One of the best-kept secrets about Kentucky, particularly the bourbon industry, is its ties with James Beard Award-nominated chefs. There is a wealth of culinary talent throughout Kentucky, but people like Chef Ouita Michel and Chef Edward Lee, both multiple James Beard nominees, bring their love of bourbon to their culinary traditions in a way that has long been celebrated within the Commonwealth. Now the James Beard Foundation has taken the show on the road with its Taste America Tour with a two-night stop in Louisville, Kentucky, the aim of which is to end food waste and improve lives through food.
“Taste America gives food lovers across the country an opportunity to have a unique dining experience while learning more about the impact of their food choices from passionate leaders who are changing the landscape of the food industry,” said Clare Reichenbach, chief executive officer of the James Beard Foundation. “Taste America is a celebratory manifestation of our mantra: Good Food for Good.”
In Louisville, you can’t have a culinary event without bourbon, and Rabbit Hole Distillery was the hometown bourbon sponsor of both evenings of Taste America Louisville. Mixologists prepared cocktails with Rabbit Hole’s four major offerings both evenings, ranging from Old Fashioneds to recipes created just for the event.
The first evening’s event was a Gala held at the J.B. Speed Art Museum, which featured both local chefs as well as James Beard-nominated ‘Visiting All-Star’ Richard Blais from San Diego. Blais, who has appeared on both Top Chef and Chopped, and who won Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars competition, was trained at the Culinary Institute of America before training at The French Laundry and more. His dishes included a sun-dried tomato tostada with celery-horseradish crema and porchetta with tomatoes, onions, and miso mustard.
Local all-star Chef Sara Bradley, a Top Chef Season 16 runner-up from Paducah, Kentucky, who owns a restaurant and bourbon bar there, used her time in the spotlight to highlight local fare many often don’t consider – invasive species. Her dish was silver carp and paddlefish caviar with mushrooms, broccoli, black garlic, and peanut dukkah.
Both the hors d’oeuvre reception and the dessert reception featured Kentucky chefs with both strong culinary and bourbon backgrounds. Jeremy Ashby of AZUR in Lexington, Kevin Ashworth of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Samantha Fore of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington, Bruce Ucan of The Mayan Cafe, and Josh Moore of Volare in Louisville served small bites while Rabbit Hole Bourbon flowed before dinner. At the dessert reception, Nokee Bucayu of Ashbourne Farms in Louisville, Caludia Delatorre of The Bakery at Sullivan in Louisville, and Anne Harlow and Leslie Wilson of Hi-Five Doughnuts in Louisville served up sweet bites.
The next evening’s event was the ‘Raising the Bar’ event on the rooftop of the famed Brown Hotel. Local chefs prepared small bites while local mixologists created cocktails featuring Rabbit Hole Bourbon and Copper & Kings Gin. Chefs and mixologists included Ming Pu of The 502 Bar & Bistro, Barbara Turner of Butchertown Grocery, Mark Ford of Anoosh Bistro, Kristin Smith of The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery, Max Balliet and Katie Smith of Pizza LUPO, Davy Butterworth of Decca, Eron Plevan of ALEX&NDER, Jake Sulek of West Main Crafting Co., Jonathan Searle of Proof on Main, and Matt Brown of Hell or High Water. This event was hosted by James Adams and Dustin Willett of The Brown Hotel.
Bourbon cocktails ranged from Old Fashioneds with a twist to a fall version of a whiskey sour, but the most unique cocktail of the evening was created by Hell or High Water’s Matt Brown. The Orpiment Cocktail featured Rabbit Hole Heigold Bourbon with toasted coriander merengue, strawberry-orange sorbet, orange-coriander cordial, and orange-infused demerara syrup, and the meringue was flamed with a torch before serving.
Both events served as fundraisers for the James Beard Foundation’s efforts to curb food waste and promote sustainable foodways, and leftover food from the event was recovered and donated to local hunger programs. The event has several more stops throughout the United States through 2020 — see the James Beard Foundation Taste America website for details.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl