24 Hours with Chef Edward Lee in Charleston, SC
When we heard Chef Edward Lee (of MilkWood and Magnolia 610 in Louisville, KY) was going to be in Charleston for a few days on his book tour for Smoke & Pickles, we jumped at the chance to hang out with him. Not only is Ed one heck of a chef, he is the life of the party, so we knew we were in for a good time. We were up for it and got to enjoy about 24 hours of his stay. This is how it went.
Thursday, August 29
Ed, his wife Dianne and his new born cutie pie daughter, Arden Rose arrive. We were relieved to learn Dianne would be accompanying Ed. She is up there with other all-star chef wives (like Gina Hopkins, Angela English, Pardis Stitt), and she can also help make sure we don’t kill ourselves during our 24 hours with Ed. Dianne had never been to Charleston and she assured us she will be back—soon and often.
The trio head to Xiao Bao Biscuit (XBB) after checking in at Zero George Street. Ed had visited XBB once during his last visit during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival and was eager to return. They tried walking to the tucked away hot spot but realized quickly that pushing a stroller down the bumpy, bluestone sidewalks in the August 100 degree heat was not going to cut it. Lunch was a success and Ed had just enough time to settle in before we came and picked him up.
We were supposed to arrive at 4:00, but being fashionable late (which is the norm in Charleston), Ed seemed a little panicky. He had two hours before his event would start at Le Creuset and he had not been by to see the set up. It takes just a few minutes to get to the cookware company's spanking new US headquarters and it was in the nick of time. As we arrive, we are greeted by a hand full of Culinary Institute of Charleston students who were ready to assist. And assisting was needed. Nothing had been prepped and Ed was in full on cooking mode.
Two more students arrive and the team at Le Creuset works hard to make sure Ed has what he needs. At some point, a representative from the company and myself stop to shell pistachios. It was all we could do to make sure it was all covered in time.
A student desperately tries to get to know Ed better. “You have any hobbies.” You can tell he has no time for chit chat so we chime in, “his hobby is his four month old daughter at this point.” He responds, “Who has time for hobbies.”
Intense kitchen activity is in high gear. A few attendees for the demonstration/tasting start to arrive.
More of the crowd is funneling in. We quickly notice a pattern—mostly all 30ish, (extremely) attractive females.
Ed begins his event and goes into TV persona. He gushes over his wife and kid, talks about his new cookbook and the influences of it. This continues for two hours as there are intermittent questions and burst of applause.
The book signing begins. One of the first girls that Ed reaches monopolizes his time and we have to remind him the night is young ahead. After getting through the rows of seats and guests, Ed is ready to go.
Desperate to find something to eat (neither of us ate at the event), we go to find something quick. Our first stop is already closed but we are in luck as we pull next to Bull Street Gourmet. We park illegally and run in. The store is filled with all of our needs—wine, beer, water, salads, cheese plates and more. There seems to be confusion from the kitchen but it leaves time for us to have some private time with Ed. We talk about Charleston politics and other funny stories we have experienced in the recent months.
We finally get our bags of food and beverages and head back to the hotel so we can meet the baby and spend some time with Dianne. We are joined by a bevy of industry folks, including chefs Mike Lata and Ken Vedrinski, who come directly from working in their kitchens. “You guys still work the line,” Ed jokes knowing that both of these guys have just opened some of the city’s hottest new restaurants.
Creating our own make shift porch party, we move around the furniture and spread out the tasty treats. Rain starts to pour and Ed is relaxed sporting the hotel’s bathroom robe and all. Everyone at some point tip toes in the room to meet the baby and hours go by as the group shares stories and laughs.
The best part had to have been when the group discusses what celebrity we all get told we look like the most. Everyone’s person is spot on until we get to Ed, “Johnny Depp.” Laughter breaks out (even though one might say there is resemblance for sure in his Pirate days) but the best is when someone calls out, “I've got it…Rocky Aoki.” There was not a dry eye to be had. It was spot on.
