words DOUG GEYER  |  photography DEOGRACIAS LERMA


For a restaurant that has won countless accolades, 610 Magnolia looks unassuming in this quiet neighborhood of Old Louisville. So does the man crossing Magnolia Avenue from the small, blue house he shares with his wife and daughter.

But walk through the yellow restaurant door, and you find yourself in the center of great cuisine. Kevin Ashworth may only be thirty-two years old, but he is very much at home as the executive chef.

He is also at ease in the garden and greenhouse, an extension of 610 Magnolia, situated behind his house across the street from the restaurant. Here, fresh flavors sprout and new ideas are planted in the seasonal restaurant menu.

Ashworth bears the weight of the restaurant’s reputation and that of his mentor, nationally acclaimed chef, Edward Lee, with a quiet confidence. While he’s still young in his career, it’s clear he has translated his experiences and travels into dishes that defy and surpass expectations.

I’m kinda a jack-of-all-trades. I can fix anything. I can garden. But when I got into cooking, it was the one thing I did really well,” Ashworth shares. Growing up in Appalachia, his family played a central yet subtle role teaching him various “trades.”

My mom has always been a really good baker. I had many opportunities on the weekends to cook with her,” Ashworth continues.

He absorbed other lessons from his grandfather, a farmer, and his father, a minister. “A lot of my leadership skills have come from my father,” he adds.

Early on, his career path underwent a bit of finessing. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a business degree, Ashworth found himself working in restaurant management. “I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be in the front-of-the-house; I wanted to be in the kitchen,” he recalls. “So I went to culinary school.”

As Ashworth wrapped up his time at Cincinnati State’s Midwest Culinary Institute in 2009, he and Lee connected while working together at 1 Night, 12 Kitchens. Whether it was personalities or providence, they just clicked. With the Kentucky Derby just weeks away and Lee looking for extra help, he invited Ashworth down. Many more invitations followed, but it was the preeminent chef, Jean-Robert de Cavel, who encouraged Ashworth to make the move.

“He steered me here actually,” Ashworth recalls. “He said, ‘You can be my sous chef right now, but you’re not necessarily going to learn anything new. You’re going to keep cooking the same things you’ve already cooked. Go.’”

Ashworth started on the line at 610 Magnolia but quickly rose to become the sous chef. When Lee opened Milkwood, his second Louisville restaurant, he tapped Ashworth as its executive chef. Following Lee’s appearance on Top Chef and Iron Chef, his national reach and engagement expanded, prompting him to bring Ashworth back to take the helm at 610 Magnolia. Ashworth was recently promoted to Culinary Director for Louisville.

When Ashworth met his mentor, Lee’s level of refinement made an impression on him. “I had not seen anything like that,” Ashworth says. Adding, “Not to mention, he’s an amazing businessman. He’s always coming up with the next idea or he’s finding [a] way to keep everything going.”

Ashworth is grateful for how Lee has taken him under his wing, giving him a first-hand look into his world. They explored farmers markets together locally and in faraway destinations like Malaysia, Korea, and Italy.

“When we were in Kuala Lumpur I was like a fish out of water,” Ashworth recalls. “We got to visit all these markets that were such wonderful melting pots—part Indian, part Chinese. I can still smell the curry from there.”

Lee’s fluid and flexible approach to traditional cooking has shaped Ashworth’s own culinary identity.

I’m not stuck inside one cuisine, nor does Edward want me to be,” Ashworth says. “We’re in the South, but I’m not a Southern chef. We take elements, we take flavor profiles, we take plates and techniques from all over and focus in. Make it our own.”

Ashworth is also mindful about cultivating the right kind of team culture. “I want everyone to go home fulfilled, [feeling] like they killed it and are motivated to come in tomorrow,” he says. It’s not uncommon to find Ashworth and his team just blowing off steam in the alley across the street with a battered backboard attached to an accommodating tree.

But it’s the family that Ashworth is building in that small, blue house that really keeps him in the game. “My whole kitchen knows it. If I’m in a bad mood, they’re like, ‘Get Nora,’” Ashworth says. “She comes in, says ‘Daddy!’ How can you be mad after that?”

He credits his wife, Amy, for supporting him. “I have an amazing wife. She cooks dinner for me every night. She helps keep all of this going.”