I'm just back from a foray into bluegrass country. Louisville is a compact and genteel city, where the faded glory of its nineteenth-century homes and buildings bumps up against a percolating farm-to-table and innovative drinks scene. It's hard not to like a city where life seems to revolve around horses, college sports, bluegrass music, food, and drink, a city whose most famous sons (broadly speaking) are Muhammad Ali and the Louisville Slugger.
At chef Edward Lee's 610 Magnolia, the Brooklyn-raised Korean American chef mixes southern flavors with Asian accents (his king crab with coconut-banana, mango, red pepper and daikon sprouts is one example). When Lee arrived in Louisville eight years ago he began playing with forgotten and/or local products. He was so taken with the region's network of small farms and their handling and processing of livestock that he ended up staying. "Why would you use French honey when you have sorghum in the backyard, or spend money on osetra when a mile-and-a-half away you've got spoonbill (native paddlefish) caviar?" he asks.
The $82 million, six-story Muhammad Ali Center could have ended up the ego-driven deification of a great, still-living athlete. It does do its share of deifying, but focuses equally on Ali's humanitarian acts and moral courage, as well as his vision for international peace. I loved this installation by Korean artist Ik-Joon Kang, part of a larger series of 3" x 3" drawings that he has collected from over 135,000 children around the world. The drawings express their makers' hopes and dreams, so from far off you can see that the images spell the words "Hopes & Dreams." From close up, you can examine each child's individual visual message.
|Ik-Joon Kang's "Hopes and Dreams."|
Dining in Louisville brought back memories of eating in Atlanta, Richmond and New Orleans, where the deep, sweet, sour and smoky flavors of barbecue and collard greens seem to inform those region's cooking as a whole. In Louisville, good baking and desserts abound as well; the biscuits, bread puddings and cobblers put northern attempts at the forms to shame.
Knowing how to get the best out of pork products is part of the Southern genetic heritage, as Decca chef Annie Pettry's super hay-braised pork cheeks with wheat berries, rutabaga, pistachios and apricot demonstrated. Born in North Carolina, Pettry has cooked in kitchens in San Francisco and New York as well.
|Biscuits at the old-line Oakroom at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel.|
|Hay-braised pork cheeks at Decca.|
Bourbon, of course, is Kentucky's spirit of choice, and we came back with our share of the mind- boggling array on sale in any liquor store. I'll share a dynamite bourbon-based cocktail I tried at Decca in my next post.