Executive Chef At One Of Louisville’s Poshest Restaurants Talks Cooking And Bourbon
By Richard Thomas
Attendant with Kentucky’s Bourbon Boom is the proliferation of whiskey events and festivals, and the latest comer is Louisville’s Bourbon & Beyond. Taking place in the Derby City next weekend, Bourbon & Beyond stands out from other events in the state in that whereas the typical format in Bourbon Country is to hold many events at multiple locations over the course of several days, Bourbon & Beyond is structured more like a weekend concert event: overlapping food, whiskey and music attractions all going on in one location.
Since The Whiskey Reviewer is pretty much alone in regularly pursuing the Cooking And Whiskey beat, I was especially interested in Bourbon & Beyond’s attention to the intersection between fine food and fine whiskey. I was able to have a brief chat with participant Kevin Ashworth, deputy to celebrity chef Edward Lee at the celebrated 610 Magnolia.
RT: I’ve read about your culinary travels with Edward Lee, and before you took the helm at 610 Magnolia you were in charge over at Milkwood, where the tagline is “Southern Inspiration + Asian Flavors + Bourbon Cocktails.” So what are those Asian flavors that pair well with the bourbon flavor profile?
KA: It’s always about achieving balance with everything but I think soy and fish sauce go really well with bourbon because of their saltiness. Sweet things also pair nicely with bourbon. We make a black garlic bbq sauce where we deglaze with bourbon. It really elevates that dish and gives it body and depth.
RT: Outside of Asia, places in Italy are often mentioned in your culinary wanderings. Coincidentally, Italy has a taste for whisky, but mostly Scotch whisky. What in Italian cuisine do you think pairs well with bourbon?
KA: When it comes to cocktails, I think amaro goes well with bourbon. And that makes me think of tiramisu, which also goes really well with bourbon. The Italian love of coffee and espresso, those flavors pair with bourbon. And cured meats of Italy also make sense with bourbon because of the umami and the smoky elements.
RT: My understanding is that 610 Magnolia puts some effort into doing wine and cocktail pairings with its carefully crafted menu. The menu varies, as do the pairings. Thinking about the challenge of trying to be both new and novel with cocktails and meeting a pairing target made me wonder… there are different aspects of the bourbon flavor profile: vanilla, rye spice, wood tannins, and so on. Do you think one part of that profile is perhaps more flexible than the others?
KA: Yes, the wood tannins and the amount of smokiness that the rye portion brings, all help make pairings possible. There are so many bourbons out there so there’s really a bourbon for any pairing. Everyone has their own niche that they go for – some are more fuller bodied, some are sweeter, some have hard spice. So we generally pick a specific bourbon for a pairing. In the winter we did a clarified milk punch as the intermezzo and we used Rabbit Hole, which is on the sweeter end and helped play up all the flavors of the cookie we put with it.
RT: So far, I’ve asked about pairings. What about using whiskey as an ingredient? Have you had much call for that in your work in bourbon-soaked Louisville?
KA: We use bourbon to deglaze the black bbq sauce. The Bourbon Aficionado dessert has a lot of bourbon elements – bourbon soaked banana cake, there’s bourbon in the butterscotch, the maple syrup is aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, we use bourbon staves for the smoke. If we can put bourbon in it, we put bourbon in it.
For the Bourbon and Beyond Festival, Stacie Stewart and I are doing a demo wherein she’s going to make a cocktail and I’ll make a dish, each using the same bourbon. We haven’t decided on specifics yet but it should be fun and delicious.
RT: Finally, I have to ask what your personal go-to choices are in bourbon.
KA: Personally I like Johnny Drum if I’m drinking it straight up. I love Knob Creek. And then of course I like Pappy Van Winkle if I can get my hands on it, but who doesn’t!