Chef Edward Lee, the Brooklyn-born chef and restaurateur based in Louisville, brought his insightful and joyful perspective on the food of the American South to chefs at the 2019 RCA meeting. His keynote address, titled “My Cuisine is the Culture that Surrounds Me,” was sponsored by Symrise as part of their Southern Revival initiative, a new portfolio of flavors for sweet, savory and beverage applications based on the culinary renaissance sweeping the American South.

According to Chef Lee, “As chefs we are not trying to change traditions, we are just trying to diversify them. Southern food has always been a fusion of foods with influences coming from all over the world. You have European influences—things like pork, bacon and more the refined items like baked goods and pot pies. There’s a Native American influence that is more agricultural, featuring corn, squash and all kinds of beans. The final piece is the African influence where we get spices, barbeque, okra, collard greens, and beignets.”

Edward Lee is the son of Korean parents, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Now based in Louisville, KY, this restaurateur is known for bringing global flavors to traditional southern cuisine as well as for his appearances on the television shows “The Mind of a Chef” and “Top Chef.” Across his four award-winning restaurants – 610 Magnolia, Whiskey Dry and MilkWood in Louisville, and Succotash in the D.C. area – Chef Lee’s cuisine embodies the diverse ethnic influences of the south.

Expanding on the cultural impact of traditional southern food, Chef Lee continued, “What you are seeing in this second wave of the revival movement is a return to an origin of natural Southern cuisine. I am not from the South, so I didn’t have my grandmother’s recipes telling me what to do and I didn’t live in a community that demanded a one-dimensional version of Southern food. So, when I started experimenting with Korean ingredients, people didn’t protest and say you can’t do this because it’s not traditional Southern food.”

Today, new southern cuisines go beyond the status quo with elevated ingredients and global inspirations. To better understand this movement and develop corresponding flavor experiences, the Symrise team took a journey across distinct southern regions to explore all the facets of southern cuisine, from the kitchen to behind the bar. Through chef interviews, tasting treks and ingredient mapping the Symrise team immersed themselves into the new flavors of the south. The result is the company’s Southern Revival Initiative: a series of new concepts and flavors.

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