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Louisville Chef Ed Lee On 'Buttermilk Graffiti' And Being An Outsider

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Louisville Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia and Whiskey Dry has a new book coming out later this month. "Buttermilk Graffiti" is part memoir, part cookbook, and is based off a two-year road trip during which Lee traveled across the country and embedded in different food communities. I spoke with Lee about the book:

On exploring tough topics through food:

"I see food as a gateway or an entry-point to everything, to everything that we discuss — politics, race. All the difficult things about life, there is a way to look at it through the lens of food. What I find purifying about food is that there is something very innate, very simple about the enjoyment of food. It kind of lets people put their guard down a little bit, and you can sort of get at the crux of things while you are eating a meal."

On his time writing about Middle Eastern food in Dearborn, Michigan — a predominantly Muslim community — during the week after the Pulse nightclub shooting:

"I went to Dearborn the week after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando when a supposed Muslim person had just killed many, many people.

"So, it was a very awkward time in America, a very awkward time to be in a predominately Muslim community, where, apparently, all eyes were watching them. And it was also Ramadan. So those two things overlapping and then me, this curious, but sort of fumbling outsider walking into this situation going, ‘Hey, I want to write about food and I want to write about your culture,’ the people were not just having any of it.

"It forced me to find a way to try to get into their culture, be accepted into their culture for the short time that I was there and anyway, if you read the book, I decided to fast for Ramadan, even though I’m not Muslim. All of the sudden, it changed the way people looked at me. It changed the way I looked at their culture and there was — something happened through that experience. It was a very personal experience, but also a very eye-opening experience.

"And it was one of those things where it is very difficult for me to write about that food, that culture, without writing about their religion."

On feeling like an outsider and embedding in communities to learn:

"Any other Asian-American person will share this experience. If you are born here, but you are Asian-American — or Muslim, or African-American — you live in a very odd world where you’re kind of an outsider here, but then like, I go to Korea and the Koreans are like, ‘Oh no, you are not Korean at all!’

"Now as I travel all over the place, I realize that everywhere I go I’m an outsider. Part of it is up to me to sort of infiltrate whatever world or community that I’m in; it’s never made me feel uncomfortable to be labeled the outsider. It’s always more of a curiosity, like how do I get inside this person’s head or community? How do I embed myself here?

"I think when you come at it from a place of respect and a place of learning, from a place of saying, ‘Listen, I’m here for this period of time. I really want to learn as much as I can,’ I think people respond. I think people in general, people are very, very nice."

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