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Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,537 ratings  ·  240 reviews
There is a new American culinary landscape developing around us, and it’s one that chef Edward Lee is proud to represent. In a nation of immigrants who bring their own culinary backgrounds to this country, what happens one or even two generations later? What does their cuisine become? It turns into a cuisine uniquely its own and one that Lee argues makes America the most i ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 17th 2018 by Artisan
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Immigrants: we get the job done." (That's a Hamilton reference, y'all.)

Edward Lee veers off in a slightly new direction in this travel memoir that also includes recipes (I really want people to stop calling this a cookbook, it isn't.) He visits places in America that have unique food cultures because of immigrants living there, from Moroccan (and smen, an intriguing fermented butter) in Hartford, Connecticut to a Lebanese community in Mississippi. He even travels through West Virginia with Ronn
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked the fact that this book evoked the emotional connection people have with food. It’s not about the taste of something always but who you share it with or memories from the past.
I grew up going to visit relatives in West Virginia and eating those same pepperoni rolls. It’s not just the taste I remember but the trips in the car listening to my Dad singing country music on the way. This book is more than a cookbook, though there are great recipes, it’s about culture and memories.
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
My husband and I discovered after bingeing all available seasons of The Great British Bakeoff that we really enjoy food-related television, and our fascination led us to Netflix shows like Cooked, Ugly Delicious, and Salt Fat Acid Heat. Buttermilk Graffiti is like those shows, but in book form. Chef Edward Lee traveled around America, eating in local restaurants and worming his way into as many kitchens as he could, because he wanted to learn about the kinds of cooking being done in different re ...more
Graham Oliver
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: subject-nonfic, food
The recipes and conceptualization of the food mechanics were fine (and I plan on trying to vegetarianize a few of the recipes), but the description/analysis/observations of the places/people/foodways were pretty simplistic/shallow/not interestingly written.
Joe Jones
This is not your typical cookbook. Not even close. There are recipes at the end of each chapter but they are just a fraction of what I got out of this book. Instead Chef Edward Lee gave me a glimpse of different cultures that came to this country and the foods that define them and how they have adapted them. Wait, even that is only part of the story. I may never get to taste Chef Lee's food but I am thankful I am able to read his writing! He brings alive the idea of food being a central part of ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
quite an interesting gourmand travelogue!
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of travel & food writing
A fun read from an interesting perspective with recipes at the end of every chapter; my only complaint is that I read it too quickly and still want more.
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, cooking, travel
I think you either like reading about food, or you don't, and if you like reading about food, you should pick this up.

Lee is a Korean-American chef who loves to eat, and to think about how food and culture shape one another, whether it's the humble slaw dog of West Virginia or a complex and layered Uyghur lamb noodle soup. As Lee visits cities all over the US, he visits restaurants, mostly humble establishments run by immigrants or working class people. He talks to the cooks and servers about th
Mitch Karunaratne
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
After reading this I have a massive list of places I want to go and food I want to eat...including eating a Shapiros pastrami sandwich at the Brownstone speedway track in Jackson County. However, it’s Edward Lee himself that is the hidden star of the show! His writing is brilliant, he’s thoughtful, challenging, inquisitive, kind and brave / crazy! He’s my new new found hero!

Lee takes us to meet and hear the stories of people making real food, food connecting them to their personal stories, comm
Mallory Howitt
Mar 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Some good information about enclaves of immigrants across the US - really interesting stuff and the only reason this book gets stars. What's not interesting, however, is the nightmarish writing style. Lee's constant attempts to romanticize literally every situation he finds himself in are nauseating at best. We get it bro, you get a stiffy for the hands of (what your imagination tells you are) sad immigrant moms. ...more
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher -
American food is the story of mash-ups. Immigrants arrive, cultures collide, and out of the push-pull come exciting new dishes and flavors. But for Edward Lee, who, like Anthony Bourdain or Gabrielle Hamilton, is as much a writer as he is a chef, that first surprising bite is just the beginning. What about the people behind the food? What about the traditions, the innovati
For Cook the Books:

I was already a bit of an Edward Lee fan from his season of the PBS series, The Mind of a Chef and his stint on Season 9 of Top Chef, and his battle on Iron Chef, but I had not ever read any of his writing, something I was happy to rectify with this book. Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting Pot Cuisine is Lee's second book, following Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen and his unique perspectives and passion fo
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this one, maybe because Lee writes about places and foods familiar to me: Louisville, Houston & the Gulf, fufu, beignets. His adventure with a dead chicken in Paterson, NJ, was a delight. This made me want to be more adventurous with my eating, she said, then ate a plate of spaghetti.
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
Although I found this book interesting in the beginning by the time I was halfway through it all started becoming repetitive

Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2019
This really just made me want to travel the country and eat food all day long. Written as a series of essays, Lee's focus is on the meaning of culture and how it relates to the food we eat. He explores different subcultures within towns and cities that you wouldn't otherwise think of, and eats at "mom-and-pop" shops that are often overlooked in the larger restaurant/reviewer scene. The book, for sure, made me appreciate all the different food cultures I get to experience living in NYC, and also ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Book 2 of the Brother/Sister book club was a big hit with my brother who went and got Lee’s Smoke & Pickles as well! This is similar to Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene but in essay length dives into the history of cuisines brought to the US as opposed to Twitty’s deep dive into his own heritage and cuisine of slavery. Lee is an engaging and engaged foodie and brings out the best in the locations he visits- one of which is slaw dogs from WVA-salut
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reading is not easy for me right now, which is why this took me so long to finish. Even though it took me forever, I really enjoyed it. I love the way the author blends place, people, and food, while also discussing race, immigration, and what it means when cuisines become "Americanized." The recipes are super interesting and sound delicious, but I think most of them are more complex than I'd be comfortable attempting at home. Don't read this on an empty stomach. ...more
Charles Smith
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. There's a sentence at the end of chapter 10 that gut punched me. ...more
JD Mitchell
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was not expecting a whole lot from this but I live in the same city as Edward Lee and I love what he does for the community (feeding TSA workers, making donations to LGBTQ Youth Groups), so I figured I would check it out. And I loved it, almost immediately. In each chapter/essay, Lee profiles an immigrant/marginalized chef in a different city who deserves more attention. He writes about the culture and circumstances that birthed the food, the story behind the plate. At the same time, he weaves ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at various American communities and the food that has evolved from melding regions and international cuisine. Lots of recipes included but while they were fun to peruse, they didn't hold much interest since my digestive issues can't tolerate many of the ingredients. I do want to watch Lee's series Mind of a Chef and his documentary "Fermented."

