A graduate of Wake Forest University and The French Culinary Institute, Ashton Keefe is the founder and owner of the boutique catering, food styling and culinary instruction company, Ashton Keefe Culinary Lifestyle Services. She is the culinary instructor at New York City’s Haven’s Kitchen. She also develops recipes for Whole Foods Market Cooking, “Everyday with Rachel Ray” and “O Magazine” and edits for the online foodie community Thirst Girl.
If you ordered the Salmon with a Summer Slaw Salad, Asian Kebabs with Coconut Edamame Rice or the BBQ Chicken Burger you are cooking up her delicious recipes this week!
Q: What made you want to become a chef? Was there an element of your family life growing up that led to this career choice?
A: I think I’ve always wanted to be a chef. From a young age my mother inspired me to be in the kitchen. She was a caterer, cook, wine lover and all around foodie – before it became trendy.
Q: What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever received?
A: The best cooking advice I ever received would have to be from Julia Child, although we never met in person (I wish!). Her attitude about “not apologizing” about mistakes has stuck with me. I find that there’s nothing a glass of wine and a smile can’t fix. People want atmosphere and hospitality hand-in-hand with fine food.
Q: Who or what is behind your culinary inspiration?
A: I think it’s easy to say that my family was the source of my culinary inspiration. They continue to be my biggest supporters and my best assets in a business that doesn’t allow for much personal time. In addition, my overall passion for celebrations drives my desire to become better and learn more. Being a part of people’s celebrations is incredibly rewarding.
Q: What’s the first meal you ever learned to cook on your own?
A: The first type of cuisine I ever learned to cook on my own was dessert. My mom was the chef – affectionately we call her a “kitchen bully” because it’s her space. Therefore, I was only allowed to make dessert. Thus, I became good at it.
Q: What are the three tools you can’t live without while cooking a meal?
A: Tool-wise, there are very few ingredients I absolutely need. I strive to make good ingredients into good food, which, ironically, calls for little use of tools when you let the ingredients speak. I do love my microplane, whisk, wooden spoon and cast iron pans. Essentials!
Q: What ingredient are you most willing to splurge on?
A: Fresh, seasonal and local produce. You can’t put a price on an heirloom tomato fresh off the vine or fresh picked berries.
Q: What’s one budget item that should be on every home gourmet’s grocery list?
A: Good salt. Salt is essential to making food taste its best. A good sea salt for seasoning and finishing salt for service.
Q: What is the best dish you’ve ever made?
A: The best dish I’ve ever made (and still make) has to be my Caramel Fleur de Sel Chocolate Tart. Because dessert is my technical training and first love, it often amazes me when I go back to it. It surprises me, which is always nice because the business isn’t very forgiving if something goes wrong. Chefs are perfectionists, so being surprised doesn’t happen often.
Q: Is there a chef you really admire or look up to?
A: I admire a wide range of chefs and professionals – Icons like Jacques Pepin, Julia Child and Andre Soltner, media and kitchen moguls such as Tom Colicchio or April Bloomfield and writers like Dana Cowin, Barbara Fairchild and Gael Greene.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give to an amateur chef?
A: Keep cooking. Remember why you love to cook and don’t let anyone tell you that you have to fit into a certain mold. Let your passion for food and sharing food direct your career path and you’ll never be unhappy.
– Emma Stratigos