Asking Edward Lee about his musical firsts earns a rueful laugh. “They’re bad,” says the celebrated chef, who owns 610 Magnolia and MilkWood in Louisville, Kentucky; serves as the culinary director at the just-opened Succotash outside Washington, D.C.; and has earned widespread acclaim for his appearances on Top Chef and the Emmy-nominated Mind of a Chef.
First single? One-hit-wonder Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which features none other than a young Michael Jackson singing the chorus.
First albums? The collected works of Hall & Oates.
First concert? Village People at Madison Square Garden.
Then he wised up and fell hard for the Smiths. “When I got into them I thought, ‘I’m intellectual, cool, tragic, and no one understands me except Morrissey,’” he says. “Then I found out 40 million other kids felt exactly the same way.”
These days he doesn’t have as much time as he’d like to seek out new artists, though he can often be found cooking at music festivals or serving rock stars at his restaurant. My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, and Conor Oberst have all enjoyed his food, which blends classic Southern fare with unexpected Asian influences. At his latest enterprise, he weaves curry into the namesake succotash and his 22-ingredient barbecue sauce for the smoked beef short rib gets a boost from Chinese black bean sauce.
Every dish he puts out is the product of years of serious, on-the-ground research. “I’ve travelled to more small towns in the South than most people will in their entire lives,” he says. “Southern food can be very misinterpreted and people can treat it very shallowly, like ‘Hey, let’s put a red checkered tablecloth out and fry up some chicken.’ There’s a lot more to it than that.”
He created this mix for when he takes a break from eating his way through backwoods burgs and challenging himself to new heights in the heat of the kitchen. “When I put this on, I want a glass of whiskey and cigarettes,” he says.
Sounds like we need to get this man a glass and a lighter.
Photo credit: Dan Dry