At the beginning of 2020, Sam Fore was enjoying growing success with her Southern and Sri Lankan-inspired popup, Tuk Tuk Lex. The chef, who was born in Lexington and grew up in North Carolina before returning to Kentucky in 2012, served dishes including Meatball Curry Sandwiches, Spiced Fried Chicken, and Kadala (chickpeas tossed with spices and coconut). Like so many other chefs, Fore changed gears when the pandemic hit. Two years later, she has found renewed purpose and dedication in an industry on the mend. We chatted with the chef about her work with the Lee Initiative and Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, and she shared her recipe for Spice-Butter Roasted Carrots with Sorghum Glaze.
When did you know things were going to change for you, and for the restaurant industry as a whole?
On March 19, 2020, I started seeing every single event I had planned disappear. People were clearing out their calendars for months. All of these big, potential watershed moments for me were gone. I thought, I’ve just lost the job I worked five years to create.
What did it look like for you to pivot to something new?
I saw that the Lee Initiative was working to feed hospitality workers, and I already had a working relationship with them. So I asked if they needed help, and it turned into both the craziest and most fulfilling time I’ve ever had. I felt like I had purpose in a time when it had been taken away from me. I got to see my impact [as Director of Technology], and that felt good.
Then someone told Milk Street [Christopher Kimball’s multimedia cooking platform] about the work I was doing with Lee, and they reached out asking if I would like to be interviewed. Then that went well enough, so they said, “Hey, you should think about doing a class [with us].” I said, “Okay sure, this is a good way to reach new people.” That lead to them asking me to be a Friend of Milk Street, and an interview on Milk Street Radio, which transitioned to “Hey, you should join the cast of the show!” If you had told me last year that I would be casually talking with Chris Kimball about everything from foreign culinary techniques to the merits of rye bourbon, I would have thought you were nuts.
What is the best part of the work you are doing now?
Something I’ve learned is that there are so many incredible points of view that really don’t have the stage that they should. One day, I decided that my role in the culinary industry was to just wedge myself into the door and keep it open for others. There’s a lot of people that have some incredible things to say, and I’m starting to become a great doorstop. As you do it, more people join in, so it becomes a little easier to hold it open.
Now I’m watching people serve seven thousand meals [to tornado victims in Western Kentucky] on a holiday. I’m watching brown chefs actually take credit for their contributions. I’m watching actual change happen for female chefs. Basically, I’m having the best time ever given the fact that my whole world has been on fire. Life gave me lemons and I made lemon meringue pies!
What is next for you?
I’m just along for the ride, and that way you can’t get disappointed. I have ideas, but they’ve already kind of been exceeded by reality. I’ve got my goal in my back pocket, but I don’t think it’s what people expect. I’m starting to learn that I can say “yes” to things and “no” to others and do things that really make my heart feel good.
Note: The below recipe originally used Sri Lankan kithul syrup, but it can be tough to get (Kimbula Kithul may be the only variety available stateside). Substitute a light sorghum for a similar flavor profile. Fore uses her own Spicewalla blend Tuk Tuk fried chicken spice, but says a mix can be made alternatively with 2 tbsp. madras curry powder, 1 tsp. Diamond Crystal kosher salt, ½ tsp. garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp. ginger.