Bon Appetit, Y’all

The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Louisville returns, letting Kentucky’s chefs shine

By Mariah Kline
Photos by
Kathryn Harrington

Last fall, Ashbourne Farms hosted the first-ever James Beard Taste America Louisville dinner, an incredibly prestigious evening that showcased some of the area’s most talented chefs. This year, the James Beard Foundation is returning with a two-part event featuring the best of Kentucky’s food and beverage industry.

Representing our city – and our state – at this showcase is an extraordinary group of culinary artists. By sharing the many diverse cuisines our state has to offer, the chefs will demonstrate that Kentucky’s food scene is more than just fried chicken and bourbon (though those elements are, of course, sacred). Hailing from Paducah to Appalachia, Lexington to Louisville, this well-rounded group is bringing their collective A-game.

The two-part event will begin on Sept. 26 with an elegant gala dinner hosted at the Speed Art Museum. A cocktail and tasting reception will feature bites and beverages from some of the area’s best chefs and bartenders. Creating the gala’s dinner menu is visiting all-star Richard Blaise and local all-star Sara Bradley. Blais is best known for winning the Bravo network’s “Top Chef All-Stars” and can be frequently seen judging on “Top Chef.” The San Diego restaurateur also appears in several Food Network shows and has penned two best-selling cookbooks.

Bradley, who earned second place on season 16 of “Top Chef,” is the owner of Freight House, a Paducah restaurant with elevated southern fare. She is looking forward to sharing her locally-sourced ingredients with diners and offering up a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For us, it’s more like getting together to play with food, but it also helps the cause.”
— Bruce Ucan

“This is a great opportunity because not everyone has the chance to eat at the Beard House,” she says. “Not everyone has the chance to cook there, so this is amazing for chefs and people in the area to really see what happens in New York City.”

A dessert reception will follow dinner and include tastings made by Claudia Delatorre from the Bakery at Sullivan University and pastry chef Nokee Bucayu from Ashbourne Farms. As for what they’re cooking up, most of the chefs remained pretty tight-lipped, but a handful of them offered some hints.

“I’m thinking something fall-inspired with spice,” says Bucayu of her dessert. “I’m looking forward to challenging myself and taking something that’s traditional and turning it into something different. Part of the reason I went into food is to open peoples’ minds to different cultures through food.”

Also representing Louisville at the dessert reception are Annie Harlow and Leslie Wilkinson, the duo behind Hi-Five Doughnuts, who are plotting a donut bread pudding with some bourbon elements. Prior to dinner, Mayan Cafe’s Bruce Ucan has ideas for a Mayan hot brown or a traditional Yucatan pibil.

“It’s fun seeing what other chefs come up with,” he says. “I always love to hang out with them, and for us, it’s more like getting together to play with food, but it also helps the cause.”

The James Beard Foundation’s mission has many facets to it, but its overall focus is celebrating chefs and furthering the influence of America’s food culture. The organization promotes diversity and sustainability in the industry and works to address the gender imbalance. Through education and leadership initiatives and awards, the foundation is not only bettering the culinary world but changing lives within it.

“This is a dream come true,” says Davy Butterworth, beverage director at Decca. “It’s an experience to grow in my craft and learn from seeing other people here doing their things.”

Butterworth and several others will be taking part in Raise the Bar, the second night of Taste America, on Sept. 27. Those who attend Raising the Bar will get to dine and drink at the rooftop bar of the Brown Hotel, which parallels a New York City-style experience. The English Grill at the Brown Hotel’s Dustin Willett and James Adams are eager to share their space and their hospitality.

“It’s a very intimate setting,” says Adams. “It’s a pinnacle moment in your career once you’re invited to come to an event like this, so you want to grab on with both hands and take full advantage.”

“I’m excited to serve the people,” says Willett. “I love seeing people enjoy the food we make – that’s the most rewarding part for me.”

While the chefs are eager to show off their skill sets for fellow foodies, their main feeling is a sense of humility and reverence.

“It’s a joy and a surprise to be selected for something so momentous,” says Samantha Fore of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington. “I’m excited that the James Beard Foundation is bringing much-deserved attention to both Kentucky cuisine and immigrant cuisine.”

“Just to be recognized by my peers and people in the industry is great,” says 610 Magnolia’s Kevin Ashworth.

“It means a lot to me being a Louisville native,” says Volare’s Josh Moore, who has had the honor of cooking at the Beard House in New York. “I grew up here and have a lot of hometown pride. It’s a big deal for me to see Louisville on the map like it is as a food city. Twenty years ago it wasn’t what it is now, so it’s awesome to be a part of that progression.”

“It is such an honor to be involved in events organized by the James Beard Foundation,” said Mark Ford with Anoosh Bistro. “This organization, this charity, provides a backbone of support and a megaphone to speak through for the industry I know and love.”

Kristin M. Smith, owner and executive chef of the Wrigley Taproom & Eatery in Corbin, is delighted to share her region’s unique at Raising the Bar. 

“I’m thrilled to represent the Appalachian region of Kentucky,” she says. “I think is the first time we’ve been invited to the table, and I’m super excited to represent our area and our culture.” V

To learn more and purchase tickets, visit jamesbeard.org/taste-america-louisville, email tasteamericalou@estespr.com or call 502.614.6038.

Louisville Raising the Bar Reception
Sept. 27, 2019
The Brown Hotel’s Rooftop


James Adams &
Dustin Willet
The Brown Hotel, Louisville


Matt Brown
Hell or High Water, Louisville

Davy Butterworth
Decca, Louisville

Eron Plevan
Alex&nder at Copper & Kings, Louisville

Jake Sulek
West Main Crafting Company, Lexington, KY


Max Balliet & Katie Smith
Pizza LUPO, Louisville

Mark Ford
Anoosh Bistro, Louisville

Ming Pu
The 502 Bar and Bistro, Louisville

Jonathan Searle
Proof on Main, Louisville

Kristin Smith
The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery, Corbin, KY

Barbara Turner
Butchertown Grocery, Louisville

Louisville Gala Dinner
Sept. 26, 2019
The Speed Art Museum


Richard Blais
Juniper & Ivy; Trail Blais, San Diego


Sara Bradley
freight house, Paducah, Kentucky


Jeremy Asby
AZUR, Lexington, Kentucky

Kevin Ashworth
610 Magnolia, Louisville

Samantha Fore
Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites, Lexington, Kentucky

Josh Moore
Volare Ristorante, Louisville

Bruce Ucan
The Mayan Cafe, Louisville


Nokee Bucayu
Ashbourne Farms, Louisville

Claudia Delatorre
The Bakery at Sullivan University, Louisville

Annie Harlow & Leslie Wilkinson
Hi Five Doughnuts, Louisville


Dustin Willett and James Adams

Nokee Bucayu

Josh Moore

Sara Bradley

Davy Butterworth

Kristin M. Smith

Barbara Turner

Leslie Wilkinson and Annie Harlow

Ming Pu

Jake Sulek

Samantha Fore

Claudia Delatorre

Kevin Ashworth

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>