Sometime after 11:00pm
After Ed’s hotel neighbors arrive home after dinner (and give us dirty looks for setting up a college dorm looking party), we head down the road to Big John’s Tavern, one of the city’s long standing dive bars. Dianne stays back with her newborn and Ed takes it as a pass to get his crazy on. The first stop was to the bar to order cheap beer and a round of shots. Music is pounding overhead (including Busta Move). We join the crowd, mostly all industry pros who have recently gotten off their shifts, in dancing, singing and drinking. We head to the back towards the pool table and try and wrangle our way into a game. A couple are clearly dominating the table and eventually convince Ed and Mike to go head to head. The bar owner and chef/owner of the attached Green Door restaurant comes out to say hello. Next thing we know, we are loaded with baskets of the restaurant's food—fried chickpeas, sticky buns with three kinds of hot sauce, spicy fried rice and more. It was all tasty and the perfect spread to help absorb our alcohol intake.
The drinking continues for a few hours and the audience including our friends seem to leave one by one. We do catch Ed starting to show some skin, which has been known to happen from time to time. He uses it as a ploy to try and beat the pool sharks. They still beat the boys, for the fifth time that night.
We tag along with Mike Lata to get Ed back safely to his hotel. Ed looks over at us “24 hours with me, can you handle it.”
Yes we can. But we must get some sleep.
Friday, August 30
Get a text from Ed on where to go for breakfast. Send some suggestions including the newly opened Kitchen 208.
Pick up Ed, Dianne and the baby and head to a liquor store. We must get some bourbon for the luncheon he is doing with Ken Vedrinski at Trattoria Lucca. We then race to the restaurant to deal with final prep before the event begins at 12:30.
Once again, some of Charleston’s biggest foodies start entering the restaurant, all ready to give Ed a warm welcome. People like Matt Lee, Terri Henning and several of the city’s best media folks.
The lunch is the perfect way to spend a Friday, especially right before Labor Day weekend. Ken introduces Ed and shares the story of when they first met. It sets the tone for a great family style lunch—one that is filled with platters and bowls of food all inspired by Ed’s new book. As each course is delivered, we ask Ed, “was this in the book?” Ed giggles. “Yes and no…no…and some yes but an Italian version.” Whatever it was inspired from it was tasty. Ken sits with Ed at the table towards the end of it and the two along with the others at this head table of sorts, are fully engaged and all having a wonderful time. Ed adds, “I just wanted to have Ken make his restaurant smell like a Chinese restaurant.”
Before we say our goodbyes, we ask Ed a few questions about Charleston:
Daily Meal: What’s your favorite landmark in the city?
Edward Lee: The place on the water—where Lamb & Clams was. (That would be the Battery where lamb shepherd Craig Rogers arranged his own private oyster shucking after party in years past at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (CWFF).
DM: What was your first food memory in the city?
EL: I had two good ones. First was when Chef Sean Brock drove me in his pickup truck with his wife Tonya to go to Ken’s place in Daniel Island—Sienna. We had a huge meal with tons of wine so on the way home, I feel asleep. Sean apparently was sharing a story with me the whole way and when we get home, he wakes me up, “man, were you sleeping? I just was telling you a really long important story,” he says and starts laughing.
Another time, I was with Mike Lata and John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, at Bowen’s Island before the restaurant's big fire happened that destroyed the old building. John T. was there trying to present Goat and Robert Barber an award or something and we go back in the oyster cooking room and try to tell them about the honor. Goat was cooking and not sure who these three guys were, John T. was in a tux or something. He was so thrown off he would not event tell us his name, he kept on making up famous people’s names. It was pretty funny.
DM: Favorite CWFF event?
EL: Whichever one I am at (laughing).
DM: Best Charleston drunk moment?
EL: Cannot remember/share those.
DM: Other plans during your stay?
EL: Taking Ken’s Porsche to eat at McCrady’s.