The September edition of Bon Appetit has a great story featuring Raleigh’s own Ashley Christensen. Entitled “Women Chefs: The Next Generation,” the story discusses the stories of six women chefs from across the country, including Melissa Perello, Kelly Liken, Naomi Pomeroy, Allison Vines-Rushing, Alexandra Raij and Christensen. These young chefs, all under 40, had a round table discussion with the trail-blazing Evan Kleiman, owner of LA’s Angeli Caffe and host of the great radio show, Good Food (a podcast of the round table discussion should be released shortly).
The article includes a recipe from each restaurant and delves into each chef’s favorite foods, including Christensen’s love of a dish from Mark Ladner’s and Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York: “It’s this pork shin that’s brined, and then it’s braised and the bone’s removed, and it’s tied, and it’s deep-fried. The outside is the equivalent of a pork crackling and the inside is very similar to barbecue. Texturally and theoretically, it hits on all these levels.” Ashley loves her some pork — especially twice-cooked in this style!
With all the hub-bub of the Bon Appetit article, perhaps the bigger news for local diners is that Christensen has announced her retirement as the Executive Chef at Enoteca Vin, where she has headed up the kitchen since New Year’s Eve of 2001. With her new restaurant, Poole’s Downtown Diner, receiving accolades and taking up the vast majority of her time, Christensen felt it was appropriate to focus all of her efforts into her young establishment, and her last day at Vin was July 31st. “Vin is in great hands,” Christensen stated earlier today, referring to Brian O’Hara, who will take over Vin’s kitchen at least in the short term. “He has the same cooking philosophy as me, and I don’t expect there to be much of a change in Vin’s style.” Christensen’s departure from Vin was completely amicable and certainly was no surprise to me, and I doubt it was a surprise to Chrish Peel, Vin’s co-owner. She has hardly cooked at Vin lately, spending almost all of her time at Poole’s, and Vin has repeatedly promoted Poole’s in email blasts sent to their customers. Frankly, this is the best of both worlds, when a place like Vin recognizes how much a chef like Christensen has meant to its operations, but also recognizes that ending a relationship can be a positive experience for restaurant and chef. Seeing that I saw Chrish Peel at Poole’s on its opening night, I suspect he’s pretty damn proud of Ashley, just as he is of Lantern’s Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill, Vin’s original chef.
And speaking of proud, we in Raleigh should also be so with the Bon Appetit article. We have in our own town a top-notch chef, someone who flat out knows how to cook. Christensen may be a friend, but my friendship doesn’t make her food taste any better, nor does it give her the recognition she’s receiving all across the country. Christensen has cooked at the Beard House, been featured in Food & Wine, will be cooking at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium in October, and is quite simply one of the best damn chefs around. She may not do culinary acrobatics, but her food just always tastes great. My buddy Brooks always says the sign of a great chef is his or her ability to roast a chicken perfectly, and Ashley Christensen pulls more flavor out of a chicken than anyone I know.
Fortunately, by having more time to focus on Poole’s exclusively, Christensen will be initiating a novel Tuesday night dinner series in the early Fall. Featuring a prix fixe menu, Christensen intends to introduce new items to the menu and to break away with different ideas during these Tuesday meals. Heck, Poole’s will even take reservations on these nights.
Women chefs have it tough, as it’s a dog-eat-dog, testosterone-laden profession, and Ashley Christensen has persevered to the point where she’s getting recognized not only by us, her customers, but by the national media. We’re really quite lucky to have such a kick-ass chef running her own restaurant, following her own rules, and now the world knows it, too. I guess the world will just have to come to Raleigh.