Lime interview - Eating & Drinking
A BRIMFUL OF ASHBELL
EDITOR - Vernia Mengot
US BBQ King Ashbell McElveen officially opened Soulful Sundays at Brasa on October 9th 2011.
In commemoration for the opening; Lime magazine caught up with the award-winning chef to talk about how his food is influenced by history and how he combines his love for travel around the globe in his recipes
Soulful Sunday’s has been created by King Ashbell so diners can experience traditional southern delicacies mixed with a culinary twist. He joined the kitchen at Brasa and devised two menus comprising of brunch and supper recipes.
What is it about Soulful Sundays that is so different and unique?
Well it is this whole concept of global soul. Literally soul and soul food is a term that came from James Brown “I’m black and I’m proud.” For me it is wrapping up American soul and marrying it with global soul. I think the restaurant scene is a bit poncy and fake. On a Sunday you’ll get the same thing in every pub, so people can’t choose a selection.
Where did you draw your inspiration from when you created the menu?
When I created the menu I was thinking about the food I grew up with and how good it was and all the flavour, how we knew the farmer that grew the food, and who cooked the food. I tried to bring some of that back to table, so I can tell you where everything you’re served comes from.
In the peach cobbler the American southern biscuits used are influenced by the English scone and Irish soda bread. It’s soft and flakey and not hard like a cracker. We use it for savoury or for sweet.
Had becoming a chef been a passion of yours from a young age?
Cooking is my God’s gift. I have a master’s degree in psychology. With cooking, I grew up in a family where there’s always good food. There were not a lot of restaurants, so people created functions and dinner parties at home. Events were catered in the south by someone, where someone in my family did the cooking, for like the congressmen and senators. My family has a long history of professional chefs and whiskey makers. My father was a masterful cook; he and my grandfather taught me how to make whisky. I’m marketing my own whisky here; it’s a white whisky that’ll be coming out next year.
Tell us about one of the best meals you’ve ever had?
Well the best French meal was cooked for me by a bare foot Haitian woman in Porto Prince. She couldn’t speak French; only spoke Creole so that was the best French meal I’ve ever had.
What is your signature dish?
The bourbon smoked turkey thigh. The bourbon is secure in the marinade and the turkey is smoked which is not a process that anybody does here.
You have travelled around the world a lot, where are some of the unforgettable places that you have visited?
I’ve travelled to Thailand, Vietnam, Madagascar, West and East Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the Americas and Canada. When I was a student in France, Paris was the best place to study from. You could go to India on the bus; it cost the equivalent of £27. It didn’t matter that it broke down 10 or 15 times, we just kept going.
When you’re not in the kitchen...
I love music; I love art, architecture and design. I have my hand at making furniture.
Where do you like to dine when you’re in London?
I live with an Asian family from East Africa, from Nairobi. I’m thrilled as I get to eat incredible food. When I like to have a nice meal, there is a Chinese restaurant in Chiswick that make incredible dim sum. Everything is done very fresh and I love it; so my treat is to go in and sit down. I prefer food with lots of flavour and I like to put flavour in food.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a top chef?
First learn as much of you can from the best cooks from your family. There are one or two people in everyone’s family that cook. You learn all the restaurant rubbish once you go to culinary school. That’s why you go to all the restaurants that look great but the food isn’t that great. Learn from your family, the recipes from your family are going to have flavour.
What does cooking mean to you?
I’m excited to create things, but with cooking it has always been a God’s gift that I can put dishes and tastes together. I don’t relax in the kitchen. People ask “what are you making for dinner?” and I say “reservations.” But I love creating dishes. The chore part and the prepping, washing up I’m not interested in. When you’re a senior chef you don’t have to do all of that.
THE COMMUNITY ISSUE
When was the last time you did something for the community?
When I first came to the UK, I started supporting the local dance company in Notting Hill that had a programme for children and young adults; we created a bunch of fundraising events and raised £20,000. Because I’ve been doing so much work with the arts and community I’m a board member of the carnival village. It’s the organisation that supports black people owning the carnival.