By Donna Cornelius
Ashley McMakin has a deft hand at putting the right ingredients together. Since opening Ashley Mac’s 15 years ago, she’s come up with dishes that have made her business a real success story.
Now, she’s cooking up a project that will give Ashley Mac’s fans a chance to re-create some of her favorite recipes in their own kitchens: a cookbook.
The book, which will be published by Hoffman Media, isn’t due out until next spring. But McMakin has been hard at work for some time on all the components involved in such a daunting undertaking: recipe selection, multiple tastings and photo shoots.
“My husband, Andy, encouraged me to do a cookbook, and customers often ask if I’ll share a recipe,” she said. “So this has been years in the making.”
Although she’s always loved to cook, McMakin didn’t originally plan on a full-time culinary career.
After graduating from Briarwood Christian School, she went on to the University of Alabama. She and Andy met when both were students in UA’s Culverhouse College of Business, and she had set her sights on working in marketing.
She began catering from her home in 2005 and opened her first restaurant in Bluff Park two years later. Now, you can find Ashley Mac’s locations in Cahaba Heights, Homewood, Inverness and Riverchase, plus her newest spot in downtown Birmingham at the Pizitz Food Hall.
“The cookbook is about how I eat and cook in real life,” McMakin said. “The book will have homestyle dishes, family recipes, things I make for the kids and, of course, some Ashley Mac’s favorites.”
This isn’t McMakin’s first cookbook.
“I made a little one in 2005 called ‘A Taste of Birmingham,’” she said. “I made 50 copies for friends and family. Those friends have always said it’s their most used cookbook, so I knew I had to do a more full-scale one in the future.”
Putting together her new cookbook has been a tad more involved than that first homemade volume. She began meeting with Hoffman Media representatives to talk about the project about a year ago. McMakin said she already had a good relationship with the company; she had worked before with Southern Lady, one of Hoffman’s most popular magazines, and she and Brian Hoffman, president and chief creative officer of Hoffman Media, went to high school together.
“Brian was another person who really encouraged me to do a cookbook,” she said.
Hoffman asked McMakin to bring about 200 recipes to the discussion table so that there would be plenty to choose from.
“First, I picked out some Ashley Mac’s recipes that I was comfortable sharing,” McMakin said. “I had to include our strawberry cake, and there’s a recipe for my spin on our chicken salad. Some of them are our archived recipes, like our spicy pimento cheese, egg salad and apple-tuna salad.”
Many of the recipes that came from Ashley Mac’s had to be scaled down from commercial quantities to family-sized portions.
“I had a good many of my original recipes, because I’d make them at home first,” McMakin said. “And there are so many things that I love to cook at home but not for Ashley Mac’s.”
Food for Occasions
The book doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have chapter titles: Comfort Food 101, Valentine’s Day, Spring Brunch, Summer Porch Parties, Beach Days, Kids’ Favorites, Tailgating, Friendsgiving and Deck the Halls.
“The recipes are for things that people can easily make at home with ingredients that they won’t have trouble finding,” McMakin said.
Hoffman’s involvement in the book has meant that the massive workload hasn’t fallen entirely on McMakin’s shoulders.
“They’re partnering with me to make the recipes for photos and for testing,” McMakin said. “Everything is being made and tasted multiple times.”
She’s also got a built-in tasting panel at her Mountain Brook home. Andy and the couple’s three children haven’t been shy about sharing their opinions.
“For the kids’ chapter in the cookbook, we sat around the dinner table one night and asked the kids about their favorites,” she said.
Her daughter, Mally, who’s 9 years old, wanted Chinese dumplings and fried rice. Sons Ryder, 12, and Jackson, 10, chose pizzas and burgers. Andy got a vote, too.
“My husband loves beef tenderloin, so that’s in our holiday chapter,” McMakin said. “We sell a lot of tenderloins during the holidays.”
She’s not only a soon-to-be cookbook author but a cookbook fan.
“I love, love, love to look at cookbooks,” McMakin said. “I get inspired seeing other people’s takes on food.”
To keep up with and get a behind-the-scenes look at the book’s progress, follow McMakin’s personal Instagram account, ashley_mcmakin. For more about Ashley Mac’s, visit ashleymacs.com or follow the restaurant on social media.