The Southern Staples That Are Being Served At The 150th Kentucky Derby

Known for hosting guests wearing colorful, extravagant hats and dressed to the nines in dapper attire, the Kentucky Derby is right around the corner. This year will mark the Derby's 150th anniversary, and Churchhill Downs is accenting the milestone with a menu foodieblogs everywhere can get excited about. 

The Louisville racing complex recently released the plans for the spread they will be featuring during the iconic competition, and it's full of mouthwatering Southern staples. Guest can start with something light, like the vivid spring pea pasta salad, which spotlights locally grown English peas, country ham, green onions, and pecorino cheese. After waking up their palate with something fresh, those in attendance can move on to a side of roasted cauliflower & Brussels sprouts with garlic cloves, red onions, and peppadew peppers. Once a side is in hand, guests can choose between two headlining entrees, one of which is the bourbon cherry brisket burnt ends. This seductive take on a southern paradigm features veal demi-glace, cherry juice and preserves, BBQ sauce, and, of course, classic Kentucky bourbon.

But who's the face behind the menu? At this sesquicentennial celebration of the annual Run for the Roses, Churchill Downs has brought in a new chef to head the culinary endeavor. In his first time laboring for the Kentucky Derby, Chef Robert Lopez will bestow his take on Southern cuisine, matched with an appreciation for fresh spring flavors.

The chef behind this year's Run for the Roses

As the horses run the iconic 1-1/4 mile track, guests in attendance will treat themselves to Southern fare inspired by local ingredients. Chef Robert Lopez, the culinary wizard who created this year's menu, has previously headed teams that served at horse-racing competitions and other large-scale events. This will be his opportunity to showcase his skills in the kitchen for the Derby run specifically, but he's got his work cut out for him. The race is the biggest of its kind, regularly counting up to 150,000 people in attendance. With that many people in one place, it will require a gargantuan effort on the part of Lopez and his team as well as perfect planning to make it all go off without a hitch. 

Chef Lopez said of the upcoming event, "[It] has an unmatched taste tradition built on contributions from so many incredible chefs. 150 will never happen again, so our approach in creating the menu was to elevate the classics and take advantage of the wealth of seasonal ingredients in our community and region. We sourced local ingredients like asparagus, peas, bourbon, and cherries to strike a balance between the rich, bold flavors of iconic Southern staples and the freshness of spring. My team and I are incredibly excited for guests to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience in every bite." 

Derby diners come hungry and thirsty

This year, Churchill Downs plans to cook 10,000 pounds of smoked (not grilled!) brisket and 9,000 pounds of shrimp and serve 1,000 pounds of cheese for the yearly occurrence. The annual contest will host a range of refreshing drinks throughout the day; for spirits, they anticipate using 20,000 bottles of Woodford Reserve and 1,000 pounds of mints sprigs for the concomitant tipple, mint juleps.

This year, Churchill Downs will be serving their traditional Old Forester Mint Julep made with Old Forester bourbon, simple syrup, fresh mint, and crushed ice. This standard mixed drink has been the official beverage of the race since 1938, and the metal cups they're consumed in are as much a part of the event as the pounding of hooves on the track. For guests averse to bourbon, Churchill Downs will be serving wine and other interesting cocktails, like the Herradura Horseshoe Margarita made with Herradura Silver tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, and a fresh lime wheel served over ice.

The classical American tradition appreciated worldwide will see crowds enjoying flavors emblematic of the South as they celebrate springtime in Kentucky. Southern cuisine will be showcased at its finest, as will the Southern hospitality eventgoers have come to treasure at the world-famous event.