During the beginning of her career, Amanda Leigh Ivy didn’t want to be known as a baker, she wanted to be known as a chef who could hold her own.
The Mississippi native needn’t have worried too much, as these days she serves as the Sous Chef of the newly opened 1836 Club. The journey wasn’t easy, however, nor direct. If you ask her how and why she chose a chef’s life, you’ll want to settle in for a good story.
It started in California, her home of 25 years. After trying college and joining the army, she had her eyes set on the skies.
“I actually flew airplanes for a living,” she laughs, “It’s really one of the greatest things that I’ve done – I’m so glad that I’ve done it, … but I think that I was just starting to feel that I really wanted to do something that I was passionate about.”
That’s when she knew she would try to pursue culinary school, although initially she hadn’t planned on moving across the country to do so. But after meeting Kyle, her now-husband, she took a leap of faith and made the move.
Nothing short of culture shock greeted her during those first few months. Part of it was not knowing all the local haunts, and another part was feeling like she wasn’t as involved as she’d like to be. “That was really one of the biggest motivating factors of getting to know people in the beginning – was that I just wanted to know where the good spots where the locals went for things were,” she laughs.
After doing some research she enrolled in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute with Pulaski Tech. She beasted through in a matter of two years – all the while working, sleeping very little, and waiting for her husband to return from a deployment overseas.
“I was just bound and determined,” she says, “I didn’t have that [previous kitchen] experience, so I really wanted to make sure that I was pushing as hard ads I could to make sure I could get in there.”
As a student, Ivy was a baker. She has only recently moved back to that, however, and a lot of that has to do with the perception of the trade. She says, “I didn’t want to be seen as a girl and a baker … if you see a girl and she makes cupcakes or cookies, then people think, ‘Oh, ok, she’s doing the girl thing, while the boys are over tending to the fire.”
Even so, Ivy gained experience across the board. Part of the problem an upcoming chef faces, says Ivy, is finding established chefs willing to truly teach the craft, partly due to a fear of training the future competition. Luckily she had great mentors along the way, and was able to serve an apprenticeship with Justin Patterson of Southern Gourmasian during her last year of school.
“He’s a very incredibly good human being,” she says. “There was really nothing that I couldn’t ask him that he wouldn’t teach me.”
After finishing up with Patterson, Ivy worked with Yellow Rocket concepts as a kitchen manager for Big Orange, and also helped open Heights Taco & Tamale Co. She learned a variety of valuable skills, as she says, “Working with Yellow Rock taught me everything I needed to know about volume. I got to help write the menus for Heights Taco & Tamale with Ben Brainard and Scott McGehee, and I learned a ton about flavor profiles – real in-depth stuff.”
At the end of that juncture, however, she needed a change in pace. She was able to sign on with Good Food By Ferneau during the last eight months of the restaurant’s run. It was bittersweet to see the business close, but she knew at the time that she would be involved with Ferneau’s next step.
“I knew what was happening and that was hard because I couldn’t say anything, but, it was a relief knowing that even though the business was closing the band didn’t have break up,” she says.
She’s more than proven herself capable across a variety of cooking fields, and thanks to encouragements from her boss and friend Donnie Ferneau, she’s decided to embrace her baking side. You can currently find her desserts at Skye’s Little Bistro, The Fold, and Raduno Brick Oven & Barroom. (Pro tip: try the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding.)
Embracing her baking side has been a great move for Ivy as she’s able to open up creatively – especially when her clients let her choose the desserts. To that note – Ivy wants to see more women in the industry.
She says, “I’m definitely a big supporter of women in the kitchen. We’ve got Sammy Cyz in the 1836 Kitchen right now and I’Il teach that girl anything that I can – I know Donnie feels the same way about it. …I want to empower any young woman that is ready to step up and call herself a chef.”
Currently, she loves the pace of her job. The menu stays relatively small at the Club, but boasts of plenty of specials, which often Ivy gets to have a hand in. “There’s probably nothing better to a young chef than getting an item on the menu – getting your dish out there,” she says.
“We’re like family up there. I get to work with my best friends day in and out,” she says. Plus, everyone in the kitchen tries to keep healthy – which is important for Ivy who is a marathon runner.
For someone who stepped into the Little Rock scene as it was taking off, Ivy loves the growth she sees and can’t wait to see what the future will bring.
“Little Rock is this really cool, hidden gem. I was really freaked out about moving to the South, but actually, this is a very progressive state. … We have places like South on Main and Ciao Baci and all these other local favorites like Raduno and The Fold.”
When not working, Ivy loves to spend time with her husband and dogs, and she can definitely keep her own with Mario Kart. More often than not, however, she’s likely to be found cooking on her days off. “I’ll … end up working on side projects. My husband will say, ‘You know, you could just not cook today and that would be ok,’” she laughs.
For motivation and drool-worthy food photos, keep up with Ivy on Instagram. She keeps it real, as she says, “I want people to realize that you can be a chef, you can bust your butt, and you can still have a family and a family life. That’s my motivation for putting some of my personal stuff out there.”