Thanks to the publisher for the advance reading copy.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
I like Edward Lee a lot, he's good on TV and a good storyteller. The book itself is surprisingly well-written but when he got deep into the origins of the names of various things like benights I just lost interest. ...more
Stesha Brandon
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: january-2018
Lee raises interesting questions about authenticity, tradition, and appropriation as he explores how immigrant food cultures impact American cuisine.
Pete Wung
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I became aware of Edward Lee as a contestant for the Top Chef show on Bravo, the Austin Texas edition. I identified with him because we are both of Asian descent, and we don’t see too many Asian folks on shows like Top Chef. In addition to that connection, I noticed he is from Louisville, a city I travel to quite often, at least twice if not three times a year. So, I kept track, hoping that he would open up his own restaurant, I wanted to taste what I saw.

Over time, I had eaten at three of his L
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf-food-world
2019 Bk 248. Edward Lee lives and is chef at a restaurant less than 15 miles from my home. I have never met him - I may have bumped into him at the mall, or at an event in Louisville, but I feel like I know him through the docmentary series "Mind of a Chef". I admire Edward Lee - he is one of the younger cooks who thinks about what he does and why he does what he does. He goes beyond the basics of feeding people to wanting to nourish their minds and their bodies with tastes and textures and scen ...more
Edward Lee's journey to "Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine" is thoughtfully written — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes provocative, but mostly uplifting.

Read it cover to cover. It's well worth the time.

The plate of food has never been the be-all and end-all for me. Quite the opposite: for me, good food is just the beginning of a trail that leads back to a person whose story is usually worth telling. [Chapter 2: The Pugilist and the Cook, p.32]
~ ~ ~
[A] strength rises out of the crac
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cooking-food
Edward Lee spent two years traveling the US exploring immigrant food. Immigrants are what makes up America, so how do immigrants incorporate their food into their new culture and how does American food change with the influence of all this immigrant food? These are some of the questions Lee explores in this book. Each chapter focuses on a specific ethnic food in a small town in America. Often it's surprising as Lee claims the best Jewish Deli is in Indianapolis, or there is a huge Middle Eastern ...more
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book by Chef Edward Lee is more social commentary with regional foods, recipes and tales of his travels. Exploring various cities and regions - he never gives a 'reason' why he is visiting some cities before his search for the best examples of some specific cuisine. Be it Cuban in Miami: or soul food in Clarksville, Mississippi; beignets in NOLA; or boxing and Cambodian food in Massachusetts, Lee certainly has a interesting turn of phrase as he not only learns about the local culture but th ...more
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved this. In an age when foodie culture has progressed beyond "trendy" and into "bougie," and food/travel memoirs are still dominated by white people "broadening their horizons" or whatever in response to accusations of cultural appropriation, Edward Lee's lack of pretension and genuine curiosity about food, and perhaps more importantly, the humans and communities behind the food, was what I needed. As someone who would say that I am probably familiar with a decent amount of different foods ...more
Ann T
I listened to the audiobook of this book and particular chapters certainly made my mouth water. The audiobook does provide additional bonus content which I did download. It is a collection of Mr. Lee's recipes. I haven't looked into in depth, but I am certain I will try some of them. With me now a Southern girl, I would really like to visit some of the places he went too. I wish there was an appendix with the restaurant names and addresses. Even the items he ordered would be helpful just to try ...more
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Add a slightly more intimate understanding of ethnicity to positions similar to Anthony Bourdain's and you get Lee. He's got a voice and empathy and a sense of humor about his own obsessions that makes his food writing really fine. Each chapter has him off in search of another immigrant food culture in towns and cities that usually don't get much mention when we think of the American food scene. The recipes were a bit too complex for my taste, but I loved the book anyway. The only cru ...more
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Restaurants include 610 Magnolia, MilkWood and Whiskey Dry in Louisville. Succotash National Harbor and Succotash Penn Quarter in Washington DC. Author of Smoke & Pickles and Buttermilk Graffiti, both published by Artisan Book.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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27 likes · 4 comments
“I ask the ladies what we lose with each generation. They seem to agree: usually language goes first, then memories of relatives and grandparents, then traditions, then longing for home, then a sense of identity. What do we have left? A wedding ritual, a few old photos? For me, what is left is our connection to food.
Our food traditions are the last thing we hold on to. They are not just recipes; they are a connection to the nameless ancestors who gave us our DNA. That's why our traditional foods are so important. The stories, the memories, the movements that have been performed for generations - without them, we lose our direction.”
“This is where I disagree with food critics whose mission is to judge only what is on the plate. The story such critics tell is about THEM, THEIR preferences, THEIR expectations, not the chef's. What they write may be necessary and relevant to dining culture, but it disconnects the food from its origins, its narrative, its roots. The plate of food has never been the be-all and end-all for me. Quite the opposite for me, good food is just the beginning of a trail that leads back to a person whose story is usually worth telling.” 1 likes
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