Buttermilk Graffiti

A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine


By Edward Lee

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Winner, 2019 James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year in Writing

Finalist, 2019 IACP Award, Literary Food Writing

Named a Best Food Book of the Year by the Boston Globe, Smithsonian, BookRiot, and more
Semifinalist, Goodreads Choice Awards

“Thoughtful, well researched, and truly moving. Shines a light on what it means to cook and eat American food, in all its infinitely nuanced and ever-evolving glory.”
—Anthony Bourdain

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 innovations, the memories?

A natural-born storyteller, Lee decided to hit the road and spent two years uncovering fascinating narratives from every corner of the country. There’s a Cambodian couple in Lowell, Massachusetts, and their efforts to re-create the flavors of their lost country. A Uyghur café in New York’s Brighton Beach serves a noodle soup that seems so very familiar and yet so very exotic—one unexpected ingredient opens a window onto an entirely unique culture. A beignet from Café du Monde in New Orleans, as potent as Proust’s madeleine, inspires a narrative that tunnels through time, back to the first Creole cooks, then forward to a Korean rice-flour hoedduck and a beignet dusted with matcha.

Sixteen adventures, sixteen vibrant new chapters in the great evolving story of American cuisine. And forty recipes, created by Lee, that bring these new dishes into our own kitchens.


Chapter 1

Pilgrimage for a Beignet

While the rest of modern society buckles under the weight of its morality, we'll look to New Orleans to teach us how to live with equal parts temptation, sin, and redemption. Here, excess is a ritual. Indulgence, like the humidity, fills your lungs.

New Orleans is a port city, founded by the French, ruled by the Spanish, bought by the Americans, and culturally impacted by West Africa, Afro-Caribbean descendants, Germans, Sicilians, and Irish. It is the most racially and culturally evolved polyglot city in America, a flawed but seductive utopia. If I lived in New Orleans, I probably wouldn't last long. There is too much temptation for me. Even today, it seduces the young, from tourists to professional derelicts, all of whom wind up on the banks of the Mississippi searching for their idea of hedonistic abandon. For all the French Quarter's predictable, groomed debauchery, there is still a dark underbelly that awakens in the wee hours, when the college kids have vomited up their Hurricanes and gone home for the evening. This is the New Orleans I know well. A tawdry hangout on Bienville Street is where I often end up. If Jezebel is behind the bar, she'll fix you right up. There are still places in New Orleans that don't exist on any map. These are the places where you can feel the tensions of being in a harlot's town.

I go to New Orleans once or twice a year, mostly for charitable events. It is one of my favorite cities, and I've watched in amazement as it has continued to flourish after Katrina, when many doubted its survival. There are definitely parts of the French Quarter I avoid because they get so congested with tourists, but the lovely thing about New Orleans is that even the tourist traps are great. Galatoire's and Antoine's are delectable places to have lunch. And I don't care how many tourists I have to fend off to get to Acme Oyster House; it is one of the liveliest joints in town. People who don't know me don't realize how rare this is: for me to seek out the most touristic spot in town. For example, I wouldn't be caught dead eating in Times Square, and most deep-dish pizza places in Chicago are just not that good, but I'll proudly stand in line for a beignet at Café du Monde, which is possibly the biggest tourist attraction in NOLA.

If you haven't been to Café du Monde, it is a sprawling operation with an indoor café on one side and a large outdoor patio that buzzes under a large green-and-white canopy. It is busy all day. The line starts at the window for beignets and stretches around the patio to the street. You have to get there right when it opens to avoid a long line. I've been there over a dozen times, but I can't tell you what's on the menu because I always order the same thing: a plate of beignets and a cup of chicory coffee. If it's too noisy inside the café, I'll take a walk around Jackson Square. I usually end up by the Mississippi River, where I'll just gaze out at the water.

