Food & Drink Week
7:00 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Louisville's Chef Edward Lee Plays Catch Up in Celebrating (and Cooking on) Thanksgiving

Edward Lee
Credit Joseph Lord/WFPL News

This is the first story in WFPL's Food & Drink Week. We'll be exploring dining and libations in the Louisville area ahead of Thanksgiving. You'll find new stories here everyday for the next week.

For Thanksgiving cooks, nostalgia can be like the blackened crust burnt onto a pan over years—the same dishes every year, for the sake of tradition.

That's not a problem for Edward Lee, the world-famous chef at Louisville's 610 Magnolia who has appeared on Top Chef, Iron Chef America and more.

Lee grew up in a Korean American family that never fully embraced the concept of roast turkey, dressing and dozens of the other time-tested side-dishes set atop a leaf-printed tablecloth. The Lee family set out sliced turkey and gravy from a jar, maybe. The rest would be Korean dishes.

Lee sat down with us this month to talk Thanksgiving.

Maybe he missed something in his youth, he said, but as a chef renown for mixing flavors and styles, he finds Thanksgiving an intriguing challenge.

“The nice thing is I don’t have to be hindered by tradition," Lee said. "If my grandmother had an awful pecan pie recipe, I don’t have to make it just to honor her.  From a culinary standpoint, I really just enjoy using Thanksgiving flavors but then adding some other things to it.

“It’s fun for me getting into a new tradition that I always knew about but never really celebrated.”

Now, Lee has a young family of his own—and he plans to celebrate Thanksgiving like never before.

Thanksgiving Sans Turkey

In recent years, Lee and his wife may chose duck over turkey—mostly because of the economics of cooking a massive bird for two. Besides, "with a duck you never have to worry about a dried breast," he said.

Their favorite dish, however, is an oyster and chestnut stuffing. 

“I use stale cornbread, so it’s kind of got that Southern thing involved. But it’s really kind of more of an East Coast New England thing with the oysters baked into it," Lee said.

"It has this really nice briny, sort of wonderful umami flavor to it. And the chestnuts kind of creep in there with the sweetness at the end. It’s a really beautiful dish.”

To make it, you'd cube stale cornbread, mix it in a bowl with leftovers such as bacon or ground pork, add sage and "lots of butter." You'd spice and season, add cream and put in 30 shucked oysters for, say, a 9 by 6-inch casserole pan. Roast the chestnuts separately and spread them across the top before putting the dish into the oven. 

Measurements and such? "“All Thanksgiving recipes should be eyeballed," Lee said, perhaps echoing a great old Thanksgiving tradition.

The dish was created as an experiment—and it's emerged as its own tradition.

Another example is a sweet potato purée, which includes coconut milk and peanuts to give "a little bit of that Thai flavor."

'New Tradition'

Lee experiments—but he's also seeking to forge his own traditions. Not food traditions, but family ones.

He and his wife have a baby daughter. It'll be her first Thanksgiving.

"Even though she’s not going to remember a single thing, we’re going to go all out and make the turkey and the sides and everything, and maybe we’ll make a little quail for her and put it in front of her," Lee said. "Yeah, it’ll be very special and hopefully the start of a new tradition for years to come.”

Listen below to Lee discussing Thanksgiving:

Do you have a Thanksgiving dish that you want to share? Call WFPL at (502) 627-0485 or send us an e-mail here to let us know how it's made and why you love it. We'll post some of the submissions next week. Be sure to include your name.