“Everyone has a story and a recipe,” says Edward Lee.
Lee’s begins in his Korean grandmother’s windowless kitchen in Brooklyn, where he grew up on rice bowls and kimchi. But his palate longed for adventure: he’d sneak over to newsstands and “peek into issues of Gourmet like they were Playboy, lusting after lamb roasts and tartes Tatin,” he confesses in his cookbook, Smoke & Pickles (2013). “I’d whisper the recipes aloud.” For Lee, that allure and magic would never dim. By his thirteenth birthday, he writes, “I knew I would spend the rest of my life chasing the seduction of food.”
These days, he’s living an entirely different chapter, in Louisville, Kentucky—and his story has become one of smoke and pickles. “Some say umami is the fifth flavor,” he says. “I say smoke is the sixth.” From the Korean BBQ of his childhood to the rampant BBQ culture of the South, “smoke is the intersection that connects my two worlds.” Whether that smoke comes from bourbon, bacon, or smoked spices, it pairs brilliantly with the briny punch of pickles, Korean as well as Southern.
Best known for his appearances on Top Chef and Mind of a Chef, as well as his James Beard Award nominations, Lee now serves up eclectic, elegant dishes at his three restaurants, all of which draw upon the kaleidoscopic facets of his unique story.
“What I cook is who I am,” Lee writes, and that’s certainly true of the Panna recipes he’s shared with us: they take us back to his Korean-Brooklyn childhood, the years he sweated his way up through the kitchens of New York, and into the future of Southern fine dining.