Since making Raleigh, North Carolina, her home, chef Ashley Christensen has opened multiple restaurants there, but Poole’s Diner was her first back in 2007. I’ve not had the pleasure of dining at Poole’s, one of the South’s most celebrated restaurants, but the cookbook has me wanting to try every single recipe in it. Part of Christensen’s genius is starting with homey fare that we can all relate to and then elevating it to make it sound (and taste) better still. For her Caramelized Onion-Tomato Soup with Jarlsberg Croutons, she conjures two of the most comforting soups in the world: tomato soup and French onion soup. She uses a hand mixer on her mashed potatoes, just like my mom used to, but she flavors the purée with an herb-infused cream. Christensen says that “the distance between the restaurant version and the home cook version of my food is probably smaller than it is for most chefs.” That’s good news to the fans of her Macaroni au Gratin, which are legion. That said, she admits that the key to its success at the restaurant is the cook at the mac and cheese station tasting it for texture and seasoning before topping it with cheese and sending it under the broiler. That might take practice for the home cook to master, but it would be delicious practice at that.
Drinks, too: Garden & Gun Club. Christensen likes a good cocktail, and this citrusy bourbon concoction, named for one of her favorite magazines, is a good one.