The Society for News Design is excited to announce that chef Ashley Boyd is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.
Boyd is a Charlotte native who’s been working in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years, with a specialty in desserts. Boyd splits her time between 300 East and Heritage Food & Drink where she’s been working alongside Chef Paul Verica for a little over a year now.
SND.org’s Greicy Mella chatted with Boyd about her fine arts background, how she constructs new desserts and where she finds inspiration.
YOU’RE DEEMED AS ONE OF THE MOST CREATIVE CHEFS IN THE CHARLOTTE AREA. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? I think I come at it from a different perspective, I have less classical training, and I come at the plate thinking of how to combine flavors and what are the different ways I can get them on the plate. It’s sort of painting with flavors in a way.
YOU HAVE A BACKGROUND IN FINE ARTS. HOW DOES THAT INFLUENCE YOUR WORK? I think it definitely influences how I work. I approach [dessert] in the same way I did a painting, a sculpture, or a performance piece. I’ll get a piece of an idea, whether it’s a design or two flavors that go together, and I’ll start from there. Then I pull in different elements to complete the picture.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? It usually comes from something one of our farmers is growing. Over the last 10 years in Charlotte, a more farm-centric movement has taken fold and people are focused on buying local produce. As a product of that, we have so many new things to work with every year. There’s always something that I haven’t seen that someone brings to market, which is about 95% of what inspires me.
DO YOU STAY SEASONAL AS WELL? I have the luxury of having two different platforms in my work. Paul is definitely more committed to seasonality and has certain parameters I stay within when I’m there, which is a really good exercise focus-wise. For example, [Paul] doesn’t use any pineapples or avocados in his restaurant because they don’t grow around Charlotte.
Whereas at 300 East, we have a commitment of sourcing locally only a percentage of what we buy. I do get to use pineapples and avocados because we are also sourcing from other places.
TELL ME A BIT ABOUT SOUTH PARK MAGAZINE’S ANNUAL POTLUCK FROM 2016, “LAS MUJERES.” South Park Magazine does a potluck every year, and this year they focused solely on women for the first time. I was invited to participate, which was an honor. I learned a lot from listening to everyone speak. It was a great sharing of information and viewpoints, and I came away enriched.
DO YOU THINK COMMUNITY PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DO YOU BUILD COMMUNITY THROUGH FOOD? I think it’s essential, and I would say that it is the single most important driving force in the development of my work as a chef. A few years back, a very small group of chefs in Charlotte started the Piedmont Culinary Guild and an instant community was born from that point. This group started drawing in other Charlotte chefs, farmers, educators, food artisans. … Charlotte’s food scene as a whole grew because it benefitted so much from having that group come together.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE COOKING AT THE JAMES BEARD HOUSE EARLIER THIS YEAR? It was a great day. It’s funny because so many little things went wrong that could have been really bad, but we kept overcoming one thing after next, which at the end of the day made for a great story. And I will always have a bond with the guys that I got to cook with. It was awesome.
HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE HARMONY AND BALANCE WHEN DESIGNING A NEW DESSERT? I start with a flavor combination. I like to have a focal point. I’ll use a special we ran at 300 East as an example. My focal point was lemon, and my flavor combination for lemon was fennel and dill. From there, I think about texture next: How can I put different textures on the plate? So, I made a lemon ricotta ice cream with a sponge cake, as well as a lemon melt crumble for crunch and then some crispy meringue.
Finally, I accent with the dill and fennel. That’s when I bring in my color. I used a dill gel that’s bright green as well as a lemon dill curd gel that’s a more yellow green. I also always try to have something fresh on the plate because that’s what I want at the end of a meal.
And then as far as keeping balance, I try to make sure to balance the sweet with salt to bring out the actual flavors in the dish rather than have your palate be overwhelmed by sweet. I don’t make a dessert without salt, because when you have it, you can taste the flavors better.
About SND Charlotte
• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center