Ted Lee '93

Ted Lee

Edmund M. Lee, aka “Ted”

Place of Birth
Born in Manhattan, NY; raised in Charleston, SC.

Current Home
Brooklyn, NY

E.V. Day, sculptor (Hampshire ’91)

Porter-Gaud School ’89; B.A. Amherst College ’93; M.F.A. University of Iowa (Iowa Writers Workshop) ’99.

Why I chose Amherst 
My father, William M. Lee, was Amherst College class of ’63, and when I was in high-school, I wore his thread-bare Amherst letter jacket (ski team). But I didn’t think seriously about Amherst until I visited the campus, early Fall ’88. The seniors in the room group I visited in Mayo-Smith were a hilarious crew of Russian Studies majors, men and women, who stayed up all night talking to friends in the USSR on crackling land-lines. I’d never encountered people so passionate about their studies and interests, and I basically wanted to be like them!

Most influential class
Most influential: Introduction to Liberal Studies: Light, team-taught by Karen Sanchez-Eppler and Dudley Towne. Most memorable: Stanley Rabinowitz’s Strange Russian Writers.

Most memorable or most influential professor
Most memorable: Rowland Abiodun, giving an enthralling lecture on Yoruba aesthetics in a van, on the ride to The Studio Museum in Harlem. Most influential: For writing, Jack Cameron (my thesis advisor) and Bill Pritchard were such engaged critical readers, am reminded of them whenever I have a great experience working with a new editor. 

Research Interests
Food cultures and systems.

Awards and Prizes
Two James Beard Awards, one for Best American Cookbook and another for Cookbook of the Year (both for our first cookbook). Four IACP Awards: three for Best American Cookbook and The Julia Child Award (for our first cookbook). 

Favorite Book
Across the Bridge: Stories, by Mavis Gallant.

Favorite Author
Alice Munro

Tips for aspiring writers?
Read what you love and read lots of it. But also be open to how many different kinds of writing there is to be done in the world. Even in a 40- or 120-character world, writing is a valuable and transformative skill. 

Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I was in the second year of my M.F.A. in fiction writing at the Iowa Writers Workshop, taking a sabbatical of sorts from the mail-order catalogue of southern pantry staples I'd started with my brother, Matt, and we got our first lucky break: an editor at Travel+Leisure magazine who was a customer of our catalogue assigned us a feature about road-tripping through upstate South Carolina looking for delicious southern foods. We wrote that story—and loved it!—which led to others for other magazines. We ended up writing regularly about home-cooking, often with a southern focus, for The New York Times. Then we got our second lucky break: we were asked to appear on a panel on regional American foods at the New York Public Library and in the audience at that event we met Maria Guarnaschelli, the cookbook editor of many books already in our kitchen. She asked if we’d ever consider publishing a southern cookbook. Maria was the editor of our first cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook! We wrote two more cookbooks after that, The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern and The Lee Bros. Charleston KitchenHotbox is our first book of longform narrative non-fiction.

Ted Lee — along with his brother and collaborator, Matt Lee — grew up and learned to cook in Charleston, South Carolina. When they left to attend colleges in the Northeast, they so missed the foods of their hometown they founded The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, a mail-order catalogue for southern pantry staples. They became food journalists and cookbook authors in 2000, when an editor of a travel magazine asked them to write a story about road-tripping South Carolinain search of great food. They have written hundreds of food, wine, and travel features for The New York TimesTravel + LeisureMartha Stewart LivingSouthern LivingSaveurBon Appetit, and Food & Wine. Their three cookbooks, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook (2007), The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern (2009), and The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen (2013) have, combined, won six James Beard and IACP Awards. They were on-air commentators for all seven seasons of The Cooking Channel’s hit series Unique Eats and the hosts and executive producers of Southern Uncovered with The Lee Bros. on Ovation. They are founders of Cookbook Boot Camp, a professional-development curriculum for food and beverage professionals, and the curators of The Lee Bros. Classic Library, a series of vintage and out-of-print cookbook reissues that Rizzoli publishes. And their most recent book, HOTBOX: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business, was published by Henry Holt in April. Ted lives with his wife, the artist E.V. Day, in Brooklyn, NY.

Learn more about Hotbox on Ted's Website.

Photo credit: E.V. Day