Self-described as “an organic, locally sources, from-scratch catering company striving to make healthier cuisine more approachable,” Pure Catering is a dynamic duo by Chef James Ashley and operations partner, Carrington Chambers. Their aptly named “Native Global Cuisine” borrows influence from regions around the world but always takes the dishes home to the Texas native level with ingredients from only local and sustainable sources.
Formally characterized as a multi-faceted culinary talent, and less formally as just downright awesome, Chef James’s cuisine is the most exciting thing you’ll find outside a restaurant since Randy Rucker’s famed Tenacity Supper Clubs. Classically trained at the Art Institute and a series of challenging stages, Chef James is also an experienced butcher and self-taught expert on macrobiotics, raw cuisine and nutrient analysis. With Chambers as his partner, he is also able to stay focused on the cuisine as she applies her business background to managing everything from their website to daily operations.
You’ll find both James and Carrington at Urban Harvest’s Eastside and City Hall Markets and most recently, bringing Houston her first pop-up food truck during a collaborative effort with the New Mexico Green Chile Co. and Winetopia. We experienced the menu first hand and tell you with complete sincerity, if you missed it, we are truly sorry! The kati rolls of perfectly rare grass-fed lamb with pickled red onions accented by just the right hint of hatch chile tzatziki and the smoked purple potato pizzas on quinoa crust not only wowed the palate but also proved that healthy and sustainable cuisine can be affordable and accessible – out of a food truck no less!
We caught up with Chef James recently for our Client Spotlight. He’s not easy to catch, but you can find him at most Wednesday or Saturday markets or order weekly ‘Pure Pack’ meals through their website.
We asked Chef James to tell us a bit about the path to Pure and his culinary inspiration. “My culinary dream started in a butcher shop in South Texas,” begins Ashley, who describes a culinary career built on the old world ascent through the ranks, although at an accelerated pace that only someone of his natural talent could afford. This diverse background is evident in everything that Ashley does, from the way he holds a knife to the respect for farmers and other local producers that form the backbone of the Pure concept. “Life and dreams cost money,” he says, “so I worked and I studied and stayed focused.” That hard work paid off when Ashley was put in charge of a multimillion dollar private club on top of the Galleria Mall, allowing him to save up, hone his skills and build up the network that would allow him to venture out on his own. At the very core of it is Ashley’s desire to give back to the broader community, “staying true to the food and its healing qualities versus becoming another cookie cutter chef that follows trends and puts foie gras in everything.” While we’ve hopefully seen the last of the foie in everything craze, there is still a raw beauty in the statement, because it is entirely true. You won’t find any national trend driven menus at Pure Catering.
Instead, Chef James and his partner shop the local markets and use what is available to drive their weekly menus. The focus is always on organic and sustainably raised foods, backed up by the Chef’s own due diligence above and beyond simple tags or marketing gimmicks. “Always ask your sources their growing/raising methods,” he advises, “if they have a problem answering your questions, simply take your business elsewhere.”
So what’s next for Chef James and Carrington? Quite a bit, actually. Always evolving, they’ve recently launched SpeedyDude, a complimentary bicycle courier service for Urban Harvest’s City Hall Farmer’s Market vendors. Not only does SpeedyDude increase opportunity for the market vendors, but it also puts fresh, local fare in the hands of downtown’s workforce and residents who might not always be able to make the market for the flat low fee of $5, which goes directly to each hard-pedaling courier. Also in the works is the still top secret but enticing STEEL Competition, which will in Ashley’s own words (because we couldn’t put it any other way) “separate the real from the pretend and cultivate a Team of Elite!” All the while, the Pure team continues to bring delicious sustainable cuisine to Houston through their weekly Pure Packs, participation in the Urban Harvest markets and now, a new line of healthy snacks that will soon be launched.
We left Chef James with one single question, just to throw him a challenge. Although he didn’t answer it exactly, we’ll cut him some slack on this once for both the elegance of the wording and the fact that we like what he has to say.
Kitchen Inc: “If you could collaborate with any chef in Houston, who would it be? Any chef in the country? Why?”
Chef James: “The hardest question to answer. I try not to discriminate. I have spent a better half of my life training in martial arts under some of the best. Like martial arts, the culinary world has its masters; individuals a young chef would suffer/sacrifice and do almost anything to work and learn under. I personally like the chefs here in Houston that did it the hard way, no trust fund or daddy paying the way to create a marketable pedigree. I would rather learn from the chef who didn’t know where his/her next meal was coming from, yet persevered on nothing more than natural born talent and dreams to attain a highly revered skill set!”