Ashley Christensen — Ingredient Maker

Photo: Elizabeth Galecke

Photo: Elizabeth Galecke

I love Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Downtown Diner.

No, not in the biblical or romantic sense, but anyone who has ever read this blog knows I’m one of her biggest fans.  Yes, she’s a good friend, and I probably wouldn’t say a bad thing about her even if there was a bad thing to say (and fortunately, there’s not).  But I rave about her cooking for two reasons: First, she can flat out cook.  Second, she makes her own ingredients.

Say what?

Ashley makes her own butter.  And, of course, her own buttermilk, as a result.  She cures and smokes her own bacon.  Want some mozzarella from Poole’s?  No problem, as it’s made in-house.   There might be more things she makes, but this is what I know of.  Hell, if she had the space, she’d probably start dry-aging her own beef.  What’s that?  She’s about to serve dry-aged beef?  Ah, but she’s not doing it herself — she just got someone to do it custom-style for her off-premises.   What a slacker.

Now there may be other chefs out there who have this much passion for food, this much dedication to the craft.  But I don’t know of anyone in the area making all of these types of things.  Please let me know who they are, because I’ll go eat there right away.  I understand that it’s not necessarily passion that prevents chefs from making their own ingredients.  It might be time, as the daily rigor of running a restaurant doesn’t allow one to make so many different things.  They might do one or two, like baking their own bread.  Or they might dabble in charcuterie.  And there’s a fantastic trend of restaurants having their own gardens, like Herons and, to some extent, Zely & Ritz.  But these are the exceptions, and there’s a difference between growing and making.  On the other hand, many chefs  feel that they can’t improve on some of the fantastic artisanal products made locally.   Ashley, however,  is willing to try, to experiment, to dare to be proven wrong.

Take her bacon (and in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say she recently surprised me with a gift of a beautiful slab to try).  She cures it with sorghum and then smokes it with black cherry.  Yes, not run-of-the-mill cherry, but black cherry.   She uses it with her green beans.  The Best Green Beans I’ve Ever Eaten In My Life.  I cooked up some of that bacon for breakfast on Sunday, had it for lunch in a BLT,  and I’m now craving more.

Noted food writer John T. Edge called Ashley Christensen a culinary rock star.  Her dish of catfish rumaki at least year’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium was the talk of the meeting.  She’s cooked at the Beard House, and I would be stunned if she isn’t on the short list for a Beard Award next year.  And her restaurant is in Raleigh.  My Raleigh.  And your Raleigh, too, so get your ass to Poole’s.  And try the butter.  I hear it’s really fresh.

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9 Responses to Ashley Christensen — Ingredient Maker

  1. DonRocks says:

    She is awesome.

  2. dmccall says:

    Ashley works her butt off, and I really admire that about her.

  3. David Williams says:

    I have only been to Poole’s once, it was a fantastic meal. I need to get there again, SOON!

  4. Christian Staples says:

    How coincidental that you and I both chose to post on Poole’s this week. It truly is an amazing place and yes, she can flat out cook as you say. I think what amazes me is that the quality of the food has not declined since it opened. So many places lose their touch over time, and Poole’s clearly is not one of those places. I’ll be sure to ask for some homemade butter next time I go.

  5. Christian Staples says:

    Oh and by the way, I had a great time at Band Together – it was nice to see two lawyers (you and Tom Lyon) so closely affiliated with a project like that. The Rosebuds and Rusted Root totally rocked.

  6. scott martin says:

    foursquare in durham has 2 different restaurant gardens, 50 tomato plants and heirloom melons, beets, broccoli, field and pole beans. cure in house charcuterie, including bacon, in house pickles, burrata etc. maybe im just parshal cause i work there!

  7. David Williams says:

    I have been a member of Slow Food for about 10 years. There used to be Slow Food events in Raleigh as well as Durham and Chapel Hill. The events seem to be shifting farther west. I think it has been several years since there has been a Raleigh event. Is there any interest in getting Slow Food more active in Raleigh / Wake County?

  8. chops says:

    Piedmont does pretty much everything in house as well, but not butter.

  9. Tom Whitt says:

    I’m a huge fan of Ashley’s and Poole’s, and I live in Richmond, VA. I’m looking forward to my next visit to Raleigh so I can use my $100 gift check from Poole’s! The only question is, brunch or dinner!!???! They are both awesome! Raleigh’s best IMHO.

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