Chefs work to keep legacy of giving going with McAtee Community Kitchen


Two Louisville chefs are spearheading an effort to make David McAtee’s name a symbol of the community.

The McAtee Community Kitchen opens Monday with a mission to keep McAtee’s memory alive by doing what he did most of his life — feeding people. The 53-year-old owner of a west Louisville barbecue restaurant was killed when the Kentucky National Guard was called in to disperse a crowd that gathered after curfew June 1.

While there are still many questions surrounding his death, those who knew McAtee say whether it was neighbors or police officers, the barbecue man spent most of his life taking care of people. That gift to the community begins again on Monday at Trouble Bar in Shelby Park, as chef-prepared hot meals and groceries will start going out three days a week, along with locations in Smoketown and west Louisville.

Chef Edward Lee in the kitchen
Chefs Edward Lee and Nikkia Rhodes plan to keep David McAtee’s legacy alive by doing what he enjoyed doing — cooking for those in need.

“I hear the stories, many stories about David McAtee and how he cooked,” Chef Ed Lee said. “I can’t think of a better embodiment of what it means to be a chef than to make food with your bare hands and give it away to people in need.”

Lee said he hopes, in McAtee’s name, to make real and positive change. He said the recent turmoil in the community has a lot of people hurting, and he felt a call to act.

“There’s been so much negativity and anger and division in Louisville, and it’s time,” Lee said. “I get it, but the Louisville that I know is caring and loving, and we help each other out and we’re a big community.”

Lee is partnering in the project with Chef Nikkia Rhodes.

“More than anything, than making me afraid or making me worried, it makes me feel like I have to do something,” she said of the recent unrest.

Lee said he knew Rhodes was the person to lead the Kitchen. Instead of trying to revive his popular Milkwood restaurant in downtown Louisville after the coronavirus shut it down, Lee is flipping it into a community kitchen with the help of his Lee Initiative, Children Shouldn’t Hunger, and with the help of countless farms and organizations like Dare to Care. Rhodes will run the kitchen for Louisville neighbors just down on their luck.

Lee said there should never be a stigma about people getting meals if they need them, especially in the current economy and so many out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The neighborhoods we’re servicing are the neighborhoods I grew up in,” Rhodes said.

Lee said he knew Rhodes had one more positive to bring to the table. Her culinary students at Iroquois High School will help people through the McAtee Community Kitchen as the young black leaders are mentored by top chefs. Rhodes said the students are thrilled to get experience, help their community and get paid at the same time. The goal is to continue the giving McAtee started, and create something he would be proud of.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to name it after him,” Lee said.

To keep the McAtee legacy going, the first meals, along with nearly 1,000 children’s books, go out in Shelby Park on Monday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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