Chef’s Corner: Ashley Vanasse — Just Like Mom Used to Make

6264f8_67cd705efbdf47f98c935bee11048343_mv2_d_2909_3636_s_4_2Growing up in an Italian family with a busy schedule, Chef Ashley Vanasse had a lot of opportunities to cook dinner for herself. “I spent a lot of time with my great aunts after school and they taught me skills like how to clean chicken.” Vanasse pegs cooking as always being something that she truly enjoyed and when she graduated from high school, she felt destined to go to culinary school, but majored in political science in an attempt to follow her parents’ wishes. Vanasse soon realized her mistake. “I thought to myself, ‘This is kind of miserable. I don’t think I wanna do this,’ so I went down that road for a little while and then I diverted,” Vanasse said. Little did she know that her diversion would eventually land her a position as the executive chef of Easy Entertaining Cafe.

Gabrielle Halliday (Motif): For someone who has never been to Easy Entertaining Cafe, which menu item would you recommend?

Ashley Vanasse: Our menu changes so often that there’s not one thing where I would say, “You must get this.” I think our salads are different from your usual salads. You can’t really ever get a Caesar salad here. Salads is kind of weird to say, but we put a lot of effort into making them different and fun.

GH: If you could be any spice, which spice would you be and why?

AV: I don’t know if I can pick one. I think that it depends on the day. Some days, I’m like chili powder with all the angles it brings in [to food]. Some days, I’m more like sumac, which is a little sweeter and not so aggressive. Most days, I would say crushed red pepper.

GH: You’re going out for dinner in Rhode Island. Where do you go and what do you order? 

AV: I’m very particular about where I like to eat, but it really depends on my mood. If I want to be outside sitting on the beach and relaxing in a picnic-ish style, I would go to Monahan’s in Narragansett for clams and chowder. When my husband and I go out, we probably most frequent Chez Pascal and Gracie’s. We usually order about half the menu and it’s problematic! Usually we end up ordering some sort of a duck dish, and at those two places, you can’t go wrong. It’s always delicious.

GH: If you weren’t in the food industry, what would you be doing instead?

AV: The route that I was on was going to law school and working at international NGOs (non-governmental organizations). I even interviewed at some of the ones that we now do catering for.

GH: Everyone has at least one food guilty pleasure, what’s yours?

AV: If you asked my husband, he would probably say pasta with butter and peas. I’m also a cheese and cured meats girl. I can make a whole meal out of cheese and cured meat. When I was growing up, if I was at my grandparents’ house for lunch, they always had spicy sausage and cheese out.

GH: What is one thing you would never order at a restaurant? Why?

AV: I don’t tend to order soup. Some people could eat soup all day, not me. After that, salad. It’s just too much chewing and there’s too much opportunity to spend all that chewing time eating something else.

GH: Why did you choose the recipe that you provided for our readers?

AV: I can eat this carbonara all the time. This is the carbonara that my mom made growing up and it’s totally different from what everybody likes with the cream sauce and peas. This is eggs, bacon and a ton of black pepper all over linguine, and it’s all tossed together.

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My Mom’s Carbonara

Ingredients

4 large eggs, whisked well
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 – 1 pound of bacon or pancetta
1 – 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
Black pepper, freshly ground

Method

Cut the bacon or pancetta into small pieces, and place them in a cold pan. Turn the stove on medium heat, and allow the bacon fat to render off. Once the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan and turn the pan off.

Cook your pasta while the renderings cool. Boil the spaghetti according to the box instructions; I like to subtract a minute or two to have a good al dente bite.

Once the pasta is cooked, remove it from the water and place it directly into the rendered fat with the well-whisked eggs, a good few pinches of black pepper and half of the Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss immediately until it’s well combined.

Top it with the remainder of the Parmigiano Reggiano and a bit more black pepper, and enjoy.

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