This is part of our new series focusing on Londoners and your London: what you love about the city, what drives you mad, where you go to get away from it all...
Ashley James is the chef half of the duo behind Stagolee's, a soulfood joint in Fulham.
Originally from Texas, she and Tennessean Jordan Harris opened their Southern American restaurant in early 2017 on North End Road.
What's your history with London - always lived here, regular visitor, moved here as an adult...?
I'm from Texas but my dad is from London, so I used to come here to visit my grandparents when I was younger. I've always wanted to live here at some point. I tried to get my parents to send me to boarding school in England but my mom wasn't okay with me going so far. I considered it for law school, but I decided to give chefdom a try... I finally made it in 2012 when I moved here to work at Tom Aikens for the year.
What brought you to London or keeps you here?
Jordan [Harris, co-founder at Stagolee's] and I first met when I was 16 in Atlanta, Georgia. I just moved there and he was at university. Fast forward to 2012, I moved to London and he'd already been here for several years working for HSBC. We both shared how much we missed food from home and the lack of it here.
After I moved back to the States, Jordan kept casually mentioning I should move back so we could open a restaurant. One day I saw something Jordan had posted on Facebook, I asked David, my husband, if he would want to move to London... he immediately said yes.
Over the next year and a half Jordan and I met in Charleston and Nashville a few times... trying Southern food, moonshine and American whiskey. In March of 2016 I gave in my notice, and moved to London five days after my last day. It was a good thing, to be honest: I'd set a goal for myself when I first decided to be a chef, I wanted to open my first restaurant in the year of being 30. We opened our doors at Stagolee's 13 days before my 31st birthday — I cut it pretty close!
Where do you spend most of your time in London?
Stagolee's! When I'm free I spend a lot of time exploring the city.
What does a usual working day for you look like?
I wake up in a panic because the light's beaming into my room, only to realise it's like 4.48am. Pass back out. I finally roll out of bed about 7.45am or 8am, shower and walk to work.
Depending on the day I go and pick up my proteins from the shops. My butcher and fishmonger are both up the street from Stag's, on North End Road. If I need to for the size of the order, I might have to go to Ginger Pig in Barnes to pick up whichever beef or pork I ordered. After that I start baking bread and pies, or do admin stuff on the days I have to be upstairs to receive orders.
By 1pm at the latest I'm in the kitchen prepping. We start service at 5pm during the week. I typically head home sometime between 11 and midnight. On weekends it's exactly the same wake-up, but I'm in the kitchen by 8am getting ready for brunch.
Where in London do you go for some peace and quiet?
My back garden. I'm always out meeting new people but I'm lucky to have a nice, quiet piece of outside — now I take as much advantage as I can.
What happened to you in London recently that made you go 'wow'?
I almost melted in my bed because it was so hot! Not something you'd expect to happen in London...
If you weren't at your current job, what would you be doing?
I'd be a powerhouse attorney, travelling the world.
What's your strangest London memory?
In 2012, my only guaranteed day off was Sunday. If the weather was nice I'd get up and just walk around the entire city. One time I ended up in an area where I found the most amazing art exhibit of a young local artist going on in the crypt of a church. It was the perfect balance of new meets old. Not something I'm used to as an American! I still can't figure out what area that was or the name of the church...
If you could own any building in London what would it be?
94 Piccadilly. I don't know the real name if it has one. I used to live near there in 2012 and I walked by there all the time. It used to creep me out, especially at night. I thought it was abandoned but it has a food court in front of it now.