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At his 610 Magnolia restaurant in Louisville, chef Edward Lee has made a name for himself turning out Southern cooking with a distinct Asian influence. (Appearing on Top Chef Season 9 didn’t hurt his name-recognition either).

I sat down with Lee at the recent Montana Master Grillers event at Paws Up Resort, where he described himself as “wiped out” from a cattle drive earlier in th3 day. Long story. We spoke with the chef about his approach to cooking and the staples in his Asian pantry.

Describe your style of cooking
We use a lot of Asian spices and flavors, but none of my food is typically Asian. I always say it’s one part Southern, one part Asian, and one part New York.

Can you give me an example of a dish at 610 Magnolia where the Asian flavor is evident?
We have braised short ribs that we do for 48 hours in black barbecue sauce. They’re served with edamame hummus, which is our take on the mashed potato. The inspiration part comes from Southern roots, but the flavor profile is definitely Asian, and the New York part is the way everything we plate is sort of sexy and smart.

What do you think of this new wave of young Asian Chefs who have gotten so much press lately for pioneering a new cuisine?
I support all that. I’m 100 percent behind it. I call it American cuisine. To me the idea of fusion is inaccurate. I have a theory about it: To say something is fused is to say there are two things that don’t belong together. I don’t think Asian spices and flavors are things that are uncommon or different or foreign to the American palate. I think whether you’re in Montana, or New York, or Louisville, or Texas, everyone has pretty much been exposed to and appreciates Asian flavors. We don’t do things like spring rolls, egg rolls; my inspiration comes from the Asian pantry but not Asian cuisine.

What are some staples of your Asian pantry?
I found this new fish sauce, Red Boat. It’s a first-press fish sauce. It’s something heralded by a Vietnamese guy who found an American investor. Fish sauce is great, but a lot of it is not very refined. Finally someone has come with an extra virgin fish sauce.  Also, a friend of mine is making organic soy sauce in Kentucky: Bourbon Barrel soy sauce. He makes the soy sauce from scratch and then ferments for one year in bourbon barrels. He’s had Japanese people say it’s the best soy sauce they’ve ever had

See the full list of Edward Lee’s Asian pantry staples below:

Gochujang
“This is Korean fermented chili paste. Wang is a reliable brand but any package with Korean writing on it will suffice.  It makes a pungent chili sauce that is not too spicy.  Perfect for cold noodles, rice dishes as a dipping sauce for meats.”

Tamarind
“Tamarind comes in many forms because the pod-like fruit is tough to peel and extract. Many pastes and sauces are watery and sour. Tamicon makes a concentrate that is both flavorful and easy to use.  Use it for marinades and glazes.”

Nanami Togarashi
“This is a Japanese spice blend with dried chilis, sesame seeds, seaweed, orange peel and ginger. It is great adding a few shakes to anything from ramen to seafood.”

Sesame Oil
“Kadoya is the only brand I use. All others are cheap imitations that barely smell like sesame.  This is so intense, it is as precious as a perfume. I use it in everything from light stir frys to vinaigrettes.  A little goes a long way.”

Bourbon Barrel Bluegrass Soy Sauce
“Matt Jamie makes a totally unique product, the bourbon barrel aging process gives it an earthy almost broth like texture and flavor. It makes sushi a whole new experience.”

Rice Vinegar
“Marukan makes a very nicely balanced rice vinegar.  Not too tart but also not too sweet.  It strikes that golden balance and it is a great way to add a vinegary component to a dish without the strong overpowering astringency associated with most vinegars.”

Red Boat Fish Sauce
“A pure first press fish sauce that has more protein but less sodium than the other brands so you can add more flavor without oversalting your dish. I put it in everything from mayonnaise to marinades for grilled steaks to sautéed shrimp.”

Black barbecue sauce
“When I came down to Louisville, I wanted my own signature barbecue sauce, because everyone has one. So instead of ketchup, we substituted fermented black bean paste. We call it a black barbecue sauce, it has black garlic, black bean paste, sesame oil, fresh garlic, lime juice, fish sauce. It tastes and looks like a barbecue sauce, but when you eat it, the flavor’s a little Asian.”


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