Photo Credit: Photo by Pete Halupka
This Tennessee Chef Recently Launched A Concept Celebrating The African Diaspora
Despite being furloughed because of the pandemic, Chattanooga-based chef Kenyatta Ashford decided to step out on faith and open his new restaurant concept, Neutral Ground.
Ashford, a native of New Orleans, relocated to Chattanooga in 1999. He started off as a teacher but later found his passion to be in the kitchen.
“I traveled to different places around the world to gain experience and sharpen my skills in fine and casual dining,” Chef Kenyatta Ashford told Travel Noire.
He spent the last few years working in a restaurant in Chattanooga until the pandemic hit and he was furloughed. Instead of remaining idle, Ashford used the time to launch this concept that is near and dear to him.
Neutral Ground officially opened on Juneteenth in the Proof Bar and Incubator. Although this is a temporary space for the restaurant, Ashford is in the process of searching for a more permanent location.
“This concept speaks to the food traditions of New Orleans, me as a person, as well as my perspective on the world and politics.”
Ashford made two culinary pilgrimages to Africa to fully immerse himself in African food culture, and how it in turn inspires and impacts food culture in the South.
One of his most significant moments came during his trip to Benin. While there, he was able to experience the original gumbo which inspired okra soup in Charleston and the gumbo flavors of NOLA.
“Not many people take the time to travel to Africa and research the culinary influences that it has made on the world,” Ashford said. “Enslaved people were transported everywhere and brought their culinary input with them. I now have a clear perspective on that and my goal is to highlight those influences through my dishes.”
Ashford made it very clear that he is in no way trying to “elevate” Africa’s culinary influence because that would signify that there is room to make it better. He intends to create his own renditions of what he has learned and researched during his time in Africa, as well as other places that have influenced him.
Guests can expect to find unique dishes such as grilled watermelon with pickled shrimp on the menu.
“Pickling and preserving vegetables is big in the South. This dish is an interpretation of the influences of Southern and Latin cultures.”
Neutral Ground is located at 422 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They are currently open for dining on the patio only, Wednesday through Saturday from 5 pm-10 pm.
They accept reservations as well as walk-ins. Those that dine at the restaurant must wear a mask in common areas, and your temperature will be taken at the door.