Ashbell McElveen

Meet Our Founder & CEO

Known worldwide simply as “Chef Ashbell,” Ashbell McElveen was born into a South Carolina family that thought good food was a birthright. With his father, mother, and aunts as teachers, McElveen learned classic low country and other southern cooking styles, traditional smoking and curing of meats, barbecue, and even the making of bourbon and moonshine. Uncovering the roots of southern American foodways and the preservation of his and other families’ treasured recipes is both his mission and his passion.

At age 19, Chef Ashbell went to France for a year of academic study. Hungry for hands-on experience in the kitchens of Paris, he stayed an extra year working in restaurants, learning French regional cookery. After completing his undergraduate study in the U.S.A., Chef Ashbell promptly returned to France. He attended La Sorbonne during the academic year and spent summers working in more restaurants, including Haynes, Paris’ famous soul food restaurant started by Leroy Haynes.

In the 1990’s “Chef Ashbell,” the TV personality was born. Chef Ashbell became a regular on WNBC’s Weekend Today Show with Matt Lauer, where he cooked the foods of New York City’s melting pot. McElveen was seen as a local champion of ethnic cuisine by a population that had been previously ignored by mainstream network television.

In 2003 Chef Ashbell became the only American chef invited to open a cafe in a British Royal Park. The Toyo Ito-designed pavilion for the Serpintine Gallery opened in Hyde Park in summer 2003. Ashbell’s at the Serpentine Gallery provided a southern-style American nosh — the likes of which had never been experienced before in London town!

Later that year Chef Ashbell opened the eponymous Ashbell’s restaurant in Notting Hill, serving American southern regional cuisine. Ashbell’s received four stars from A.A. Gil in his review for the Sunday Times of London.

Chef Ashbell became a regular contributor on BBC’s Good Food Live, amassing more fans across the pond. His frequent television appearances and online catalogue of recipes for the top-rated show drew raves and downloads.

Later, Chef Ashbell moved to Bristol, spending several years researching the British roots of Southern U.S. cooking. He penned a monthly column for Clifton Life Magazine, showcasing the creative ethnic dishes cooked by expats living in the area. A highlight of his time in Bristol was creating an installation of an American jazz and southern food experience for the historic Ashton Court Manor.

Following the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005, Chef Ashbell spent over one year in New Orleans. He worked to restore fresh food markets in the Lower Ninth Ward, and helped to launch the Renaissance Project.

After 12 years living in London and Bristol, Chef Ashbell returned to the U.S.A. in 2012. He started the Real Soul Food Company to topple the narrow and negative depiction of “soul food” by producing innovative, high-quality and healthy products.

In 2014, The Real Soul Food Company launched its first line of smoked meats. Branded as Ashbell’s Smokehouse Deli, the all-natural turkey meat line features cured turkey pastrami and turkey bacon. The secret recipe is inspired by the traditional southern curing process.

The Ashbell’s Smokehoue Deli line is currently available in selected restaurants and delicatessens in Philadelphia, as well as through select New York area CSA’s.

Chef Ashbell created the James Hemings Foundation in 2014 to study, document, educate, and preserve African Americans’ contributions to American iconic food and drink. He is currently writing a book and screenplay on the life of James Hemings.

Chef Ashbell is proud to call Philadelphia, the birthplace of American Independence, his home. 



“James Hemings, Slave and Chef for Thomas Jefferson” (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2016)
“Globe-trotting Southern chef Ashbell McElveen settles in New Orleans” (The Times Picayune, Oct. 9, 2008)
FOREIGN REPORT: LONDON; This Blessed Plot, This Earth, This Realm, This Soul Food (New York Times, Feb. 29, 2004)
Review of Ashbell’s (The Times)
Review of Ashbell’s (Arena Magazine)
“Married A 3rd Time, For History” (New York Times, Nov. 6, 1991)