Southern Comfort: A Chat with Hill Country’s Ash Fulk

You may remember Ash Fulk from his days as the bow tie wearing contestant on Top Chef Las Vegas. Or perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of devouring some of his culinary handiwork at Hill Country Barbecue in New York’s Flatiron district, where customers often clamor for a taste of their famed ribs and moist brisket. A Californian by birth, the vibrant Chef de Cuisine oozes passion about his craft and proclaims he was actually raised a Southerner; fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy was his requested meal every single birthday. He also harbors fond memories of eating fresh corn from his mother’s garden. These simple and nostalgic food experiences would inevitably shape his culinary approach and zeal for feeding others.

As his technique advanced, he made his way from one coast to the other in his pursuit of doing what he loved most: cooking comfort food with elegant flair. A mac n’ cheese aficionado, Texas-style BBQ lover and a banana pudding fiend, Fulk spent a great deal of time in Georgia visiting his father where he witnessed (or tasted, rather) the fusion of comfort food and fine dining. “I ate at some great restaurants like Watershed and Wisteria and that was when I realized there was some cuisine behind comfort food, but it didn’t lose the heart. The heart of all American food there is the idea of feeding people and that’s where the joy comes of it, of a big family sitting around a table.”

Dixie Cuisine, as Fulk calls it, is making a revival, and he attributes a return to simplicity to the hard economic times. Similar to the revival of the 1920s speakeasy and even reflected in cinematic themes found in The Artist and Midnight in Paris, Fulk believes that while the U.S. has always been obsessed with innovation, dining is returning to minimalist roots.

He keeps his finger on the pulse of how cuisine is in constant flux and offers this introspective musing: “Food reflects the cultural awareness at the time and right now people are looking for comfort and looking for home.”

It is food for the soul, indeed.