This excellent collection of culinary travel essays by chef and TV personality Lee (Smoke & Pickles; The Mind of a Chef) takes readers across the U.S. in search of immigrant cuisine. A Korean-American kid from Brooklyn who now runs restaurants in Kentucky, Lee is an eager mixer of styles and traditions. He writes, “Show me your recipes, and I can tell who you are.” It’s a sweet and heady mélange of travelogue, in which Lee plays the eager investigator chasing down cooks to figure out how or why they cooked a dish he ate; he ends each chapter with recipes inspired by the food he’s just eaten, but capped with his own twists. Lee mixes rapturous and unfussy descriptions of the dishes he discovers—from the shockingly good Cambodian food in Lowell, Mass. (smoked ground fish in mud fish sauce, and cow intestines in a fermented fish paste), to the influence of Lebanese food in Clarksdale, Miss. (made with beef at one restaurant, the kibbeh is served raw or fried), and Clarksburg, W.Va., where immigrant Italian coal miners packed pepperoni rolls for lunch. Lee celebrates unexpected confluences of cuisines while refusing to be limited by definitions of “authenticity.” (Apr.)
“Striking stories. . . . Lee is a master.”—New York Times Book Review
“Beautifully written.”—NPR “Lee is a gifted storyteller and those first few chapters will grab you and keep you riveted all the way to the end.”—Bon Appétit
“Capture[s] what the nation’s melting pot cuisine is today.”—Food & Wine, Staff Favorite “Part adventure tale, part memoir. . . . Don’t hit the beach without this remarkable book in your bag.”—Fine Cooking “Conjure[s] writers as diverse and compelling as Alexis de Tocqueville, M.F.K. Fisher and Anthony Bourdain. . . . Powerful, poignant, and timely.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Lee peels open the layers of what it means to be American today. . . . [Buttermilk Graffiti] contains a level of awareness that’s often missing from chef memoirs. . . . Lee is just as well-read and reflective as master of the genre Anthony Bourdain, but he brings a fresh take.”—Eater “Raw, gritty. . . . Each chapter in Buttermilk Graffiti presents a new adventure.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch “Lee is consistently willing to dive into unfamiliar places and challenging conversations to get stories that haven’t yet been told, and the reader emerges from Buttermilk Graffiti richer for his efforts. . . . Buttermilk Graffiti represents exactly the kind of inquiry that helps create a vibrant national food scene. It’s not a flavor-of-the-week Nutella lasagna recipe turned hashtag, and it’s not a reality food competition. The book is one hyper-curious chef, on the road, meeting people in places that haven’t already been covered to death and discovering what they eat and what makes it special. Based on the stories that Lee tells, the journey was valuable unto itself—and we’re just fortunate to get to tag along with him.”—Christian Science Monitor “A tapestry of American cuisine. . . . Lee’s elevation of the often anonymous people behind the food we eat speaks to his concern with not just style, but substance.”—Los Angeles Times “Like all great food writers, [Lee is] always on the verge of declaring the thing he is currently chewing on to be among the greatest things he’s ever eaten. He will eat two West Virginia slaw dogs before 8 a.m. and stay up all night on your porch drinking whiskey. . . . He’s so amiable that as you read the book, you can easily imagine that he’s a friend.”—The Wall Street Journal “A great romp of a read with humor, poignancy, and—for people who love food—a page turner.” —Edible DC “Altogether eye-popping. . . . Buttermilk Graffiti is a timely and important work that reminds readers that America’s melting pot is alive and well in the most unexpected places. And, that we all belong.” —New York Journal of Books
“Excellent. . . . Lee celebrates unexpected confluences of cuisines while refusing to be limited by definitions of ‘authenticity.’”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“An acclaimed chef and restaurateur travels across the country to explore the cultural history behind the evolving American cuisine. Lee . . . points out the essential role that both immigrants and longtime settlers play in the food we eat. . . . A heartfelt and forward-thinking book.”—Kirkus Reviews “At a time when America’s melting-pot culture frightens so many citizens, Lee finds hope and joy in visiting ethnic communities all across the nation’s breadth.”