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Meet James Beard Award-nominated Chef Sam Fore

Get to know the creative mind behind Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites

Chef Sam Fore leaning up against a door frame

Chef Sam Fore plans to open her own restaurant in 2023. | Photo by Dennis Cahlo

In case you missed it, Central Kentucky is home to two chefs that were nominated for the Best Chef: Southeast category for the 2023 James Beard Awards. Today we’re sharing six questions with Chef Sam Fore of the pop-up concept Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites.

Bonus: Chef Fore announced that she is opening The Tuk Tuk Snack Shop — a counter-style restaurant that will serve her signature Sri Lankan-Southern fusion flavors — later this year.

How long have you lived in Lexington?
I was born in Lexington and moved away as a kid. I always loved it so we came back 10 years ago and never left. My husband is originally from here as well.

How long have you been cooking?
My whole life. But professionally, seven years.

Tell us about how when things kind of took off for you career-wise.
There have been a few big boosts. The Southern Foodways Alliance and Padma Lakshmi gave me a massive boost in 2018, after I’d been cooking in the tent since 2016. Then in 2022, I got a massive boost from Charleston Wine + Food. That led me to cook for the Kentucky Derby and at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic in 2022. I’ve been cooking across the country consistently for two years now and that’s been a boost.

What is your favorite dish to cook and favorite dish to eat?
I love long stews — anything easy to set and forget and fill the space with great smells. But, I do love a great plate of mac and cheese though.

Describe your perfect day in Lexington.
Wake up. Grab breakfast at Wheeler’s and chat with the crew there — I really like them a lot. Then maybe a drive out to the country or a day down Old Frankfort Pike. There needs to be a Ramirez stop in there, maybe a cocktail at Ona to cap it all off.

Chefs Sam Fore + Ouita Michel post for a picture in a blue frame

We’ll take whatever they’re cooking. | Photo courtesy of @tuktuklex

Who are three Lexingtonians you look up to and why?

  • Ouita Michel — For her skill, generosity, and talents. She’s a phenomenal human.
  • Tanya Torp — A champion of good in our town. I admire her commitment to her family and community, and her continual desire to make Lexington better for everyone.
  • Ashley SmithBlack Soil has provided me with the best produce I could ask for. She has been a champion of the family farm in Kentucky in a way no one has shown up before and I admire her tremendously. Her work ethic alone is beyond inspirational, but her efforts make us all the better.
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