Less than a five-minute walk from Café du Monde, you can find a historic home where William Faulkner spent a brief period when he was young. He was here only about a year and half, but it had a lifelong effect on him. He would go on to write some of the most praised Southern Gothic novels of the twentieth century, centered on the rural culture of his Mississippi roots, but it was here in New Orleans where he met his literary mentor, Sherwood Anderson. Faulkner lived at 624 Pirate's Alley, writing what would become his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. In one of his later books, he remembered New Orleans as "a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, to whose charm the young must respond." New Orleans is a city you must visit when you're young and foolish but return to when you're wiser and still searching for dreams.

For all Faulkner's timeless stories, his lasting contribution to literature was not his descriptions of rural Southern life but how he could bend the concept of time. His novels blend memory and desire in ways that defy the rules of chronology or logic. You're so busy trying to follow the plot that you forget to lose yourself in the beauty of the rambling words spitting across the page like watermelon seeds strewn about a dirt porch after a feast. It is a powerful way to tell a story, even if it confuses the reader on the first go 'round. Some stories are so tragic, so burdened with generations of shame and history and lies, that it's impossible to tell them in a conventional way.

Some recipes are like that, too. Ask any aging matron for a Creole recipe, and you'll get a circuitous answer—that is, if she even gives you the time of day. I have been foraging around for a good beignet recipe for years, only to get meager crumbs of anecdotes here and there. Recipes for beignets involve, by and large, the same ingredients: flour, fat, leavening, and a deep fryer. It's the technique that differs. Every person I ask has a personal technique he swears by. It's not that one is better than another. I've tried half a dozen techniques, and all the recipes pretty much come out tasting the same. The recipe is easy. I can tell you how to make bei-gnets in sixty seconds. But like any good tale, the point of it is not what happens at the end; it's how you get there. Every time I hear a story about the beignet, it's a little bit different. And it's that narrative that makes the taste more satisfying. It's memory and love with a pinch of hyperbole.

The story of my beignet is tied to Faulkner. I was a senior at NYU, taking a class on Hemingway and Faulkner. As part of my thesis paper, I made a trip to New Orleans. Conveniently, Mardi Gras was right around the corner. It was the first time I'd traveled south of Virginia and the first long road trip of my youth. I convinced a friend to join me on my pilgrimage to Pirate's Alley, where I found an uninspired exhibit: a typewriter sitting on the desk where Faulkner apparently got drunk and disturbed the neighbors. The clerk gave me a souvenir bookmark. And that was it. My friend and I arrived on a Saturday, met two girls (on whom we'd spent all our money by Sunday), and come Monday, we were broke. We would be leaving on the morning of Fat Tuesday, with just enough gas money to get home, but before we left, I had my first beignet ever, at Café du Monde. I stood in line with the other tourists, sweating alcohol. My friend was in the car leaning on the horn. He'd had enough of New Orleans. He blamed me for the girls who'd cost us all our money; he wasn't in the mood to talk. I got back in the car, and he pulled away. Slowly, I chewed through a bag of beignets while powdered sugar gathered on my chest. We didn't start talking again until we were almost to Atlanta. It didn't matter to me: I was thinking about Brandi the whole time.

I met Brandi in New York City in 1992. To pay for my college tuition at NYU, I worked at the Big Apple Diner, on the corner of Twenty-Eighth and Madison. I knew my way around a kitchen, so a diner gig was easy money for me. The breakfast shift was all I had time for. After all, I had classes to attend. Every morning, I'd arrive at work around 4:30 and light the ovens' pilot lights. I'd mix the pancake batter and muffin mixes. Next I'd drain the sliced potatoes from the night before and start chopping vegetables for the home fries. I'd receive the bread and bagel deliveries, and bring stacks of eggs to room temperature in preparation for the breakfast rush that started at 6:15 a.m. on the dot. Later, I'd show up for my Latin class wearing a T-shirt stained with margarine and blueberry muffin mix. Everyone else in the course came from private high schools and were on their way to law school. I had to recite my conjugations while enduring what I was sure were their glances of pity and revulsion. I started to bring a clean oxford shirt to change into before class.