—Booklist “Part adventure tale, part food treatise, part memoir, Buttermilk Graffiti is all Edward Lee: wide-eyed, profane, hungry for life, ever soulful, and poetic. In prose that’s as gorgeous and honest as his cooking, Lee takes us on an irresistible journey into the amazing diversity of flavors and traditions that truly makes this country great. An essential American story.”—Chang-rae Lee, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist “Restlessly curious, unafraid, and empathetic, Edward Lee reports and writes like a narrative journalist with a side interest in squash schnitzel and pickle juice gravy. You won’t read a smarter book about American food culture this year.”—John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South “With the release of Buttermilk Graffiti, Edward Lee proves himself to be one of our country’s great chroniclers of culture. Going all the way back to de Tocqueville, the most informative and impactful writing has examined class, society, culture, assimilation, and food. Lee now joins that long list of food/culture warriors, deciphering our modern world through what we can learn from its food and inspiring us to look at what we eat, where it comes from, who is cooking it, and why. In today’s political and social climate, this book is as timely as it is important.”—Andrew Zimmern, chef, teacher, author, and host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern “Buttermilk Graffiti is a masterfully narrated passion tour of some of this country’s most revelatory places to eat and the people behind them, written in Edward Lee’s socially conscious style. It left me enlightened and hungry.”—Toni Tipton-Martin, author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks
What we think of as "traditional" American cuisine has been formed by waves of immigrants who built this country. Now we are witnessing a transformation of American food as new waves of immigrants arrive from other countries. In this travelog and food memoir, chef Lee travels the country revisiting traditional American dishes and exploring the new cultures that are changing the culinary landscape. At each stop, the author makes a point of getting to know some of the locals and the history of the place and food as well as listening to the people's stories and how to make their traditional dishes. In Connecticut, Lee explores Moroccan food, as well as seeking out an old favorite: the white clam pizza. The typical Southern fare of Mississippi and Alabama are quite different from the foods of the growing Lebanese and Korean populations. From Seattle to New Jersey and everywhere in between, Lee explores the rich cultures that shaped American food and the growing cultures that will continue to form its evolution. VERDICT Lee's curiosity and talent for storytelling result in a fascinating, vibrant look at our country's diverse, ever-changing cuisine.—Melissa Stoeger, Deerfield P.L., IL
An acclaimed chef and restaurateur travels across the country to explore the cultural history behind the evolving American cuisine.Lee (Smoke & Pickles, 2013) takes readers on an edifying two-year ride in which he digs for the personal ties that bind cooks, restaurant owners, and loyal patrons to the food in their region. His journeys included an accidental four-day Ramadan fasting in Dearborn, Michigan, where he had no set plan but to devour Middle Eastern cuisine; a sojourn to the Texas coast to hear about the experiences of Vietnamese fisherman while feasting on Gulf delicacies; and a trip back in time to the Big Apple Diner in New York, where the author worked in the early 1990s. Along the way, Lee learned traditional cooking techniques like making smen, a Moroccan fermented butter, and he points out the essential role that both immigrants and longtime settlers play in the food we eat. "Our food traditions are the last things we hold onto," he writes. "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." With plenty of lyrical appreciations of an impressively wide variety of cuisines, the author leaves readers craving the food he describes while also ready to attempt the advanced recipes at the end of each chapter—e.g. Amok trey, bourbon-washed butter, and pollo a la brasa. Lee effectively transports readers next to him during his encounters and inside of his thoughts during moments of introspection. A few hard transitions and seemingly unrelated stories may cause some confusion, but the author ultimately leads readers to a better understanding of the dishes he experienced and the recipes he provides.A heartfelt and forward-thinking book in which Lee's experiences and travel accounts successfully create an eager appetite for adventurous recipes, the stories behind the relationships of the people that inspire them, and a strong appreciation for the cooking traditions they've upheld.