When I was in San Francisco last November for the Foodbuzz event the people I met, especially those from California, seemed intrigued by the fact that I was from Kentucky. No offense meant to you if you are from California, of course. However, it was immediately apparent to me that Kentucky seemed a strange and far off place to those I encountered.
During that food conference last year the common question was:
How are things in Kentucky?
Obviously, with the given atmosphere “things” was used to refer to food. People seemed somewhat surprised when I told them about our multiple local producers of incredible products like cheese and honey, or the rolling farm land owned by inspiring families who use the same practices as Polyface Farm featured in Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc. I typically went on to talk about the gourmet restaurants housed in historic buildings with chefs who are regularly in the running for the honor of the James Beard award in the Southeast region.
The more we talked, the more my pride grew. Yes, we have some fabulous food and chefs in Kentucky. While I enjoyed our conversations, I’ve recently acquired a cookbook that will leave no need for further discussions. The next food event I attend outside of Kentucky I think I will take it with me. When someone asks me, “How are things in Kentucky?” my answer will be:
This is how things are in Kentucky.
Jonathan Lundy is the chef owner of the historic restaurant in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, Jonathan at Gratz Park. In his new cookbook, Jonathan’s Bluegrass Table: Redefining Kentucky Cuisine, he combines the flavors and ingredients he grew up around in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region with the flair that only a creative, highly skilled and well-traveled chef can master. Many of the recipes for the foods featured at the restaurant come to life in his cookbook.
Chef Lundy has strong ties to Kentucky which comes through in his art. His family invented Calumet baking powder which was later sold to become Calumet Farm with a record history for Derby and Triple Crown winners. If you don’t know much about horse racing, perhaps this additional fact about Chef Lundy’s history will be of interest – his first kitchen job was as an apprentice to Emeril Lagasse. Jonathan was a 2010 James Beard Southeast chef of the year nominee.
This collection of recipes is more than a cookbook; it is a food memoir of growing up in Kentucky. Chef Lundy uses local ingredients such as sorghum, bourbon, country ham and grits to create old fashioned favorites with an upscale, gourmet twist. It is Kentucky food as it has never been done before. It is history for the modern food lover.
Many of the recipes utilize fairly simple ingredients with straight forward steps. One recipe will encompass several others as sauces, toppings and other additions are included in separate recipes. This makes it easy to quickly find them when you take Chef Lundy’s advice and use the book as a base to get creative in your own cooking.
The book is full of stunning photography by Lee Thomas. Not only will you see gorgeous food photos, but photos of all things Kentucky – horses, stone fences, farms and family.
It was difficult to decide what I wanted to make from the cookbook, but it is likely no surprise to you that I went straight for the brunch section. This led me to Cornmeal Waffles with Bananas Foster Sauce. This is the most unique waffle recipe I have tried and to be honest with you, as I mixed the batter I began to worry that it would be too thin. However, once on the iron it puffed up beautifully.
I let them cook longer than other waffles I’ve made, closer to 6 minutes than 4. This created a beautifully crunchy crust. Once they are topped with the Bananas Foster Sauce you realize you have the best balance between breakfast and dessert ever created.
Cornmeal Waffles with Bananas Foster Sauce and Toasted Pecans
Reprinted with permission from Jonathan Lundy
½ cup flour (I used white whole wheat)
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup cornmeal
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar (I used mascavo)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups buttermilk
½ cup milk
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 egg yolk
3 egg whites
Bananas Foster Sauce (below)
½ cup toasted pecans
Sift all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
In another large mixing bowl, mix the vanilla, buttermilk, milk, vegetable oil and egg yolks together.
Whip egg whites to a soft peak.
Mix all ingredients together.
Store in a refrigerator. May be made up to 2 hours before cooking.
Follow waffle machine directions.
Top off waffles with Bananas Foster Sauce and toasted pecans.
Bananas Foster Sauce
1 stick butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup banana liqueur
6 bananas, sliced ½ inch thick
½ cup dark rum
Add melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium-sized sauté pan. Place pan on low heat and simmer until sugar has dissolved.
Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes.
Ladle 3-4 ounces on each portion of cornmeal waffles.
Yields about 4 cups – Serves 6
If you happen to be around the area you can meet Jonathan during his guest chef appearances at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky on June 18th and on the Old Kentucky Dinner Train on July 10th for special dinners and book signings. He will also host the opening night of the James Beard – Alltech World Equestrian Games dinners on September 25, 2010, an amazing world-wide equestrian and food event taking place in our area.
Below is a sampling of some of the other wonderful recipes you will find in Jonathan’s Bluegrass Table.
All photos below are the work of Lee Thomas and reprinted with permission from Jonathan Lundy.
Pimento Cheese Grit Fries
Shrimp and Grits
Flaming Butterscotch-Bourbon Crème Brûlée
Disclosure: The review copy of this cookbook was sent to me free of charge. I was not under any obligation to write about it and I did not receive any compensation for doing so. Nothing influenced the opinions written here other than my love for local foods.