Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 31, 2013
Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchenby Edward Lee
Artisan, 304 pp., $29.95
Edward Lee was the Asian chef (the one not named Paul Qui) and fan favorite on Season 9 of Top Chef whom everyone was surprised lived in Kentucky and cooked Southern food. He went to Kentucky for the Derby in 2003 and fell into a Louisville restaurant deal too good to pass up; after a decade cooking there, his style has evolved into classic Southern cuisine filtered through a Brooklynese/Korean colander, with all kinds of ethnic accents thrown in. Lee completely embraced the foodstuffs and methods of the South, but his cultural background and the training he received in New York kitchens demanded a place on the stage. His cooking style has become "New Southern"; think comforting soul food massaged with Korean spice and garlic. A multiple regional James Beard Award winner, his cuisine has been called innovative and adventurous, soulful and spirited, original yet familiar.
Smoke & Pickles is divided into chapters that each begin with a story. Growing up working in diners and restaurants in New York City, becoming the first graffiti tagger in junior high school, and hanging with food growers and chefs provides a background for great stories. All of the chapters are based on extraordinary foodstuffs produced in the Louisville area: lamb, beef, bourbon, turkey and chicken, etc. The recipes are logically written, easy to follow, and for the most part straightforward. Lee has some really great dishes in this cookbook: miso-smothered chicken with shiitakes; potato-stuffed roast chicken; edamame hummus; tamarind-strawberry glazed ham; frog legs in fish sauce and brown butter; catfish in bacon vinaigrette; collards with kimchi and ham; cornbread with lardo and cheddar; and lamb braised with sorghum, bourbon, chocolate, and black bean sauce. You get the idea.
He does a whole riff on pickles, and, when you think about the similarities between Southern pickles (chow chow, spicy pickled okra, etc.) and kimchi, it only seems natural. Smoke & Pickles is straight-up filled with Southern soul cuisine with its roots firmly planted in Asia, and it's a very tasty blend of cultures.