An Experience to Relish
Special from the Watauga Democrat
With a British accent and an eloquent sense of humor, celebrity chef Jon Ashton is not the kind of guy who hides out in a kitchen.
“It’s a passion, it really is,” he said, donning his signature blue chef’s jacket.
A kitchen, Ashton said, isn’t a hiding place, and cooking isn’t a chore. It’s an art form, and he’s full of tips to help anyone discover his or her inner artist.
“Keep it simple,” he said.
Ashton brought advice and a peppy demeanor to Boone Tuesday, all to promote the Relish Cooking Show happening Nov.5, an occasion the Liverpool, England, native promises will be “smashing.”
“The goal is to inspire people to get their stuff from the local grocery store,” he said. “People have busy lives, and we can’t be driving to New York to get ingredients.”
It’s a show he’s brought across the country from state to state, a family friendly event aimed at instilling kitchen confidence in domestic chefs everywhere.
The key to cooking, he said, is attitude.
“Enter with a positive outlook,” he said, “knowing you’re going to come out with something good.”
Play with the five taste buds, he said. “If you make something too sour and you put a sweetness to it, it will help balance it out,” he said.
And never be afraid to make mistakes. They happen, and even a burned piece of fish can likely be salvaged.
“Just slice the burn off,” he said, “and try again.”
The November cooking demonstration utilizes food from Earth Fare, to the great excitement of Earth Fare community relations coordinator Tara Stollenmaier.
“What makes us different is our food philosophy,” she said. “We ban ingredients from our store.”
Banned ingredients include artificial preservatives, flavors and bleached or bromated flour.
“What’s the point of exercising if you’re not going to put nice things in your body?” she said.
It’s a philosophy that matches Ashton’s emphasis on simple, accessible ingredients.
Simplicity, Ashton said, doesn’t have to limit your options. Once you’ve learned the basics, experimentation is endless.
“Never strait-jacket that,” he said. “If you want it spicy, add some chili, some cayenne pepper. … The only time you really have to be a bit more strict is if you’re baking goods. It’s a bit more scientific ratio.”
Ashton, who claims to “cook with one leg in the professional kitchen and one leg in the domestic kitchen,” has known his life’s passion since the age of 14.
He can still remember making Julia Child-inspired soufflés with coffee cups for his mother.
“Low and behold, my mom just looked at me and said, ‘This is good,’” he said. “I said, ‘This is what I’m meant to do.’”
And he’s been doing it, and not just in his own kitchen. Ashton’s culinary demonstrations have been featured on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The TODAY Show,” and he serves as food correspondent for “The Daily Buzz,” as well as his position as executive chef for Relish Magazine.
November will mark Ashton’s High Country debut, and he’s excited to bring Relish to Boone.
“You guys are going to love the show,” he said. “It’s smashing, you know. A lot of people think it’s just cooking. It’s not. It’s the community. You get people on stage. You’ve never met them before, and you just laugh and you learn.”
And a VIP ticket gets you backstage where you’ll have an opportunity to ask Ashton anything. He’s a walking encyclopedia of cooking tips from watermelon (“You can grill that, you know,” he said. “Just leave it on a while or it will stick.”) to oatmeal (“You know, if you roast it beforehand, it’s just like toasting bread,” he said. “The flavors are completely different.”), he has a tip for everything.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s absolutely beautiful. I flew into Tri-Cities Airport, and I drove up the mountain and just seeing the colors of the trees, it was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.”
And he can’t wait to be back.
“The whole thing is pretty exciting to me,” Mountain Times Publications publisher Gene Fowler said. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
It’s a treat he hopes the High Country will embrace.
The show brings Relish, the nation’s largest food magazine, to life on-stage for a two-hour experience that will have folks sautéing, dredging, tossing, folding and whipping up culinary magic.
The MTP-sponsored show happens Saturday, Nov. 5, at 5 p.m. at the Watauga High School auditorium (300 Go Pioneers Drive). Call (828) 264-3612 for ticket information. VIP tickets are available.