When you imagine a classic menu in the American South, what comes to mind? Fried chicken, pork BBQ, mac and cheese and collards, for sure. Kimchi fried rice might take you by surprise then at Chef Lee Gregory’s restaurant The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia. But Chef Lee says this dish makes perfect sense for a Southern menu. “Fried rice is one of my all-time favorite foods. When you think about it—rice, vegetables, egg, spicy sauce—they’re ingredients that are the base of so many Southern dishes,” said Chef Lee.
The James Beard award-nominated chef recently created a fried rice with kimchi and peanut sauce as part of a special dinner menu with the National Peanut Board. Chef Lee is all about using local ingredients in ways in that are familiar and comforting yet still exciting. His Instagram account highlights his behind the scenes creativity of pork cheek braising in fermented soy mash to the traditional Southeastern whole hog BBQ.
“Eat through your region” is a mantra for Chef Lee. “Even if that means you’re an Italian restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, the truth should be that you’re buying local, you’re sourcing local and in some sense trying to use the products that are around you. That is ever so true for the peanut.
“For one, it takes me back in some sense to my childhood. It was the nut that we grew up with. My grandmother on my mom’s side of the family grew up in Saint George, South Carolina which is down past Orangeburg toward Charleston. Family events were going to my grandmother’s house and eating a picnic table full of boiled peanuts and watermelon. That was it. In some sense the peanut takes me closer to South Carolina in my head, I guess. It is the nut of the South. It’s what some states in the early days were built off of and it seems like the one we should use.”
Chef Lee’s peanut-inspired menu included a country paté made with peanuts instead of pistachios served on grilled bread with bourbon mustard and bread and butter pickles; sweet potato and Virginia peanut soup with crispy bacon and peanut oil; peanut Johnny cake made with peanut flour from a local mill; and roasted Brussels sprouts with sliced Granny Smith apples, peanuts, raisins and peanut dressing. A cocktail of salted peanut-infused rum with Coke complemented the menu, and a peanut panna cotta with apple butter peanut brittle and grape sorbet ended the meal with a sweet nod to the classic PB&J.
Much like the versatile peanut, Chef Lee takes inspiration from all over the world and has the talent to make dishes that are familiar and comforting no matter where you’re from.