Edward Lee is all about reinvention. Raised in Brooklyn by his Korean-born parents and grandmother, Lee traded in his English lit laurels -- he graduated magna cum laude from New York University -- for a cook's smock in his early 20s.

But a pivotal visit to the 2002 Kentucky Derby sent him from the land of subways and high rises to the hills of Louisville, where he discovered the magic of bourbon, buttermilk and country ham. Soon after, he acquired 610 Magnolia from its longtime owners and here, in this tiny restaurant in the heart of Old Louisville, Lee forged the culinary identity that hit the spotlight last year on Bravo's "Top Chef."

"Top Chef" alum Edward Lee improvises a smoker.Excerpted from "Smoke & Pickles" by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright ©2013.
"Top Chef" alum Edward Lee improvises a smoker. Excerpted from "Smoke & Pickles" by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright ©2013. (Photographs by Grant Cornett)

Now, Lee has woven that lively, irreverent narrative through a new book, "Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a Southern Kitchen" (Artisan, $29.95, 304 pages). Along the way, the book takes us on a global trek with recipe twists such as Collards and Kimchi, Adobo Fried Chicken and Waffles, Edamame Hummus and Coconut Rice Pudding Brulee. Thirsty? Wash it down with a glass of Bourbon Sweet Tea or Rhubarb Mint Tea -- moonshine, optional.

Naturally, we had questions, so we caught up with Lee on a break from his book tour.

Q In "Smoke and Pickles," you write about how your grandmother cooked every day. What was your favorite?


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A She made a lot of things, but I think her greatest contribution was her kimchee. I think I do a pretty good job at it. But in her eyes, I would never make kimchee like hers.

Q Growing up in New York and experiencing such a melting pot of cuisines, what flavor of the American South surprised you most?

A The diversity of food in the South was probably the most surprising thing. There's a traditional dish called Country Captain that uses curry, and I thought that was interesting. We think of Southern food one way, but when you get into it, there are global influences in many of the dishes. If you look at cakes, coconut has become a beloved ingredient in a lot of Southern recipes. It isn't indigenous to the South -- it's more tropical.

Q Give us an example of a dish that blends Korean and Southern cuisine.

A The one I love most is Collards and Kimchi. It's such an iconic dish, a really great pairing symbolically, and it tastes great, too.

Q How did your stint on "Top Chef" change your culinary identity?

A I don't think it changed it. The show gave it a platform and extension beyond Louisville. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Probably wouldn't do it again, but I'm glad I did it once. It's an amazing franchise and brand, very high class, and now we all have our names attached to it.

Q Speed is everything on "Top Chef." What's it like -- not having a lot of time to experiment before serving a new dish to someone?

A It's stressful. You don't really have a lot of time to think it through. Some people do better than others, obviously. It's great entertainment, but it's the exact opposite of what we do in the restaurant, where we have a slow, methodical way of introducing new dishes. I'd never come into the kitchen two hours before service and say, "OK, here's what we're doing."

When you're thrust into a situation where you don't have time to think and experiment, you rely on instinct. Sometimes your instincts are good, and sometimes they're not. You win or lose based on the decisions you make in the first few minutes.

Meet the Author

Edward Lee will be signing copies of his new book, "Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen," from 6 to 7 p.m. June 26 at San Francisco's Omnivore Books, 3885A Cesar Chavez St.; www.omnivorebooks.com.