How to Cook a Cookbook: Ashley McMakin’s latest project is an impressive but fun project – Advice Eating

Ashley McMakin began catering from home in 2005 and two years later opened her first restaurant in Bluff Park. Now you can find Ashley Mac’s locations in Cahaba Heights, Homewood, Inverness and Riverchase, as well as her newest location in downtown Birmingham at Pizitz Food Hall.
Journal photo by Jordan Wald.

By Donna Cornelius

Ashley McMakin has a deft hand in putting the right ingredients together. Since opening Ashley Mac’s 15 years ago, she has invented dishes that have made her business a real success story.

Now she’s cooking on a project that will give Ashley Mac’s fans a chance to recreate some of her favorite recipes in their own kitchens: a cookbook.

The book, which will be published by Hoffman Media, is not scheduled for release until next spring. But McMakin spent some time working hard on all the components that go into such a daunting endeavor: recipe selection, multiple tastings, and photo shoots.

“My husband Andy encouraged me to do a cookbook, and clients often ask me if I’ll share a recipe,” she said. “So that took years.”

Although she has always loved to cook, McMakin did not originally plan to pursue a full-time cooking career.

After graduating from Briarwood Christian School, she went to the University of Alabama. She and Andy met when they were both students at UA’s Culverhouse College of Business, and she had made it her goal to work in marketing.

She began catering from home in 2005 and two years later opened her first restaurant in Bluff Park. Now you can find Ashley Mac’s locations in Cahaba Heights, Homewood, Inverness and Riverchase, as well as her newest location in downtown Birmingham at Pizitz Food Hall.

“The cookbook is about how I eat and cook in real life,” McMakin said. “The book includes homemade dishes, family recipes, things I make for the kids and of course some of Ashley Mac’s favorite dishes.”

This isn’t McMakin’s first cookbook.

“I did a little one called ‘A Taste of Birmingham’ in 2005,” she said. “I made 50 copies for friends and family. These friends always said it was their most used cookbook, so I knew I had to make a more comprehensive one in the future.”

The compilation of her new cookbook was a bit more complex than the first self-made book. She began meeting with Hoffman Media representatives about a year ago to discuss the project. McMakin said she already had a good relationship with the company; She had previously worked at 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 there would be plenty to choose from.

“First, I picked out some of Ashley Mac’s recipes that I’d like to share,” McMakin said. “I had to include our strawberry shortcake, and there’s a recipe for my spin on our chicken salad. Some of these are our archived recipes, like our Spicy Pimento Cheese, Egg Salad, and Apple Tuna Salad.”

Many of the recipes that originated from Ashley Mac’s had to be scaled down from commercial quantities to family-sized portions.

“I had a lot of my original recipes because I would 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 can easily find,” McMakin said.

Hoffman’s involvement in the book has meant that the heavy workload doesn’t rest entirely on McMakin’s shoulders.

“They work with me to create the recipes for photos and tests,” McMakin said. “Everything is made and tried several times.”

She also has a built-in tasting panel at her home in Mountain Brook. Andy and the couple’s three children aren’t shy about sharing their opinions.

“For the children’s chapter in the cookbook, we sat around the dinner table one night and asked the kids what their favorites were,” she said.

Her daughter Mally, who is 9 years old, wanted Chinese dumplings and fried rice. Sons Ryder, 12, and Jackson, 10, opted for pizza and burgers. Andy also got a vote.

“My husband loves beef tenderloin, so that’s in our vacation chapter,” McMakin said. “During the holidays we sell a lot of fillets.”

Not only is she an aspiring cookbook author, but she is also a cookbook fanatic.

“I love, love, love looking at cookbooks,” McMakin said. “I get inspiration from seeing how other people think about food.”

To keep up with the book’s progress and to get a behind-the-scenes look, follow McMakin’s personal Instagram account ashley_mcmakin. For more information about Ashley Mac’s, visit ashleymacs.com or follow the restaurant on social media.

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