The Big Apple Diner could never keep a breakfast cook. I soon understood why. Yes, I did most of the prep work alone, but the work wasn't so bad. It was the neighborhood I hated. Today it's called NoMad, and the blocks are lined with high-end restaurants and boutique hotels, but there was a time when those streets were so bad that even the police stopped patrolling them. For decades, the neighborhood between Greeley Square and Madison Square Park was a large swath of no-man's-land littered with defunct luxury hotels. If you listened closely, you could hear the ghost of the last proud bellman dropping a shiny coin in the pocket of his frayed uniform. In the early twentieth century, this was the opulent Theater District, and these lavish hotels were the toast of the town. When the Theater District moved farther north, the hotels floundered, and by the 1970s, they were mostly bankrupt and evacuated. The city had the brilliant idea of converting them into low-income housing for the homeless and mentally ill, and they became known as welfare hotels. The Martinique, which once boasted Circassian walnut wainscoting and gold tapestry panels, became an incubator of drug selling and prostitution, its walls teeming with rats and roaches. Homeless families lived in squalor and fear as drug dealers, pimps, and gangs took over the neighborhood. There were other hotels, places with lofty names such as the Prince George, the Latham, the Carter. If you lived in New York City at the time, you avoided this pit of human travesty. For decades, the city turned its gaze away from the problems there, while its downtrodden residents suffered like animals.

The neighborhood wasn't so bad during the day. There were enough office workers walking about to give the streets a sense of normalcy. But in the hours before dawn, it was a lawless place, dangerous and unpredictable. In just a few weeks of working at the diner, I had gotten mugged, threatened with death, spat on, and accosted with a prosthetic leg while walking to work. Inside the restaurant, things were better, except when vandals threw bricks at the windows or tried to steal my bread delivery.

I got to know a lot of the prostitutes who ate there; we called them hookers back then. They came into the diner at around 5:00 a.m., looking for an egg sandwich or a hot cup of coffee with a fistful of sugar in it. We used to open early, but stopped because of all the trouble the women brought. Some were strung out, some were just thieves, and a few even tried to turn tricks in the bathroom. So we kept the front door locked until 6:00 a.m., when the first orange light of dawn sent the girls home. Still, a few of them were nice. They were usually young mothers just trying to make enough cash to get to a better place. If it was a slow night, I would buy their coffee or throw some bacon into their sandwiches without anyone knowing. The kitchen was open to the dining room, so I could see who was at the front door. If I knew the girl, I'd let her in. The owners never came in until about 7:00 a.m., so I was really the only one calling the shots until then.

Brandi was a cool girl. She always paid her tab and never made a fuss. She smelled like plastic carnations and bubble gum. When she spoke, her accent was Gone with the Wind meets New Jack City. She always braided her hair off to one side, which made her look young, about twenty-one, which was my age at the time. I found it unfair that I was in college while she was trying to raise a kid.

Brandi always left the diner before the office workers came in for the morning rush. She always ordered an egg sandwich, and I'd bump it up to a deluxe, with two eggs, cheese, and bacon. Sometimes, I'd even throw a cheese Danish into her bag. The morning waitress would catch me giving away food, but I didn't care. They couldn't fire me: there was no one else who wanted to work the morning shift.

Brandi would sit at the counter while I prepped for breakfast. We had little in common, so we talked about trivial things, such as movie stars and the weather. One day, while I was wrapping up her egg sandwich, she asked me if I was a virgin. I wasn't, but I found her question so aggressive that I blushed. "I knew you was a virgin," she said. After that, she called me the Virgin. It was condescending but playful. Every time she said it, there was an unspoken invitation. After all, I knew what she did for a living.

Brandi always checked the bag of food I handed to her before she left, to see what was in it. She'd wink at me and wave good-bye. I liked when she did that. I let her use that nickname, too. Sometimes, when she said it, I forgot what she did for a living and she was just another girl being silly, flirting with me. And that broke my heart every time.

