinary goals, “I think food is emotion. When you eat, either you’re eating to fill your stomach, and then there is also eating when you share and make memories. Food brings people together.”

Like all the owners and chefs we spoke with, he has noticed the recent trend toward takeout cocktails and takeout food. “You can like it or dislike it, but it’s generating a lot of sales,” admitting, “Doing takeout at a full-service restaurant throws you into a completely different operational stake.”

What Lexington Needs?

More independent restaurants continue to grow. More diversity. More restaurants downtown that have sidewalk patios, more detail on that from the city to help support it. Developing Lexington as a walkable city. Restaurants help that walkability I think.  

 


Ren & Gwyn Everly

Owners of J. Render’s Southern Table & Bar

The last thing Ren & Gwyn Everly ate was J. Render’s Havana Day Dreamin’ Cubano.

Photo credit Conrhod Zonio

Anyone who has ever eaten at J. Render’s could guess their stance on The Tao of Cornbread. Gwyn says, “Our Sweet Jalapeno Cornbread has sugar and was my grandmother’s recipe. It is delicious.”

Their path into the industry was unexpected. Gwyn says, “We are accidental restaurant owners. Ren and I decided we wanted to open a catering business, we ended up buying a food truck for the commercial kitchen and thus J. Render’s BBQ was born. Four years later we opened J. Render’s Southern Table & Bar.”

It helped them marry their life goals with their culinary ambition, “Good food is good for your soul.”

As for new pandemic-era industry trends, they’re not all bad. Gwyn says, “I like that the curbside business and carry-out has increased. Oh and don’t forget alcohol to-go! These changes provide another revenue stream and I really like that.”

The Everlys’ fridge is a minimalist’s delight: eggs, coffee creamer, greek yogurt, grapes, cheeses. Gwyn adds with a laugh, “We don’t cook at home much these days.”

Your favorite food that you can only find in Kentucky?

Hot Brown and Country Ham. Only Kentuckians do these two right!    

 


 

This article also appears on page 12, 13, 14, 15 of the July 2021 print edition of ace magazine.

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