Letter from the Editor: Bourbon Country’s Modern Yield Vol: 106

February 2014

We experienced some pretty wild weather in Kentucky and Tennessee—from sudden downpours and steamy, foggy afternoons to the bone-chilling polar vortex. For all our confusion and the wardrobe changes we endured, there was always a silver lining. We could picture bourbon aging in its barrels, drawing in and out of the wood with every fluctuation in temperature and pressure. And when we tasted what 10-plus years of unpredictable weather yields, it became wholly forgivable, lovable.

Bourbon. It’s been the region’s calling card for decades, but after meeting with more than 100 culinary professionals from Memphis to Louisville and everywhere in between, we found that bourbon’s liquid tradition is now matched by a growing number of chefs and artisans who are breathing new life into Southern ingredients and dishes. Sure, we drank our share of whiskey: Wild Turkey in Rising Star Susie Hoyt’s Autumn Leaves, the resurrected Belle Meade Bourbon in Nashville, and too many shots with chefs in Lexington (we’re not naming any names).

We also drank a critical, caffeinated mass of some of the country’s best coffee … in Louisville, of all places. That’s not to mention delicate crème de cacao-based cocktails (that could be your love potion this Valentine's Day), or wildly delicious beers from Rising Star Brewers Sam Cruz and Jerry Gnagy of Against the Grain. We found talent well beyond the stills and in every pocket of the industry.

In this issue, you’ll meet this year’s 2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Stars and get recipes for the region’s best dishes and drinks—from Southern-styled gnocchi to carpaccio with a side of unapologetically trashy ranch dressing. You’ll also read about some of the country’s most inspiring artisans. Louisville plays host to Rising Star Jay Denham, an outstanding American ham producer, and Nashville is home to one of the South’s foremost bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Rising Star Artisan Scott Witherow.

One of the most striking straits of the region is a symbiosis between artisan, chef, old school cook, and farmer. Everyone seems to feed off each other, drawing inspiration from the land and a shared culinary heritage. Chef Kelly English's Pittsburgh-grilled duck hearts harken back to childhood duck hunts and his father's use-every-bit mentality. Rising Star Pastry Chef Kayla Swartout’s stylish desserts are crystal clear translations of Southern classics, and Rising Star Chef David Mitchell’s banh mi gets its character from rendered Benton’s bacon fat. Food here feels grounded. Rooted in the hills and spirit that has produced bourbon here for so many years—but it's primed to give this country and the greater culinary community so much more in the years to come. 

Antoinette Bruno
Will Blunt
Managing Editor