Around that time, I started trying new things in the kitchen, nothing too advanced, but enough to keep my mind from going numb. I stopped using the diner's instant pancake mix and made the batter from scratch. I made lemon–poppy seed bread and banana-walnut bread. The things I made were selling nicely, and that encouraged me to expand the diner's breakfast offerings. One morning, while I was trying my hand at fresh doughnuts, Brandi happened to be around. I gave her a warm, odd-shaped doughnut just out of the deep fryer. Her eyes lit up.

"This is good. Reminds me of New Orleans," she said.

"Is that where you're from?"

"Yeah. You ain't lived till you been dere and had a beignet."

"A what?" I asked her.

"A beignet."

"What's that?"

"It's like this," she said, holding up the doughnut I'd made her, "but sweeter and warmer and better."

"And they only have them in New Orleans?"


"I'll make one for you next time."

"You don't know how, Virgin. It's only dere. It tastes so good. You have to go to Café du Monde and have the real one."

"And what's it called again?"

"A beignet."

"How do you spell it?"

"I don't know. You the college boy."

"Say it again?"

"A beignet."

"A ben-what?"

"A bayn-YAY, mutherfucker. Something wrong wit yo ears?"

One day, Brandi stopped coming to the diner—no good-bye. This was typical: the working girls never stuck around too long. It was 1993, the serial killer Joel Rifkin had finally been arrested, and the city was under pressure to clean up the streets. Even the welfare hotels were shutting down. Still, I thought that Brandi and I had had enough of an acquaintance that she would at least have said good-bye. Maybe I wasn't that important to her. I knew in my heart that nothing bad had happened to her; she was too smart for that. I figured she'd moved on to a better situation. But it would have been nice for her to have let me know, so I wouldn't worry. Then again, what if she had come to say good-bye? Would we have exchanged numbers and kept in touch? Maybe she had been nice to me all that time just because of the free food. Still, I missed her—and I promised myself that I would take her advice and go to New Orleans one day and have a real beignet.

I think about Brandi every time I go to Café du Monde. I have this crazy notion that I might even run into her one of these times. I like sitting outdoors even when it is deathly humid. I'll walk from my hotel to the French Quarter, under the banana trees, enjoying the smell of piss being sprayed off the streets. Most of the locals tell me to go to Morning Call for coffee, but I like coming to the French Quarter early in the morning, when it isn't overrun with tourists. On this particular day, I'm running a little late. When I get there, it's 9:00 a.m., and the line is already stretching out onto the street. My head feels as if a small pea were bouncing around in my empty skull, and the river smells fetid. All I want is a good beignet.

There are many other places that sell beignets in the French Quarter but none as good as Café du Monde. A good beignet should have a pillow of hot air inside that is released when you take a bite; it should not be hollow, or dense with holes. The powdered sugar should get all over your upper lip and float into your nose such that if you make the mistake of inhaling while taking a bite, you'll wind up coughing up powdered sugar. I like foods that punish the uninitiated.

The history of the beignet varies depending on whom you ask. When you research it, it is impossible not to come across its once more famous cousin, calas. The roots of the calas (sometimes referred to as a beignet de riz) can be traced back to Africa, where the calas is called togbei in Ghana, puff puff in Nigeria, and mikate in Congo, and where it is made, again depending on whom you ask, from some form of rice or cassava. Over time, the calas made its way to New Orleans, to become the dominant pastry served on the streets by Creole women. New Orleans food writer and radio host Poppy Tooker tells the story of how early twentieth-century prostitutes would dress up for Carnival and go from door to door to be served calas. Over time, refined wheat flour and the French influence mutated the calas into the popular beignet we know and love today.

