The ponies will be running once again at the Kentucky Derby May 4. And if you're hosting a soiree to celebrate, we've got some how-tos from Southern chef extraordinaire Edward Lee of Succotash. Here's how he gets to the finish line. 186 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Md., 301.567.8900
A country ham board feeds hungry guests.
1. For the Drinks
You have to serve mint juleps, right? [Yes.] But make sure to have fresh mint: That is essential.
What if our guests aren't fans of the drink? That’s fine. No one really is. A mint julep is something that you have one of, and then most Kentuckians will move to a more straightforward bourbon drink like a bourbon and soda water on ice.
And how do you put your own spin on it? I make a rhubarb and mint sweet iced tea and add a little bourbon for a refreshing drink.
2. For the Cuisine
You’ve mentioned dips are a must for Kentuckians: What’s your favorite servable spread? Benedictine is a surprisingly simple and delicious dip that everyone will enjoy with cream cheese and grated fresh cucumbers.
Then there's the country ham. It is a salty snack that can hold at room temperature for a long time. I serve it with pimento cheese and biscuits. Insider tip: It is the same as prosciutto. Shave it very thin and don’t complicate things too much.
As for grits… Soak them in cold water overnight and slow cook the next day over low heat. When tender, season with salt and pepper, and shave a little cheddar cheese on top. Make sure to get good grits from a farm that mills on-site.
And what makes your mouth water during a Kentucky Derby party? Crispy fried chicken with a homemade hot sauce.
The sweet finish is bourbon balls. Any tips? There are a number of good recipes, but I like to mix marzipan with rough-chopped pecans and reduced bourbon. Roll this into balls and then dip into a bowl of melted chocolate. Let them chill on a rack, and this will keep for up to two weeks.
3. For the Party
When throwing a Derby party, what is the No. 1 think to remember? Make sure everyone knows to dress in their spring finest. Hats are a must: The more outlandish the better.
Please share your favorite memory from a Derby bash.
I went to a party once where they had a bourbon for every horse that was in the race—so about 20 different bourbons. And everyone got to choose their bourbon depending on which horse they thought would win the race. That was amazing.
Have you been to the Derby?
Derby is the busiest time of the year for me. Though I have been in Louisville for 17 Derbys, I have actually never seen the race [in person] even though I get invited every year. I have to be at my restaurant when the guests arrive. We do, however, listen to it on the radio.
So, how is Succotash feting the big event? We always have so many parties that we host all week. We are having one afterparty this year with specialty themed cocktails That will be fun.
Photography by: Scott Suchman