Sustaining a burgeoning food scene requires, among other things, a diverse talent pool. Thankfully, Little Rock has a few fresh faces stepping up to the plate. This series aims to introduce up-and-coming chefs and find out what makes them tick.
Although born and raised in Little Rock, Lost Forty Brewing’s Cash Ashley spent most of his younger summers in Kentucky on his grandparents farm.
“I remember my grandfather getting up, and first things first, cooking us all breakfast,” he says. Even early on, before Ashley even knew that cooking was in his future, he was already sold on breakfast.
“I’ve always been a fan of eating, and that person that’s willing to try new food,” he says. Even so, it wasn’t until his time at UALR that Ashley fell into the food industry, and began working at Casey’s Bar-B-Q. “I started out washing dishes, but soon I was working the cash register and eventually filled in on the line,” he says.
From there, he happened to connect with Kathy Webb, who was campaigning at the time. Shortly after Ashley found himself working at Lily’s Dim Sum Then Some, a job which he would continue on and off for the remainder of his time in college. Even later on, Webb continued and continues to stay in contact with Ashley, and was responsible for connecting him to the Cooking Matters program, an offshoot of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
To this day Ashely works to teach a course as often as his time allows.
“My plan was to coach and teach when I graduated,” he says, “but I stayed in the restaurant game because I realized I could do those things and so much more.”
“Working under Jack Sundell at the Root and Sonia Schaefer at Boulevard really helped me develop my skills,” he says.
Along that vein, Scott McGehee was influential in steering Cash to Lost Forty.
“Scott had posted a photo from the Lost Forty space which wasn’t open at the time, so I messaged him and told him I’d love to come down to the space and cook with him,” he explained. A few days later Ashley ended up at Local Lime, and shortly after, at Lost Forty.
Initially the plan was to rotate the load between three cooks, and there was even talk of free time. “They made it sound like it would likely be slow at the beginning, and that we’d be doing a little bit of everything, including slinging beers,” he says.
Soon afterwards, however, the team had to rearrange and prepare to be a full-on restaurant alongside the beer production. Since opening, Lost Forty has undergone a lot of changes, food-wise. And Ashley has worked to change along with it, from working his way to cook to kitchen manager. “Our beer alone makes us a destination, but I like to think the food has also risen to the occasion,” he says. “Plus, there’s always a new thing to do – they definitely keep me on my toes.”
Throughout his time at the brewery, Ashley has been sharpening his skills, as he hopes to open a restaurant one day. “We all fill in down here, and the past two years have definitely been the most well-rounded experience I could have asked for,” he explains, “they take very good care of me.”
Besides constantly working on recipe development, Ashley says he’s learned how to properly manage people and work as a leader, especially from John Beachboard. “John has taught me how to be a coach, how to train people, and be a true delegator,” he says.
And although Ashley is more of a whiskey drinker than beer drinker, he’s enjoyed working up food and beer pairings. Sometimes on a particularly hyped-up Fresh-Cut Monday, he’ll work out a fun pop-up special.
“They’ve really given me free rein to be creative as possible as often as possible,” he says.
The highlight of his job, though, goes back to those summers spent in Kentucky and revolves around – you guessed it – brunch.
“Sundays used to be slow. So we started out slow with one or two brunch items, before we eventually added a special menu,” he remembers.
It was six months ago when the idea was kicked around for an all-day Sunday brunch. “It was Amber’s idea initially to roll with that for the New Year,” explains Ashley, “and we’ve really been nailing it lately.”
It can be a huge challenge to feed the large crowds that now flock to brunch on Sundays, but Ashley enjoys getting his hands dirty and working with his team on the line. Plus, since the introduction of all-day brunch, he’s noticed a few fellow industry people come down after they’ve finished their own service, and he couldn’t be happier.
When he has time to explore his own favorite eateries, you’re likely to find Cash at The Root, Bossa Nova, or La Hacienda, among others.
Besides a brief stint living in Memphis, Ashley has lived in Rock City all of his life, and he’s blown away by the current state of things. “I’m super pleased with our food scene – it’s exploded in such a great way. … You don’t have to go to a bigger city to get good food.”
If anything, he can’t wait to see it continue to expand. “I think part of it is awareness, and people getting outside of their comfort zones,” he explains.
There’s no doubt about it, as Rock City’s food grows, Ashley will be involved. He’s definitely found his niche as he says, “I like to make people happy through food. And I’m so glad I get to do that every day.”