For the first time in 20 years, chef Ashley Capps has time on her hands. And she is finding it as delicious as the desserts that made her one of Asheville’s best-known pastry chefs through stints early in her career at Chai Pani, then Rhubarb. After nearly five years in the basement pastry kitchen at Buxton Hall Barbecue, where she created the banana pudding pie that lured even nonmeat eaters to the restaurant, Capps sliced about three cases of apples, made a bunch of pie dough and two days before Thanksgiving, hung up her Buxton Hall apron for the last time.
“It was sad, but it felt so natural and right, and it was time to move on,” she says. “I was Buxton Ashley for so long I didn’t know who I was without Buxton. It took me about a month to unravel myself and just be Ashley again.”
She got back into a daily exercise routine, adopted a dog, read books, traveled a bit and spent about two weeks with her family, helping her mom over Christmas. “My family told me they hadn’t seen me for more than two days straight since I was 16 years old. That kind of blew my mind.”
In the new year, the search for what’s next began in earnest, even if she’s still not quite sure exactly what “next” looks like. “I’m looking for buildings,” she says. “I’m looking everywhere and am open to anywhere. I’ve looked in Marshall, Burnsville, Black Mountain, Weaverville, Woodfin and the River Arts District. The rest of the time, I’m being playful, and I love it.”
What playful means to Capps is referencing an informal list of people in Western North Carolina who inspire her and have earned her respect and reaching out to them to collaborate: “Hey, I think you’re awesome, and do you want to do a dinner, teach a class, make something together?”
As Capps’ Instagram followers know, she has been busy with her “free” time. In February alone, she had play dates with Half Moon Market in Black Mountain and All Souls Pizza teaching Austrian strudel making; with Crucible Bar, where she sold frozen cinnamon rolls ready to pop in the oven to sweeten the morning after; and with pastry chef Cynthia Pierce, owner of Café Yuzu, who sells Capps’ savory and sweet tarts, some cakes and little Turkish bagel-style breads called simits.
A meeting with Trade and Lore owner Sarah Winkler led to Saturday morning sales in the Wall Street coffee shop of fresh-baked sourdough bread and jars of sourdough culture from her and her friend former Rhubarb intern Shannon McKinney. “I knew we would sell the bread, but it blew my mind that we were selling out the jars of culture, too. I love that people are taking it home and baking bread,” says Capps.
On Saturday, March 14 — aka Pi Day — she’s teaming with Sweetheart Bakery’s Aimee Mostwill for a two-hour pie workshop at All Souls Pizza. At the same location on Monday, March 16, she, her partner, Travis Schultz, and All Souls chef/owner Brendan Reusing will teach a workshop on how to make three types of soup.
“What I’m doing now is what makes me happy until I find a space,” she says. “I have three different business plans written, so a lot depends on the space I find and where it is. But food will be a big part of it because that’s my world.”
Information and tickets for Capps’ events can be found on her Eventbrite page at avl.mx/6zg.