Female chef of modern Southern cuisine wins top US prize
Ashley Christensen wins top honours on biggest night for US restaurant industry
Chef Ashley Christensen, who transformed a luncheonette into a modern diner that serves her unique vision of Southern cuisine, was named America's top chef by the James Beard Foundation on Monday, the biggest night for the US restaurant industry.
Poole's Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, which opened in 2007, has lineage. It is where Mr John Poole opened his pie shop in 1945 and later evolved into a lunch spot.
Chef Christensen, 42, serves macaroni and cheese and other Southern comfort foods infused with her use of local, seasonal ingredients and French cooking techniques. Diners at Poole's can also eat while seated on chrome barstools at a double horseshoe counter. The menu, which changes almost daily, is written on blackboards.
Chef Christensen is the seventh woman to nab the Outstanding Chef honour from the foundation, which established awards for US chefs, restaurants and food writers in 1990.
"Life is rich and full. Don't forget kindness, and we'll see you on the dance floor tonight," she said in her acceptance speech.
The 42-year-old has opened a number of other restaurants in Raleigh, including a burger joint called Chuck's and Beasley's Chicken + Honey that serves fried chicken and chicken pot pies.
To address criticism about the lack of diversity of its award recipients, the foundation last year directed its awards committees to raise diversity in their judges and ranks.
Modern US Southern cooking was also recognised, with the Outstanding Pastry Chef prize going to Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans.
This year's other top awards recognised achievements in other cuisines across the US.
Philadelphia's Zahav, which has been praised for its modern Israeli dishes, was named top US restaurant.
Its chef and co-owner Michael Solomonov won the foundation's top chef award two years ago.
The foundation also cited Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz for their restaurants in Chicago as Outstanding Restaurateurs.
Frenchette, a French brasserie located in New York, was named the year's Best New Restaurant.
Publican Quality Bread's Greg Wade in Chicago was cited Outstanding Baker, while Kwame Onwuachi of Kith and Kin in Washington was awarded the Rising Star Chef honour.