Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 87 THE SPREAD Outdaring at Ostra By Sarah Kelley / Photos by Jessica Ebelhar Creativity rules at Adam Burress' newest eatery. Adam Burress traces his culinary lineage to an unlikely beginning. "On my 16th birthday, I got hired on at Taco Bell, and it was the best job I've ever had," he says. It didn't take long for Burress to begin tinkering with recipes the taco chain had likely designed to appeal to the widest swath of tame American palates. "I was like, 'Dude, this tastes like shit,'" he says. If a formula called for one bag of rice and one bag of seasoning, he'd add twice as much of the latter. "I started over-seasoning all their products," Burress says. "ere was this one couple that came in all the time, and they said, 'Dude, there's something about this Taco Bell. It's the best.'" Fast-forward 16 years, and now the former rogue Taco Bell cook is an accom- plished chef and co-owner of the Louis- ville restaurants Hammerheads, Game, Migo and Ostra, his latest, which opened on Frankfort Avenue last summer in the building that was once Maido and, more recently, Barcode 1758. e menu features Pacific-inspired seafood, hearty South American-style dishes, locally sourced vegetarian options and desserts using ingredients like bee pollen and crickets. "Being in this industry illuminates certain aspects of how food is created," Burress says. "It moved me to open this place with a code to be as small-footprint as possible." e 32-year-old eschews labels, both personally and professionally. ough he adhered to a mostly vegan diet for five years, he avoided branding himself as such. He casually refers to his longtime partner and the mother of his two-year-old son as "my lady." And he deflects when asked to classify the type of cuisine he creates. "I don't like to label anything we do," he says. "We just cook." e furthest he'll go in characterizing his food is to call it "fusion," a term that's applicable to all his restaurants. e process of creating Ostra's menu began with devising a list of sustainable proteins. e result is a lineup that leans heavily toward seafood. "You won't find cow on my menu," he says, "or any facto- ry-farm animals." But you will find rabbit, wild boar and duck, as well as insects, which, Burress says, are "one of the most sustainable and nutrient-dense things you can put in your body." "Ostra" means "oys- ter" in Spanish, and the bivalve is a natural fit on the menu from an environmental standpoint, as cultivating oysters purifies the sea. e fact that Burress considers them the perfect food is an added bonus. "I love oysters more than anything," he says. "When I eat an oyster, it's like an antidepressant." When Burress was growing up in Oldham County, pizza and fast food were dietary staples. "Nobody in my family really knew how to cook," he says, "and if they did cook, it was just covered in cheese or butter." e one exception was his paternal grandmother. Burress recalls helping in her massive garden by picking beans off the stalks, which she'd then use to make "killer green beans" stewed in a pot with potatoes and tomatoes. But those visits were infrequent and, Burress admits, not fully appreciated at the time. "I didn't really start getting into food until my teenage years, when I started smoking weed," he says. "All my friends would be over at my house and it would be munchie time, so I'd have to cook for everybody." He enjoyed the challenge of using random ingredients — like, say, sauerkraut and mayonnaise — to create concoctions his friends would devour. Following his inaugural restaurant gig at Taco Bell, Burress took a job washing dish- es at the now-defunct Westport General Store, northeast of Louisville. One night, when the restaurant was slammed, chef Harold Baker (who later cooked at Gary's on Spring, also defunct) asked Burress to chop vegetables. Soon after, Burress was promoted to line cook. "Every single day, (Baker) fluffed my ego. He'd say something like, 'Wow, Adam, nobody cuts like that!' I would think, 'Why are you high-fiving me so hard for a chopped onion?' But he was just that kind of guy, and he inspired me to continue," Burress says. He went on to attend Sullivan Univer- sity's culinary arts program, where he and a few other students were tapped to help open Blu Italian Grille (since closed) at the downtown Marriott. From there, he did stints at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse and Sevi- che, where he spent five years under chef Anthony Lamas. He worked his way up to sous chef and was in charge of nightly spe- cials. "ese specials were selling out. ey thought it was Anthony creating them, which was fine," Burress says. "Ultimately, the knowledge I derived from the situation was that I know how to cook, and that people will buy it, will eat it and will love it. ere was no ego involved. It just gave me the confidence to do it myself."

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