August 26, 2016
Chef Ashley Boyd is a rare Charlotte native in the forefront of the budding pastry scene in the Queen City. She’s also playing a key role in her family’s restaurant, 300 East. In a city with so many new inhabitants and businesses popping up everyday it’s not often you find a place with such a rich history. 300 East will celebrate 31 years of business in February of next year. What started out as a single-family house turned into apartments, was finally gutted for the restaurant in 1986, when it was founded by Boyd’s mother at the age of 34. It’s uniquely outfitted to feel like a home and serves as a staple in Charlotte’s food culture.
In the beginning, Boyd started working in the restaurant at 13 as a way to make some extra money. It was not until she went to college in Chicago that her interest in the culinary arts grew: “I got a job at a restaurant in Chicago and never looked back.” It was at a Brazilian steakhouse that her love for pastries blossomed. She gained interest in watching the pastry chef, even coming in on her days off to learn more.
She has not stopped learning or baking since. Boyd finds a lot of inspiration by stepping into a friend’s kitchen and getting a “fresh infusion of knowledge.” The pastry culture in Charlotte is very collaborative. Many are learning and supporting each other as the scene begins to grow more than ever before. Her dishes introduce a myriad of flavors– mixing fig and toasted almond with balsamic in one dish and peach, miso, and caramel marbled in a vanilla ice cream in another. She excels at incorporating local fruits like muscadine grapes. Recent trends have indicated a movement in sweets to give more depth of flavor by incorporating salty, vinegar, savory, or bitter ingredients.
One of the biggest changes she has seen in the Charlotte pastry scene is more people not only ordering dessert but also wanting a larger variety of options. Up until now there haven’t been a lot of pastry chefs branching out from the six classic desserts that restaurants typically offer. Most restaurant patrons have been very happy with something simple like a brownie or a cobbler. But now, with the economy doing fairly well and any millennial with an Instagram claiming to be a foodie, many are eating outside the lines. In addition, events like the Queen’s Feast (i.e. Charlotte Restaurant Week) are helping to promote desserts.
A factor that’s helped with the rising popularity in desserts at 300 East is the staff. Being the biggest fans of the desserts, they genuinely push the dessert out of love. They have a buy-in to what is served, but they also have a buy-in to the restaurant as a whole. Mostly from her mother’s lead, Chef Ashley and the entire 300 East team do everything their own way. Far from the environment of a corporate business, the investment from the staff is demonstrated in many ways from the moment one walks through the doors of the restaurant. It’s not an easy job; the place gets busy, lots of volume is moved, and in a restaurant there are a number of things that can go wrong at any given time. But at place like 300 East, the love all the staff members share for the place keep them around.
Boyd confidently believes that the Charlotte pastry scene is getting ready to explode. She attributes the upcoming pastry eruption to a huge cultural fermentation happening in Charlotte. Creative work from all areas is spilling into the culinary world. The connectivity brought on by social media outlets like Instagram and knowledge sharing between other cities has inspired more pastry chefs to try new things and get themselves out there. And she’s doing just that. While helping with her family’s business, Chef Ashley continues to learn and create new combinations of flavors, all while managing to help raise her own family. She is currently working as a pastry chef at both 300 East and Heritage Food & Drink with Chef Paul Verica, who she recently cooked with at the prestigious James Beard House in April. Boyd is also staying involved in many community events, offering her knowledge and expertise in the sweetest way possible; by creating innovative and delectable desserts.
More photos from our visit with Chef Ashley Boyd: