Samantha Fore, a chef based in Lexington, Kentucky, has traveled the country sharing her Sri Lankan-meets-Southern cooking. And in every city she’s visited, she’s been asked the same question: “Why don’t you move here?”
But no amount of imploring could convince her to establish her brick-and-mortars, Tuk Tuk Snack Shop and the Snackeasy, anywhere but the Bluegrass State. For Fore, there’s no place like her old Kentucky home. And guests of G&G Distilled—Garden & Gun’s insider tour of Bourbon Country, a partnership with Team Kentucky featuring Fore and other Southern tastemakers—will soon discover why.
The weeklong getaway (April 23–28) is designed to showcase the incredible food, drinks, and culture of Kentucky across ten exclusive events, including an intimate tour and barbecue at Jim Beam Distillery and an “owner for a day” experience at Keeneland race course. A who’s who of bourbon—including Julian Van Winkle III, Rob Samuels, Fred Noe, Conor O’Driscoll, Owen Martin, and Jon Rempe, to name a few—will be in attendance. One not-to-be-missed event is Women of Whiskey (Thursday, April 25), in which Fore and seven other esteemed food and spirits leaders lend their talents to a collaborative luncheon at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood.
“I get to be at the cool kids’ table!” Fore says with a laugh. Two other participants in the event are Fore’s close pals: There’s Marianne Eaves, the state’s first female bourbon master distiller since Prohibition and the maker behind the recently released Forbidden Bourbon label, who has been called “the next generation” of the bourbon industry. (“She’s blazing trails, and at the same time, she’s the kind of person who was willing to help me string two thousand feet of Christmas lights in my restaurant on a scissor lift,” Fore says.) And there’s Ouita Michel, the chef and owner of Honeywood and an eight-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee. (“I know if I really needed it, I could call Ouita, and she’d be in my dish pit for me any time, no questions asked.”)
These women represent the kind of community Fore says is so special to Kentucky, where an eclectic mix of proud, creative individuals show up to support one another, be it at a bourbon event or a book reading. In the case of the latter, Fore knows another respected G&G Distilled participant: the former Kentucky poet laureate and author Crystal Wilkinson. A winner of the O. Henry Prize, Wilkinson will give a reading at G&G Distilled’s Spirit of the Arts, a celebration of Kentucky’s creative essence—paired with exclusive tastings of Angel’s Envy bourbon—on the grounds of Louisville’s historic Gardencourt (April 28).
Like Fore, Wilkinson grew up in Kentucky. “My family has lived in these hills for over two hundred years. I am a proud citizen of the Bluegrass and have enjoyed writing about it,” Wilkinson says. “Part of that enjoyment is showing the rest of the country and the rest of the world that we are not this sort of one-eyed stereotype of Kentucky.”
Wilkinson’s recent book, Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, Stories and Recipes from Five Generations of Black Country Cooks, is a testament to that. Revealing the hidden legacy of Black Appalachians, Wilkinson’s lyrical receipts expand the lens of what’s typically understood as Kentucky cuisine. Similarly, G&G Distilled Launch Party talent Lawrence Weeks has made it his mission to challenge people’s understanding of Kentucky foodways at his restaurants North of Bourbon, a Cajun- and Creole-infused space, and Enso, his take on Southern-meets-Japanese food.
“I hope people understand that not only does Kentucky have a growing spirits scene, but we also have a rich food culture,” says Weeks, who will give G&G Distilled attendees a taste of Louisville during a stationed dinner at the Launch Party (April 23). Guests can expect to see Weeks’s creativity at work in dishes like boudin balls, sausage gumbo, octopus hushpuppies, and cheesy potato mochi.
Of course, the biggest headliner at G&G Distilled is bourbon itself. With the guidance of nearly two dozen spirits professionals, guests will explore the heritage of the state’s signature spirit and meet the innovators forging its exciting future—people like Jackie Zykan. Renowned for her esteemed palate, the master blender will join the marquee for the Women of Whiskey luncheon to showcase thoughtfully selected bourbon pairings.
Zykan made her name at Old Forester, moving from a public relations position to master taster in just one year, and she is part of a growing sorority of influential women changing the industry. But the biology major and partner of Hidden Barn Whiskey says her peers should be recognized for their professional records, not their gender. They’re the next generation of craftspeople continuing a time-honored tradition of transforming humble ingredients into complex flavors.
“When I look at this list of participants of G&G Distilled,” Fore says, “I see a common thread. They’re all insanely motivated, super bright people doing something unique in their field. And we’re all rooting for each other. That’s the Kentucky camaraderie this Garden & Gun event will encompass that other events just don’t have.”