Chef Ashley Odom serves up creative culinary experiences at Feast and Merriment
By ASHLEY BROWN
Photos by LEO AGUIRRE
Ashley Odom has always loved both “feast” (cooking) and “merriment” (planning festive events) and has combined those passions in her Fredericksburg-based catering and event planning service and venue, Feast and Merriment.
Odom is a self-taught chef whose early training came from the women in her family. Both of her grandmothers owned restaurants in Louisiana.
“I have memories waking up to the wonderful smells from their kitchens starting at the crack of dawn,” said Odom. “They were always cooking and baking, and the kitchen was always alive. I would sit and watch them stew collard greens, fry bacon, bake dilly bread and copious amounts of pie.”
As is the case with many grandmothers, her “Memaw” expressed her love with food. “From her, I learned that food makes people come together, to gather, make memories, and that the kitchen is the center of the universe.”
While she got her love of food from her grandmothers, she owes her proclivity for entertaining to her mother. “She was constantly planning parties,” recalls Odom. “We didn’t hire caterers to cook. My mom would create the menus, cook the food and decorate the space based on the theme, always with attention to detail. She was the Martha Stewart of suburban Dallas.”
Odom’s enjoyment of helping her—passing hors d’oeuvres and socializing with the grownups—led to ten years of event planning in Austin.
After working for various catering companies, she moved to Crested Butte, Colorado, to start her own business. She was young and hungry for the business, so she worked rigorously to grow it.
“And I had a lot of amazing adventures in Colorado. I snowmobiled three miles up a mountain with my cooler in tow on a sled to cater a fondue party for Aston Martin in a remote, private lodge and got caught in a freak blizzard,” she said. “I almost died, but it was pretty thrilling!”
Odom wanted to return to Texas and found the perfect acreage in “Hill Country heaven” where she created her kitchen, out-of-house catering service, and event space.
I am so honored to be surrounded by all of the incredible energy and entrepreneurial spirit here. We have so much at our fingertips like wild game, local honey, locally milled grains, amazing fruits and vegetables, orchards and lavender fields. It makes creating an experience that is completely Texas sourced attainable and delicious.
“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said. “It’s always risky to try something new, but I had no doubt that all of the stars would align under this big Texas sky. You just have to hustle and think positively. ‘No’ is my least favorite word, so I usually don’t accept it if I have my eye on the prize.”
Her intention has been to create a living and work environment conducive both to running a business and raising her daughter. As any business owner knows, the independence comes with long hours and stress, but Odom loves how it’s working out.
“If I am going to be in the kitchen for hours on end preparing for a special event, my daughter can be there with me, and I can give her a chance to observe and participate in the art of cooking like I did with my mother and grandmothers,” she said.
It doesn’t hurt that all that hard work takes place in a beautiful location, with views of rolling hills and a vineyard. The space itself inspires Odom’s creativity, dreaming up the details of events and unique menus that feature local ingredients paired with wine, beer and spirits from the area.
Designing one-of-a-kind dinners for guests not only ensures they have a special experience, it also keeps Odom from getting bored.
She especially loves hosting regular supper clubs, with wineries and distilleries, that highlight these pairings — like the one in December featuring collaborations with Real Spirits, Real Ale, and Orobianco Italian Creamery.
“I am so honored to be surrounded by all of the incredible energy and entrepreneurial spirit here. We have so much at our fingertips like wild game, local honey, locally milled grains, amazing fruits and vegetables, orchards and lavender fields. It makes creating an experience that is completely Texas sourced attainable and delicious.”
Odom describes her cuisine as elevated comfort food, with the goal to infuse all those local ingredients with global flavors that excite the tastebuds. She also puts a lot of care into presentation, recognizing we taste first with our eyes.
One of her favorite things to cook is wild game, which began in Colorado with an obsession with the lean but flavorful elk. Odom even gets excited about the fuchsia color of the meat. While wild game is growing in popularity on Hill Country menus, it’s still a new experience for many. She gets a thrill out of preparing indigenous animals like venison, nilgai, wild boar and quail for people who are tasting these meats for the first time.
“It’s like a new food group to some people, especially out-of-towners, and I want to prepare them in a way that keeps them interested in exploring wild game further and perhaps gives them the confidence to cook them for their own families.”
Recognizing that diversity is the spice of life, she’s excited to see what other chefs may make their culinary dreams come true here, perhaps with Korean or Indian cuisine that is currently pretty hard (impossible?) to find.
The event venue aspect of her business is equally exciting for Odom, as each occasion is so different. “The part I like best is being able to walk on the floor and talk with my guests about where they are from, what brought them to our area, and their overall experience. I am a people person first and foremost.”
Because of that, Odom finds it hugely rewarding to create magical experiences—with food as one key element—for others. “When you can view your job as a passion and not work, you know you are in the right business.”
Learn more and sign up for Odom’s newsletters at: feastandmerriment.net 6075 S. Ranch Road 1623 Stonewall, TX 78671