Lee’s alumnus Kenyatta Ashford ’00, ’02 won Food Network’s ‘Chopped’, a reality-based cooking TV show that pits four chefs against each other as they compete for a chance to win $ 10,000.
Former coach and teacher-turned-chef Lee Flame was shocked to receive the call last fall, but didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to compete on “Chopped” when the pandemic shifted production to New York to Knoxville. The pre-recorded episode aired on June 8.
During each episode of the show, participants are given a four-item mystery basket at the start of each timed round, and they must use the ingredients to make a dish that will allow them to move on to the next round. Chef Ashford created spring rolls for his appetizer, West African peanut sauce and rice for the starter, and rice pudding for the final round, which earned him the victory .
Chief Ashford transferred to Lee from New Orleans in 1999 to play basketball for coaches Rick Hughes and Robbie O’Bryan. While at Lee, he also helped found Umoja, the association of black students aimed at promoting unity.
He graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2000 and was one of the first students to earn a Master of Arts in Education at Lee. While working on his MAT, he served as an assistant graduate coach and later as an assistant coach for Coach Hughes and Coach O’Bryan for a year after graduation.
“My stay at Lee’s has been extremely educational in a good way,” says Chef Ashford. “I spent a lot of time in prayer, I got closer to God and I discovered a lot about myself, what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be.”
After accepting a teaching position in Chattanooga, Chef Ashford spent his summers cooking at local restaurants. “I quickly realized that cooking was what I wanted to spend the rest of my working years pursuing. With the support of his wife, Tomeka, and a “leap of faith,” they moved to Hyde Park, New York, with their baby for Chef Ashford to attend the Culinary Institute of America.
During this time, he received the Jean-Louis Palladin Scholarship / Professional Work from the James Beard Foundation, which enabled him to travel to Ghana and Benin to study West African cuisines. After several culinary work experiences in Chattanooga, New Orleans, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, Chef Ashford landed a chef position at the Read House Hotel in Chattanooga.
In June 2020, after being put on leave like so many others during the pandemic, Chef Ashford decided to open his own restaurant, Neutral Ground, an Afro-Creole restaurant in downtown Chattanooga, housed in the Proof Incubator for start-ups.
“When I think of food, I think of coming together, in one place, in the unit,” says Chef Ashford. “That’s the goal of Neutral Gound – a common place where anyone from all walks of life can come and enjoy a great meal. “
Neutral Ground’s menu blends traditional New Orleans comfort food with interpretations that emphasize the impact of black diaspora culinary traditions, such as homemade Louisiana hot sausage PO-boys, Yakamein smoked brisket meatballs and chef-led seasonal specialties.
Chef Ashford said his earnings of $ 10,000 from “Chopped” would be used to grow his business and donate to those who also wish to pursue a career in the culinary arts. Her hope is to leave the incubator soon and move to her own brick and mortar building.
He and his wife have two children: Nkenge, 14, and Knea, 8.
To learn more about Chef Ashford or Neutral Ground, visit neutralgroundchatt.com/, instagram.com/chefkenyattaashford/, linkedin.com/in/kenyatta-ashford-508b6b53/, or follow us on facebook.com/NeutralGroundChatt/.