"I always wanted to cook," shares Ashley Eddie, the newest executive chef of Major Food Group's Santina. At the end of May, Eddie became the first woman at the helm of the restaurant group's empire of establishments.
Like lots of people who have fallen in love with food, Eddie's interest was sparked while cooking with her grandmother. The Brooklyn native was the child of a single parent, and as a result ended up having to do a lot of cooking for herself at a young age. "I got a lot of practice that way and I kind of fell in love with it," she says.
During high school, she wasn't really sure what she wanted to do with her life, and the thought of turning food into a career wasn't on her radar. "Somehow that didn't occur to me," she shares anecdotally. But that all changed when she came across a brochure for a culinary school. Upon being presented with this option, she recalls thinking, "I can do this. It can totally be my life."
Eddie enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to pursue a culinary education, but only lasted nine months due to homesickness. She returned to New York City and worked as a line cook at Ellabess and Acme.
She later joined of the opening team of Santina as a line cook, and over the past three years has climbed the ranks to executive chef. "We are proud to...provide her with the ultimate stage for culinary creativity," says Major Food Group managing partner/chef Mario Carbone. "From the very start, we saw chef Ashley’s enormous leadership potential." Eddie seems excited by the opportunity at the Amalfi Coast-inspired restaurant. "I didn't think that it would happen that fast, but it's pretty great," she shares.
The young chef is already making her mark on the restaurant's menu with dishes such as a Neapolitan-style eggplant Parmigiana and spicy lobster pasta. "One of my favorite things to do is to create dishes that I like from things that I wouldn't typically eat," she says, citing eggplant and lobster as two examples. In general, "My philosophy is to respect what I'm working with—to respect the food."
Though it's been a few short months since assuming the role of executive chef, Eddie has already grown. One of the biggest lessons she's learned thus far is that you can't take things too personally. Despite wanting to satisfy both diners and staff, she's learned that some might not understand her choices and everyone can't always be pleased.
Looking ahead, "I hope to help some of my chefs get to where I am, grow them so that I can go on to do more things in the company." She may even go on to open something of her own one day. Though the future may be slightly uncertain, one thing Eddie does know is that she's never not going to be a chef.
What advice does she have for others looking to follow in her footsteps? "You really have to want it." Eddie shares that you need to know what you're getting into and need to be dedicated to the craft. "You have to make a lot of sacrifices, but if it's what you want then it should be easy."