Kevin Ashworth has been the executive chef at 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky for over 10 years. He’s all about simple, fresh, local ingredients. And he’s inspired by his own rich life every time he creatively brings them together on the plate. We recently sat down to talk with him about the Kentucky Derby, American tradition, Southern food, and culture.
You might not expect a self-proclaimed Yankee from Ohio to be the executive chef at an authentic downhome Southern restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, but Ashworth’s Appalachian roots run deep. His grandparents were farmers who lived along the Ohio river and raised beef cattle. His father was a minister. And Ashworth’s love of food has its roots in the church potluck dinners he attended every Sunday growing up.
He started cooking for his family around the age of 13, and by the time he was 15 he was working in the front and back of the house of several restaurants. “In the kitchen was the first time I felt really good at something and I just ran with it,” he recalled. He gave college a go but quickly realized it wasn’t for him, and at the age of 20 he enrolled in culinary school to become a chef. Which is where he met Edward Lee, Chef and owner at 610 Magnolia.
Chef Lee was leading an event at Ashworth’s culinary school and needed a weekend liaison for the Kentucky Derby dinner they had launched a couple of years prior. 610 is right next to Churchill Downs, so offering a special dinner for the influx of people who come to town for the most exciting two minutes in sports was an obvious fit. And the patrons kept coming back. Sometimes not even for the race, but just to enjoy the famous dinner. The Kentucky Derby dinner quickly grew into an annual event with some of its attendees even securing lifetime reservations.
“The same folks come back year-after-year. We get to see these families grow up,” Ashworth explained. It’s a responsibility ripe with Southern and American tradition that he takes very seriously. He takes pride and special care to make the meal its own unique experience each and every year never serving the same thing twice.
Finding locally sourced ingredients in Louisville isn’t hard. He describes the city as a “melting pot” full of generations of farmers. And he sources his meat, eggs and vegetables from them whenever possible. He’s continually inspired by the sweet spice, sass, and grace of Southern culture and is constantly infusing that inspiration into new dishes on ever-evolving seasonal menus.
Ashworth even does a little farming himself in the restaurant’s own private garden. “We have a greenhouse and I love getting my hands dirty.” he beams. “It makes me proud to serve these amazing vegetables that my kitchen and I grew.” Nothing satiates his own appetite more than seeing customers visibly satisfied by the fresh succulence of his simple ingredients.
Chef Ashworth was raised on local American ingredients so to him, serving Mountain Valley Spring Water is an obvious choice. “Water isn’t just water,” he says, “there are so many nuances to it. What it gets filtered though. The minerality.” And while Mountain Valley Spring Water has a rich blend of essential minerals, a naturally balanced pH and is sodium free, what he really loves is the crisp, clean taste and the "bite" of the sparkling water.
Ashworth’s proudest menu item is his “elevated ruben.” It’s beef tongue on a caraway pancake with homemade thousand island dressing, kimchi, and his absolute favorite garden item, radishes. Chef Ashworth has a wife and two daughters he absolutely adores. And says they’ve always been an-eat-dinner-at-the-table kind of family. So it’s not surprising at all that he makes bringing people together around the table, at home and in the restaurant, his top priority in life. Food is a great conversation starter he said - before heading off to pick up his daughter from school.
If you’ve been to 610 Magnolia or their yearly Derby Dinner please share your photos and comments with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you want to know more about serving premium Mountain Valley Spring Water in your restaurant click here.