Lee’s rise to Southern-cuisine eminence began in 2001 on a road trip to Louisville during the Kentucky Derby. He discovered a local gem of a restaurant called 610 Magnolia and spent the evenings cooking in the kitchen. Eddie Garber, the chef/owner at the time, was so impressed by his passion and work ethic that he offered Lee the opportunity to buy out his restaurant. Lee accepted the offer within the year, moving his life from NYC to Louisville, and into the dialogue of the blossoming New Southern food scene that would take shape around a handful of young and forward-thinking chefs.
Lee’s culinary style draws inspiration from his Asian heritage, his New York training, and his embrace of the American South, coupled with the best ingredients from local farms. Lee’s innovative cuisine has twice earned him a finalist nomination for the James Beard Foundation Awards Best Chef: Southeast in 2011 and 2012. He has been featured in Esquire, Bon Appétit, GQ, and Gourmet, among many other publications; won on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, was a favorite on Top Chef: Texas, Season 9; and has appeared on the Cooking Channel’s Foodography, CBS’s Early Show, and NBC’s Today. Besides Organic Gardening, Lee’s writing has been published in Gastronomica, Local Palate, and other magazines; a soon-to-be-published cookbook, Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen (Artisan Books, May 2013), chronicles his unconventional journey from the kitchens of Brooklyn to becoming a lauded Southern chef.
In addition to 610 Magnolia, Lee operates a special-events dining room called The Wine Studio, which features cooking classes, wine tastings, and special themed dinners like the popular Wild Game Dinner and the Southern Degustation Menu.
When he is not in his kitchen, Lee spends the rest of his time on his numerous collaborations. His signature blend with Jefferson’s Reserve called Chef’s Collaboration Blend is a luxury small-batch bourbon he developed with master blender Trey Zoeller. He also consults on product development for both Red Boat Fish Sauce and Bourbon Barrel Foods.
MilkWood is Chef Lee’s newest venture. Located in the basement of the locally revered Actor’s Theater building in downtown Louisville, this new restaurant is Chef Lee’s interpretation of Southern Bar Food with an Asian Pantry. The menu features small plates and smoked meats, all personalized and creative versions of familiar classics.
Lee approaches his professional and culinary life with candor, humor, and—most importantly—the same spirit of adventure that was the original impetus for his success.