I’m Ashley Abodeely, Executive Chef at the NoMad Hotel London and this is my story:
The first buzzwords that describe my job as a chef are exhilarating, the respect for the product, education and growing with the times.
I started my journey when I was 16 years old. I didn’t come from a chef’s or restaurant family, but I was taught to be hardworking, dedicated, caring and to treat people respectfully. I saw something in that when I was in high school and cooked in my culinary program. An opportunity presented itself and I got to go to the Culinary Institute of America, which helped me build the foundation of why people are chefs. I cook because I love everything revolving around food: eating it, feeding people, watching their reactions, the nostalgia and the excitement you get through these stories.
In my early career, I was working in fine dining in Boston for years and thought that I was at the top of my game. New York City was one of those places that was like a distant stranger, where it was so close but so far and intimidating to the city of Boston, which is small in the food scene. I dared to move, where I then worked in fine dining at 11 Madison Park and had to start over as I was a sous chef in Boston and moved back to being a cook in Michelin. There I got my butt kicked, kicked some butt and loved it. I really honed where I wanted to go as a chef and wanted to learn more about the precision, accuracy, detail and elegance of it.
The Sydell Group, which I was working for, approached me, as they were opening their first NoMad Hotel. A similar concept with softer edges and focus on making it more approachable for people. I loved what I was doing, but guests only came in for special occasions, so I loved that I could let my people discover this ingredient focused and technically challenging food. I dove headfirst and I have not looked back.
I am blessed to have worked with a lot of amazing chefs and people from the bottom until now and learning about their management style, how they run kitchens, how they see things without even seeing it, tasting things and getting that detail. I absorbed it all and created my own management style: Michelin foundation, but a softer approach to things. I put my team above everything else as it is about culture and morale. A focal point is the collaboration with the food. I run the restaurant at the NoMad but ask my team to collaborate on dishes to give their viewpoint on the style of the food. Everybody should have that connection to the foods as it comes full circle when the guests eats it and you get great feedback. This can fill up your tank and make you feel like part of the entire team.
I am a much different chef now than I was 10 years ago and 100% the times have changed. For instance, the struggle with staffing is real and we have a team of people that do whatever it takes, support each other no matter what and I really stand behind them as well as appreciate that. But their work life balance is important, if they need something in their personal life, we make sure it happens.
Moving around has been one of my highlights of my life: to see different cultures. This is the most diverse kitchen I’ve ever worked in by far. I’m the minority as we have a handful of Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Hungarians, and the energy they all bring is electric. I love the drive, sensitivity, passion and the concentration of cultures in one spot. Side Hustle was inspired by my time living in Los Angeles, where I developed a love for Southern Californian cuisine. When we first opened, staff from Mexico helped me develop some of those recipes to stay true to their origins, but we put that spin on it that made it more seasonal. And it made it feel a little more like Nomad, to collaborate in the kitchen and make sure everyone had a voice.
Every NoMad we open, we reflect on the terroir that we are located at and use the seasonal products. Most of our fish and meat come from Cornwall or Scotland where the waters are nice and fresh. I don’t stop moving in my day as I run around and taste everything to make sure the quality is there. I have the team make sure that they are tasting things with each other as well. If something is not correct, we identify it, fix it, move on and keep going. The team is incredibly well rounded as they lean and support each other.
Chefs are in kitchens 12 to 14 hours every day and cook throughout the whole day, go home, go to sleep, do it again and never get that viewpoint of how their food is being received. In LA, I was working in a food truck based on the NoMad Bar in NYC for a year and a half. There, I had that ability to cook the food, hand it the customer and see their reactions while eating it. It was so rewarding, took me aback and justified why I’m doing this. Now, I’ll sometimes bring some team mates out to the dining room so they can see people interacting and eating as that one wow moment can be gratifying to someone who worked 60 hours in a week.
For any young woman wanting to be a chef, here are my takeaways: be patient and flexible. You are going to get knocked down in your time but stay true to who you are and what you believe. You are going to learn to stand strong, your step will persevere and get you far. If you let someone crush your spirits, you are never going to get back up. So, believe, stay true to yourself and constantly push forward!
If I could change anything in the industry honestly, I want there to be more female chefs that speak up. In LA for instance, there are so many women that work together in a very small way. I know that the power we can bring and make change for this industry is huge. We just have to stick together, lean on each other and power through!”