Ed Lee is the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia and Milkwood in Louisville, Kentucky, and has been named a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast award on multiple occasions. He is the author of the best-selling cookbook, Smoke & Pickles, and is the current featured chef for season three of the Emmy-winning series Mind of a Chef. Lee spoke with Gambit about his upcoming return to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation fundraiser Boudin, Bourbon & Beer as well as plans for restaurant expansion outside of Kentucky.
Gambit: What will you serve at Boudin, Bourbon & Beer?
Lee: We’re always into different and new things, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on the coast, so we’ll definitely be doing a version of our seafood boudin and mix it into a stew somehow. It’ll probably be undetermined exactly until the last minute. I’ve always been a master procrastinator.
You’re something of a bourbon scholar. What’s your favorite bourbon right now?
We’re releasing the second blend of our chef’s collaboration blend with Jefferson’s Reserve, and that’s a bourbon that myself and [master distiller] Trey Zoeller collaborated on. Our first blending was in November 2013, and we sold out in one week. We will be releasing the second blend in November — maybe not in time for Boudin and Bourbon but just on the cusp — so we’ll be sending out 10,000 cases of that. We spent the last four months blending and tasting so it’s been a really cool endeavor.
I’m kind of drifting away from some of the super high-end bourbons, but one that I like that I don’t tell too many people about because I don’t want it to become a thing is Russell’s Reserve. It’s just one of the best bourbons out there. It comes from Wild Turkey, and you wouldn’t normally expect that, but they make a 12 year that’s great. It’s a really great sipping bourbon.
How has spending time on the coast influenced your menu development?
I spent a good amount of time in Galveston, Texas, this summer while filming Mind of a Chef, so when I can get to the coast — Kentucky is such a landlocked state — it’s always nice to be on the water.
My next project is going to be in the [Washington] D.C. area, so we’re doing research and kind of setting up shop there. Obviously, we’re approaching it with a Southern mindset, but it’s a much different kind of geographical place, and you start to see the different coastal influences. I’m more of a pork and beef kind of guy, but have been eating a lot more seafood from being in Maryland a lot. I love the oysters out there, I love all that stuff.
D.C. is a wonderful place. I’m not doing a seafood restaurant per se, but it just starts to bleed into your mentality when you’re exposed to it more. It’s a great place, and we haven’t disclosed the location yet but we’re not going to be in D.C. proper in the downtown area. That region reminds me a little of Louisville in that it straddles two different worlds. It really has one foot in that Southern world — where you’re right on the water — but you’re an hour and a half from the Appalachian Mountain range, and an hour and a half from New York City.