Today’s Chef in the Spotlight, is none other than the Chef who’s famous for winning in the Iron Chef challenge versus José Garces, Chef Edward Lee. Chef Lee was born and raised in New York, had a successful career there, but as fate would have it, his flourishing career would lead him to Louisville, Kentucky where he now lives. We met him at the recent Hennessy XO Appreciation Grows Dinner at the Equatorial Hotel KL, and here is our interview with him.
Chef Edward Lee’s story and his food could only happen in America. One part Southern soul, one part Asian spice, and one part New York attitude, Lee is a Korean-American who grew up in Brooklyn, trained in classical French kitchens, and has spent the better part of a decade cooking in Louisville, Kentucky.
Chef Lee’s passion for food is only surpassed by his sense of adventure -it is, after all, what took him to Louisville from a successful career in New York City. In 2001, on a cross-country road trip, Lee wound up in Louisville during Derby Week, the busiest dining week of the year. On a tip from a friend, he sought out the eccentric chef of a local gem called 610 Magnolia, finagling an invitation to work in the kitchen for the week. Impressed with Lee’s passion and skill, the chef offered him the restaurant less than a year later, and his Southern adventures began. The rest is history.
1.Hi Chef Edward, can you please tell us how you came to know about your talent for cooking, and what got you started?
I always helped my grandmother as a child when she would make kim chi or other Korean foods. That’s how I first got exposed to food, I’m not sure when I realized I wanted to be a chef but I have always from my earliest memories been excited by the smell of good food.
2.Tell us something about yourself that NO ONE knows?
I love karaoke.. and you heard me too, at the recent Hennessy XO Appreciation party, didn’t you ? *winks*
Ciki: Yes I did, and it was a pretty cool presentation, Edward!
3. How do you de-stress?
Listen to loud music and have a bourbon.
4. Do you have any hobbies?
I play tennis when I can, I go hunting during duck and wild turkey season.
5. What is your favourite Malaysian dish?
The Assam Laksa. I love everything about assam laksa. It is sweet, salty, bitter and sour, and even if you were a top notch Chef from a different part of the world, you might not be able to replicate the exact dish, when given all the ingredients – though it looks simple, the flavours are very complex!
6. What is your favourite travel destination for food?
San Sebastian, Spain.. love the place , the food the weather!
7. If you could live one place in this world where would it be and why?
I love where I live now, in Louisville, we’re at the forefront of a great movement happening here in the South and it is an exciting time to be here in Kentucky.
8. What was your biggest catastrophe in the kitchen?
I locked myself in a walk-in refrigerator once and almost froze to death, luckily I broke the door apart after about 30 minutes.
9. Do you have any advice for budding cooks/aspiring chefs?
Discipline. You will need it as a yong chef, you will need to teach it as a head chef. Make it your mantra.
10. Do you think that the old “use it or lose it” axiom holds true for cooking?
Sure, practice makes perfect. So much of cooking is based on muscle memory. It’s very physical. The more you do it, the more your body remembers how to do things. Some recipes, I don’t even have to think about, my hands just remember how to do it.
11.When it comes down to technical skill vs. putting your heart into your cooking, which do you think is most vital to producing good food, and why?
Both, you can’t put one above the other. A chef’s foundation starts with technical skills which may take years to learn in some pretty tough conditions. Then the ones that still have passion, enthusiasm and love for the business will usually then get ahead.
12. Do you think that there is a correlation between the instability of the economy and the uncertainty of the future, in the growing interest in gourmet food – that people find it comforting?
Not really. There’s always a reason to eat good food. When times are bad, when times are good, when things are stagnant, when time flies, there’s always a reason to eat and drink well.
13. Do u think fine-dining restaurants has raised people’s standards as a whole of what they will and will not eat?
Yes, restaurants create trends, they educate people and the push the boundaries of what the public deems fashionable. That is a big responsibility and fine dining is always making headlines and keeping the public interested in the future of food.
14. Has it affected the restaurant industry?
Yes, in a good way. Restaurants cannot stay stagnant and keep the same menu year after year. We are pushed to compete and to push ourselves, and that is always a good thing.
Find Chef Edward Lee on Facebook
Check out his website