Almost all the waitstaff at Café du Monde are from Vietnam. It is one of those unexpected intersections of history and culture that you find everywhere in New Orleans. The Vietnamese have been in New Orleans a long time, ever since the end of the Vietnam War. I watch them hustle around the tables, taking orders and making coffee. They've been working here for as long as most locals can remember. Rumor has it that their predominance at Café du Monde began with one waitress almost forty years ago. She still works here, one of the younger waitresses tells me, pointing out a tiny woman with white hair and pink lipstick. The older woman's white uniform is too large on her. She is too busy to talk to me, and her English isn't so good anyway, the younger waitress tells me. I ask her what the older waitress's name is. She tells me "Annie," but somehow I don't believe her. She asks me if I'm waiting for beignets.

"Yes. I'd rather not wait on line."

"Okay. Wait here for one minute." After two minutes, the young woman returns with a large bag of beignets. I ask her how much. She doesn't answer; just gives me a wink. I hand her a twenty-dollar bill, and she thanks me and darts off back inside. She doesn't return. I walk down Decatur Street shoving warm fried dough into my mouth.

There is only one place in New Orleans that I know of that makes calas, and they are dense and uncompromising. I go there after I'm done with my delicate beignets, to see if the calas have changed. I sit down in a small, dark grotto, and my waitress brings me a plate of dark, heavy fried dough balls. Their calas are made from cooked rice, not rice flour, and they're not very appetizing.

I think about the history of Asian desserts, where rice flour was the backbone of all sweets before the introduction of wheat flour in Asia. The Korean hoedduck is basically a rice flour doughnut, a denser version of a beignet, but still delicious. It is topped with granulated sugar and eaten hot. You can find hoedduck in street markets all over Seoul. They are as unrefined as they are delicious.

I can't finish the calas on my plate. I wonder if the historic calas has more in common with the Korean hoedduck than it does with this ill-conceived ball of fried rice pudding.

Modern Korean desserts have followed the Japanese love for cakes and pastries made in the European tradition. All over Korea and Japan, you can find tiramisu, cheesecake, Swiss rolls, and sweet custards. These desserts are all made with refined wheat flour and superfine sugar, two ingredients not native to these cultures. But then, in a curious culinary twist, in both Japan and Korea, bakers will dust green tea powder over everything sweet. Also known as matcha, the powder is the most highly prized expression of green tea. Ancient and mystical, the process of making matcha involves picking the best tea leaves grown in shade. The leaves are steamed to preserve their color and flavor, then dried out under the sun and ground into a fine powder. The powder is ritualistically whisked with hot water that never quite reaches its boiling point. In the eleventh century, the Zen priest Esai wrote an entire book devoted to tea, and since then, Japan has cultivated a modern tea culture that borders on fetishism.

I don't remember when I fell in love with matcha, but it was always a treat for me as a kid. It started with green tea ice cream, then green tea mochi, green tea cakes and custards. I dust matcha on everything, from chess pie to Nutter Butter cookies. (If you haven't tried this before, you don't know what you're missing.) And over the years, I've watched green tea powder go from obscure Japanese ingredient to trendy must-have item for chefs and home cooks. I love what it does to sweet desserts, especially when the delicate matcha powder is dusted over something as humble and imperfect as a beignet.

After college, I quit the job at the diner. I was living on Avenue C, in New York City's East Village, and my girlfriend at the time was a society girl from Japan. She taught me a lot about Japanese food. It seems so puerile to say that I could learn an entire culture's cuisine because I lived with a Japanese girl, but there's a lot to be said for spending a year with someone who loves food as much as you do. She introduced me to all the Japanese pastry shops in Manhattan. She taught me how to make a cup of matcha tea the proper way.

We lived together in a railroad apartment with a small garden, and we were happy for a while. Then one day, she confessed to me that she wanted to get married so she could stay in America. I didn't marry her. Instead, with some credit cards and a loan from a friend, I opened my own restaurant. After that, our relationship devolved into a flurry of negative Post-it notes left on the refrigerator door. I started coming home at 3:00 a.m. smelling of pork and beer and someone else's perfume. I was the unrefined one in the relationship.

