Chef Ashbell McElveen was born into a South Carolina family that thought good food was a birthright. With his father, mother, and aunts as teachers, McElveen learned classic low country and other southern cooking styles, traditional smoking and curing of meats, barbecue, and even the making of bourbon and moonshine. Uncovering the roots of southern American foodways and the preservation of his and other families’ treasured recipes is both his mission and his passion.
At age 19, Chef Ashbell went to France for a year of academic study. Hungry for hands-on experience in the kitchens of Paris, he stayed an extra year working in restaurants, learning French regional cookery. After completing his undergraduate study in the U.S.A., Chef Ashbell promptly returned to France. He attended La Sorbonne during the academic year and spent summers working in more restaurants, including Haynes, Paris’ famous soul food restaurant started by Leroy Haynes.
In the 1990’s “Chef Ashbell,” the TV personality was born. Chef Ashbell became a regular on WNBC’s Weekend Today Show with Matt Lauer, where he cooked the foods of New York City’s melting pot. In 2003 Chef Ashbell became the only American chef invited to open a cafe in a British Royal Park. The Toyo Ito-designed pavilion for the Serpintine Gallery opened in Hyde Park in summer 2003. Later that year Chef Ashbell opened the eponymous Ashbell’s restaurant in Notting Hill, serving American southern regional cuisine. Chef Ashbell became a regular contributor on BBC’s Good Food Live. In 2012, he started the Real Soul Food Company to topple the narrow and negative depiction of “soul food” by producing innovative, high-quality and healthy products.
Chef Ashbell created the James Hemings Foundation in 2014 to study, document, educate, and preserve African Americans’ contributions to American iconic food and drink.