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Making old Kentucky new

The Hot Brown, burgoo, Benedictine and other Bluegrass-state classics are dusted off, punched up and ready to mingle with modern updates that can feed a crowd.

Murray State University beef tenderloin
Beef tenderloin with Henry Bain's sauce from Murray State dining services. Photo: Murray State University

When Murray State University hosted a regional meeting of NACUFS, dining services wanted to do its best to roll out a good old Kentucky welcome—but in a new way. 

There are dishes Kentucky is known for that can be little mystifying to those who didn’t grow up in the Bluegrass State. “What’s a Hot Brown?” You might ask. And, “does burgoo really have squirrel in it?” The answers, Tim Bruce, executive chef at Murray State, can tell you, are: “it’s a delicious sandwich” and “maybe.”

Bruce and the culinary team set out to help their NACUFS guests experience the grand old traditions and food fables of Kentucky with a selection of updated classics that culminated with a Bourbon Trail-themed dinner. From appetizers to desserts, the dinner took a winding course over the mountainous countryside of Kentucky, modernizing (and splashing with a little bourbon) at each turn. 

Guests feasted Kentucky-style on apple-bourbon-glazed chicken wings, bourbon baked beans with andouille sausage, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and roasted red pepper vinaigrette, edamame succotash, cheese straws, pimento cheese toasts, smoked sausage spoon bread with pickled peppers, bourbon-glazed pork tenderloin, filet mignon with the famous Henry Bain's sauce (similar to A1, but with mango chutney) and more.  

Here are a few more notable old Kentucky menu items adapted for the event: 


 A venerable sandwich spread called Benedictine. The cucumber-and-cream cheese concoction was invented in the late 1800s by Louisville caterer-turned-restaurateur Amy Carter Benedict. It’s the filling you see inside dainty tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Benedict’s restaurant actually included a tea room. 


 For the NACUFS event, Bruce took his cue from a very 21st Century catering trend: the shot glass as an individual serving vessel. He filled shot glasses with Benedictine (in more of a dip consistency than a spread) and nestled crisp veggies inside. The result was personal-sized crudités that were portable and visually appealing. The modern version forgoes the bright green food dye that’s sometimes seen with Benedictine. 

Murray State University crudite shooters
Murray State University served up modernized Kentucky classics, like these crudité shooters with Benedictine dip. Photo: Murray State University


 Pepper jelly on top of cream cheese is something you bring out for company all over the South. Served with crackers, it doesn’t get much better. Or does it?


 Bruce took those components, placed them in a mini wonton wrapper and turned them into mini pepper jelly egg roll bites. Genius appetizer! 



 The Hot Brown is a sandwich that was created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Basically an open-faced broiled turkey and bacon sandwich with Mornay sauce, it’s a country take on Welsh rarebit.


 The Mini Hot Brown canape! This way, it wasn’t a heavy plate full of sandwich. Guests at the event could grab a much more manageable-for-mingling portion and still get the rich experience.

What is Kentucky BBQ?
Photo: Thinkstock


 Burgoo is the most famous Kentucky stew, and it’s often served to big crowds, especially during those annual hard-partying days of Derby. “Every area of the world has its own potage of meat and vegetables because it’s efficient, hearty and fulfilling,” Bruce says. “It’s a combination of barbecue (mutton) and a ragout. The word burgoo may be a contraction of the words barbecue and ragout.” It’s also known as “whatever walked or flew.” The meat in the Kentucky version is traditionally game meats and vegetables like corn, okra and lima beans. 


 “We didn’t want to stray into the squirrel and possum world, so we did lamb and chicken thighs,” Bruce says.



 Boozy bourbon balls are a great way to make the most of bourbon’s sweet side.


 Dressing up that concept in the form of the trendy macaroon and adding pecans, Bruce was able to tip his glass to history and come up with something new. Get the recipe here.

Contact Tara Fitzpatrick at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @tara_fitzie

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