I already knew that her father was a famous writer in Japan, and that she was well off. Then I found out that she wasn't just wealthy; her family was worth a fortune. In other words, she was matcha, and I was a piece of shapeless dough. This made me pull away from her even more. We were too different. She ate her instant ramen with nori and shiitake mushrooms and salmon roe. I ate mine with saltine crackers and mayonnaise. I always found her naïve for thinking we could work things out. I'm sure Brandi must have thought the same about me years before. What would saying good-bye to me have accomplished? We would never have remained friends. Some worlds are just too far apart.

Not so with food. Food can be a bridge, and the best, most thrilling dishes can result from joining two different worlds. I have been making some version of this beignet for as long as I can remember. My version is light and fluffy and savory. I always add fruit to it. In winter, it can be Anjou pears; in summer, try ripe apricots or peaches. I drizzle the beignets with a little sweetened condensed milk thinned out with yuzu (a sour, tart citrus fruit). You might think I'm overdoing it, but sometimes, on a rare occasion, I'll even put a little Nutella on the plate first. And of course, the beignet is always dusted with matcha.

This dessert is elegance colliding with simplicity. Unlike my relationship with that Japanese woman, its various, disparate ingredients work beautifully together on the plate. It works in a way that rarely works between me and the women I have known.

Korean Doughnuts


The Korean doughnut and the New Orleans beignet are distant cousins with the same purpose—to put a smile on your face. The dough for these doughnuts contains a lot of rice flour, which gives them a crispier crust than the typical American doughnut. The filling is different, too. The cashew nuts are savory, and the sesame seeds add a bitterness to the semisweet filling. In Seoul, you can walk through neighborhoods on a brisk autumn night and see street vendors selling hoedduck. These are panfried, and they are best eaten right out of the pan while still warm and crisp.

Makes 12 doughnuts


2 cups warm water (about 112°F)

¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

4 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading the dough

1¼ cups rice flour


1 cup chopped cashews

5 tablespoons dark brown sugar

¼ cup black sesame seeds

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup honey

To make the dough: In a medium bowl, combine the water, cup of the granulated sugar, the yeast, salt, and vegetable oil and stir well. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until foamy.

Sift together both flours and the remaining 3 tablespoons granulated sugar into a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. The dough will be very wet, and that is okay. Dust it with just enough flour so that you can handle it without it sticking to your fingers. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape them into balls. Transfer to a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour. Set aside while you make the filling.

To make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the cashews, brown sugar, sesame seeds, pepper, and cinnamon and mix well. Add the butter and work it gently into the mixture with a fork until incorporated.

Flour your hands, take one ball of dough, and flatten it gently with your hand. Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the dough and fold the edges over to enclose the filling. Seal the seams by gently pressing on them with your fingers and set the doughnut seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, reflouring your hands as necessary so the dough doesn't stick to them.

Line a wire rack with paper towels. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and heat until hot. Put one doughnut into the pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip with a spatula and cook on the other side for 2 minutes, gently flattening the doughnut with the back of your spatula. Flip once more and cook for another minute or so, until the top is nicely browned. Remove from the pan and place on the paper towel–lined rack. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Drizzle lightly with the honey and serve warm.

Green Tea Beignets


  • “Striking stories. . . . Lee is a master.”
    New York Times Book Review

    “Beautifully written.”

    “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.”

    “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.”
    “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

On Sale
Mar 5, 2019
Page Count
320 pages

Edward Lee

Edward Lee

About the Author

Edward Lee is the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia and Nami in Louisville, Kentucky, and the culinary director for Succotash Restaurants in Washington, DC, and Maryland, for which he was awarded a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide. He is also the cofounder of the LEE Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to diversity and equality in the restaurant industry. He operates the non-profit restaurant M. Frances in Washington, DC, as part of the LEE Initiative’s overall mission. He was awarded the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award in 2021. Chef Lee was the recipient of the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award for his book Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting Pot Cuisine. His first book was Smoke & Pickles. He was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for his role as host of the Emmy-winning PBS series TheMind of a Chef. He has hosted and written a feature documentary called Fermented. 

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