Chef Edward Lee
Chef Lee's style of cuisine is best described as Seasonal Contemporary American. He showcases the best of each season at 610 Magnolia, much in part due to his strong relationships with local farmers and artisans. Not only are he and his staff learning about farming, they are working along with fourth generation farmer Mindy Wiseman on their own dedicated farm named, appropriately enough, Magnolia Farms. A six-acre farm located in Indiana, Magnolia Farms produces vegetables such as onions, carrots, and asparagus, along with 40 different kinds of herbs. In the spring of 2004, the farm will supply Japanese cucumbers, heirloom beans, shiso leaves and a dozen variations of tomatoes that are all sure to find their way onto the plates at 610 Magnolia.
It is no accident that this Brooklyn native found his way to Louisville, Kentucky which he now calls home. It seems that Chef Edward Lee, only 31-years old, was destined to find this historic treasure in the heart of Old Louisville. So impressed with 610 Magnolia and Kentucky's local farms and artisans upon his first visit during Derby week, Edward returned two years later to make the place his own. Sharing many of the same culinary and agricultural philosophies of Ed Garber, the original owner and chef, Chef Lee possesses strong opinions on what a dining experience should be, "I believe every meal is a narrative. To cook a meal is to tell a story using the ingredients as a vocabulary. That is why I prepare multi-course meals because it is the only way to complete the narrative."
It's only fitting that Edward uses a story analogy to describe his culinary philosophies having graduated magna cum laude in Literature from New York University. He spent much of his life in New York and believes that the urban life played a big role in opening his eyes at an early age to the challenges and rewards of the restaurant business. During high school Chef Lee worked at the Terrace Five in the Trump Tower and later he helped his family operate and sell a Mid Town Manhattan restaurant. Chef Lee continued his culinary training under famed New York Chef Frank Crispo and credits his strong work ethic to the rigorous days he spent working with him. After cooking in several New York City kitchens, Chef Lee took over a failing Chinese restaurant in 1998 and opened his own place, Clay. A stylish, Asian-inspired restaurant in NoLiTa, Clay attracted national and international media attention and put Chef Lee on the map at the age of 25. Five years later, Edward sold Clay and made Kentucky his home.
While you might think that moving to Kentucky was a stretch for a city slicker, when you speak to Edward you learn very quickly that he is a country boy at heart. Having grown up in a Korean neighborhood in Brooklyn Edward learned the importance of traditions, family and community early on in his life. He spent hours in the kitchen with his grandmother and little windows of his past reveal themselves in the 610 kitchen, "We make many things from scratch at 610 including our own pickles. I guess the pickles take me back to my Korean roots and the hours I spent pickling carrots, cucumbers and eggplant with my grandmother. Those traditions never escape you."
Moving beyond his immediate family traditions and those of Americans, Edward traveled Europe to experience European kitchens and dining first hand. He spent time in France, Tuscany and Belgium working in kitchens, discovering new recipes and sharing in European culture.
Expecting to spend most of his time in the big cities such as Paris, local residents quickly changed his mind and encouraged him to travel into the countryside to participate in age-old traditions. It was there in the European countryside that Chef Lee fully recognized the importance of seasonality, agriculture and customs as they relate to the dining experience.
Chef Lee's personal sense of responsibility to preserve and educate are front and center at 610 Magnolia. Edward believes that eating is an agricultural act and that restaurants play a role in restoring guests and promoting a healthy lifestyle, "A good restaurant today serves the same purpose as it did 200 years ago: to restore a little health, vigor, excitement and perhaps a good memory to people on their journey through life." That is what Edward tries to convey every time a guest sits in his dining room. From his house made duck proscuitto, flat breads, brioche, and fresh fruit jams to his own corned beef and pumpernickel, Edward and his culinary team take thoughtful and labor-intensive steps to bring only the best to each meal at 610 Magnolia.
Edward is confident that he is showcasing the best of each season much in part due to his strong relationships with local farmers and artisans. Not only are he and his staff learning about farming, they are working along with farmer, Mindy Wiseman, on their own dedicated farm named appropriately, Magnolia Farms. A six-acre farm located in Indiana, Magnolia Farms produces vegetables such as onions, carrots, and asparagus and forty different kinds of herbs. In the spring of 2004, the farm will supply Japanese cucumbers, heirloom beans, shiso leaves and a dozen variations of tomatoes sure to find their way onto the plate. Always forward thinking, Chef Lee and Ms. Wiseman are developing a half-acre as a 'growing lab' experimenting with new growing techniques and produce.
There is no doubt that Chef Lee will introduce you to new flavor sensations, pairings, preparations and a little tradition along the way during your meal at 610 Magnolia. While Chef Lee's style of cuisine is probably best described as Seasonal Contemporary American, that label seems to be a bit of an injustice to his ambitious efforts. Fully cognizant of French traditions and respectfully nodding to role models such as Marcus Samuelsson, Judy Rogers and Marc Veyrat, one begins to wonder if Chef Lee is onto something a bit more in the heart of Kentucky. Perhaps, Chef Lee's literal farm-to-table approach is pointing us all towards a larger ever evolving agricultural and dining movement outside of the "big lights and big cities." And who better to lead this movement in Kentucky than a humble, charismatic, talented young chef from New York City.