After a long interview process, Dallas chef Kevin Ashade was sent to New York to film an episode of the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay that aired on April 14. Bobby Flay rarely loses. Other Dallas chefs have been on the show — including John Tesar and Tre Wilcox — and they lost. But Ashade managed to beat Bobby Flay after beating a French chef in a blind challenge.
“Bobby Flay was the same way he is on television,” Ashade says.
Ashade says he got to choose the dish for competition against Flay, but that seemed to make little difference.
“No matter what you know how to cook, he is very good at it," he says. "His losing percentage is less than five percent, even with people challenging him with dishes he has never heard of.”
Ashade chose coq au vin, a French dish of chicken legs and thighs braised in red wine with bacon, onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms and tomato paste. It typically takes three or four hours to make, but the competition was only 45 minutes.
“The crazy thing is he didn’t get it done right,” Ashade says. “He kind of served a raw chicken. It was intense.” All three judges chose Ashade.
Instead of using a pressure cooker, Ashade actually fried the chicken first before putting it in the sauce to braise for the rest of the time. Two of the judges were actually from France. They had no idea how he put it together so fast, but it reminded them of food their grandparents made.
Ashade seemed to go on the show with a perfect plan, but he had no idea what was going to happen.
“You never know his gameplay,” Ashade says. “He finds a way to win. I just did what I know best. A lot of people add too much or take a step back and it messes them up.”
He also enjoyed talking a lot of trash on the show, which everyone seemed to love.
“They don’t want you to just sit there chopping and putting stuff on a plate,” Ashade says. “That would be boring. They want a personality.” Even Bobby Flay seemed to enjoy Ashade’s remarks, even when he said he would be crying himself to sleep. “Talk trash, but make sure you beat them,” Ashade laughs.
Ashade's parents are from Nigeria but he was born in Dallas. He spent his early childhood in Nigeria and London until coming back to Dallas when he was 8. He earned his bachelor’s degree in culinary arts management from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and has spent lots of time traveling overseas, he says.
When he was in New York, he worked as a proper chef in the Hamptons over the summers. It was a lot of money, very demanding and he enjoyed it.
“I love the whole one-on-one atmosphere,” Ashade says. “You get to know somebody’s palate. Instead of cooking for three- or four-hundred people in one night, it might be 20 or 40 or two people. They want to know who cooked the food and they look at you. It just led me to that realm of the whole personal engagement.”
From European-style cooking to African-style cooking, Ashade has a wide range.
“I’ve been working in fine dining restaurants all my life,” Ashade says. Indeed, he worked at Tom Colicchio’s former restaurant, Craft at the W Hotel and Nana at the Hilton Anatole. He was a chef at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in 2013 when he left to start his catering company, GourmEATS. “It’s been an ongoing experience," he says. "I don’t see myself as a one-style chef.”
The old saying is that if someone likes your restaurant, they tell one person and if they don’t like it, they tell 10. But the opposite seemed to be true in the catering business. Working with executives and athletes, once a few people liked Ashade’s food, the calls started coming in. He's worked for Tyson Chandler when he was with the Mavericks, baseball player Tory Hunter and several other athletes he thinks better of mentioning.
“There are so many athletes and it was honestly word-of-mouth,” Ashade says. “I do a lot of nutrition. A lot of them obviously have nutritional goals or they don’t want to get out of shape during the off-season. And they don’t like to go out all the time and have people taking pictures and asking them questions.”
Ashade noticed a gap in the catering industry and enjoys trying to fill it. But he also realizes that not having a restaurant makes him lesser known in the Dallas food scene.
“I was supposed to be in the 30 Under 30 for Zagat, but the issue was I don’t have a standalone restaurant,” Ashade says. He admits that investors have approached him and it's possible he will be in a restaurant soon, perhaps downtown or near the Dallas Farmers Market. Ashade also hints at a return to the Food Network in the fall.