In Louisville, Iron Chef Edward Lee wants you to eat your bourbon, too

The Bison Rib-eye Carpaccio at Louisville's highly-touted 610 Magnolia restaurant is served on a deeply charred bit of warmed-up bourbon barrel stave. The restaurant suggests diners scrape the char off the barrel and eat it. Photo courtesy 610 Magnolia.  

By Kevin R. Hyde
Kentucky Editor / BourbonStory.com

LOUISVILLE -- It is not every meal that you are encouraged to drive your fork into a piece of wood as you eat, but that’s exactly what was suggested during a recent meal at 610 Magnolia, the wildly creative fine-dining experience offered by Chef Edward Lee in Louisville.

The six-course meal that evening featured an appetizer, the Bison Rib-eye Carpaccio, with a decidedly bourbon vibe. The dish was served on a warm bourbon barrel stave that was cut at the restaurant, preserving the original char made by the distiller, says Ricardo Barillas, manager of 610 Magnolia.  

The stave is warmed before it is topped with the carpaccio, so that the steam from the bourbon-soaked oak creates a smoky scent, Barillas says. “We encourage our guests to scrape some of the char from the stave as they take some of the bison bites to finish that smoky flavor that pairs up so well with the other ingredients.” 

Carpaccio is a traditional Italian appetizer of raw meat or fish that is sliced or pounded thin. 610 Magnolia’s bison rib-eye version, which was created by Chef Lee – his motto, ‘I Never Met a Bourbon I Didn’t Like’ -- along with the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine Nick Sullivan, was served with a horseradish puree and chervil, topped with sel gris (sea salt), toasted Nigella seeds and mustard oil.

Even the wine pairing—or in this case cider pairing—for the appetizer utilized the ever-popular delights of charred American oak. The Mitten from Michigan-based Virtue Cider Company is a blend of last season’s best cider, “aged in bourbon barrels for three seasons with the new season’s fresh-pressed apple juice,” Barillas says. Like with bourbon, the barrel aging gives the cider notes of vanilla and caramel.

Louisville boasts one of the most interesting food scenes in America, with an eclectic mix of local restaurants that utilize and highlight ingredients grown and raised by area farms. Dozens of them have joined the Urban Bourbon Trail, which means they serve at least 50 brands of bourbon. And more and more you see the state’s native spirit employed in the creation of innovative new dishes.

Chef Lee, a farm-to-table culinary artist who has been featured in several national magazines, has been Louisville’s very own celebrity chef since 2012 when he was a fan favorite on Bravo’s popular reality show Top Chef. Two years earlier, he appeared on Iron Chef America, defeating Chef Jose Garces in a battle that featured tongues and cheeks.

Kevin Hyde (@kevinrhyde) is Kentucky editor for Bourbon Story Magazine. Email him at krhydewriter@gmail.com.