When the weather’s nice, events at The Wine Studio, in Louisville, Kentucky, spill out into a 2,000-square-foot courtyard where diners can enjoy Chef Edward Lee’s Southern fare, which features luxurious French touches and surprising Korean accents. The space feels like the backyard party of an acquaintance instead of the culinary incubator and private-event space of a two-time James Beard Best Chef: Southeast finalist. “The Wine Studio is playful and fun,” says Chef Lee, who also once defeated Chef Jose Garces on an episode of "Iron Chef America." It’s located directly across the street from Lee’s tasting-menu restaurant, 610 Magnolia.
“We started building it for very practical reasons,” Lee says of The Wine Studio. As chef and owner of 610 Magnolia, he wanted to add an underground wine cellar to house the restaurant’s ambitious wine program but didn’t know where to create the space. “We owned the property across the street, so we decided to build it there,” he recalls.
Lee sees the space as an extension of 610 Magnolia and his food philosophy. “We’re a small restaurant and with The Wine Studio we’re able to host private events with the same quality of food and the same philosophy,” he explains. The menus for events at The Wine Studio are “family-style, wood-fired, comfort food” that use the same high-quality ingredients that are on the 610 Magnolia menu, some of which are grown in the outdoor courtyard. “We grow anything and everything we can,” Lee says. Currently, that includes greens and strawberries with plans to grow much more, he notes.
The relaxed atmosphere and approachable cuisine foster new fans of Lee’s food. “It actually draws a whole different crowd,” he says. “People that maybe wouldn’t eat at 610 Magnolia will come and eat, or attend an event, at The Wine Studio.” Cooks at 610 Magnolia also get to “flex their muscles” when helping the chef come up with menus for the event space. “I try to give them more authority to make their food,” he says. “If a dish really kills it at The Wine Studio, we can modify it and add it to the menu at 610 Magnolia.” Recently, a cook came up with a vegetarian Bolognese dish for an event that required a vegetarian pasta course. The dish was a hit with attendees, so it was modified for the 610 Magnolia menu.
The Louisville community has welcomed the space with open arms. “The Wine Studio is our test kitchen and our venue for playful experimentation, but it’s also a shared community space,” Chef Lee says. “That wasn’t the original intent, but it’s great.”