The gastronomic atmosphere of Kentucky is a lot different than the breathless hustle of major food regions like New York and Los Angeles. Rather than a thousand food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and latest hotspots all competing for the highest Yelp score, Kentucky, much like chef Edward Lee himself, is relaxed and unafraid to stray from the path. Edward Lee, chef and owner of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky, is the newest star of Anthony Bourdain’s highly-successful PBS chef documentary show, Mind of a Chef, which delves into the inner workings of the chef’s constantly-whirring brain. The first half of the season will feature Lee’s culinary escapades, while the second half will highlight the culinary talents of Magnus Nilsson, head chef of Fäviken in Sweden.
We sat down with co-star Edward Lee to get a little taste of his cooking personality, as well as what’s to come on this season, which premieres later this month on PBS. Edward Lee is made up of equal parts imagination, drive, and authentic Kentucky bourbon (which he cooks with, as well as serves, quite a bit in his restaurant).
“I gravitate toward culture,” said Lee. “I’m not a scientist. I don’t believe in scientific cooking. I believe in cooking from the soul. We hear about the scientific side a lot, but we don’t hear the other side which is people and narratives. At the end of the day, we’re not just selling food, we’re selling an experience.”
So what about current trends in cooking, like molecular gastronomy and other precise methods of preparing food, that do lean more towards the sciences?
“If I followed the trends, I wouldn’t be in Kentucky,” said Lee, with a slight smirk. He went on to elaborate; “That’s the beauty of having a restaurant in Kentucky. You’re not asked to be prisoner to do the same thing other chefs in bigger cities do. We do our own thing, people come and they like it. If they don’t, they don’t.”
Trailer for the upcoming season of Mind of a Chef
This season of Mind of a Chef will definitely delve into the heart of Kentucky cooking (hint: it’s about way more than just fried chicken), but it won’t just stick to America’s heartland. Lee mentioned that he will be traveling all over the world — from France to Argentina to learn traditional open-fire cooking, then back to domestic cities like San Francisco and Brooklyn, where, in the pilot episode, Lee will be returning to his hometown of East New York for the first time since his childhood. The food scene, he said, was actually pretty interesting upon his return, and in the past couple of decades, “the demographics have changed, but the fight for survival has not.”
At the end of the day, chef Lee admitted that he couldn’t have asked for a better show to get his message out about cooking and being a part of the restaurant industry.
“Our sphere of influence as chefs goes way beyond the four walls of a restaurant,” said Lee. “The days of putting your head down and cooking are in the past. When I first started working, you made a phone call and your peppers would show up in a box the next day. Now that’s not enough. People want to know what kind of peppers are these? Why choose this pepper over that one? I’ve re-thought everything in my career. I wanted to tell the story of Kentucky food, and it’s a story that’s growing.”
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi