If you’ve ever asked yourself “How do they do that” after devouring a slice of Ashley Mac’s signature strawberry cake, Ashley McMakin’s new cookbook is for you.
Ashley Mac’s Kitchen serves up more than 100 recipes featuring hits from McMakin’s 17-year-old catering business and five cafes, as well as tried-and-true recipes from her own home kitchen. Including a recipe for the strawberry cake, Ashley Mac’s No. 1 seller, was one of the requirements high school friend Brian Hoffman laid out when they started planning the cookbook, which was published in March by Hoffman Media.
Ashley Mac’s Kitchen also includes instructions for making baked ziti, chicken pot pie, and other customer favorites from the Market, Ashley Mac’s recently rebranded grab-and-go operation.
The cookbook thematically follows a year in the gastronomic life of McMakin; her husband and business partner, Andy; and their children. Chapters include comfort food, kids’ favorites, Valentine’s Day, spring brunches, summer porch parties, beach days, “friendsgiving,” and winter holidays.
“I wanted it to be how we cook and live in real life,” she says. “Not too fancy, but also creative.”
Her chapter on tailgating is decidedly Crimson Tide, down to the pitcher-sized recipe for Yellowhammer cocktails. Little wonder – Ashley and Andy graduated from the University of Alabama, where they met. Both of their fathers and one of Ashley’s brothers also played football for Bama.
Copies of the cookbook have reached more than three-dozen states, likely purchased by locals for gifts or by former Birmingham residents missing their Ashley Mac’s munch, McMakin says. The recipes for soups, salads, entrees, veggies, breads, sweets, and drinks provide a primer for anyone new to Southern-style cooking.
Writing the cookbook took McMakin full circle, a return to her roots as an avid home cook who loved to entertain friends.
When she moved on to catering—and then opened Ashley Mac’s cafes in Cahaba Heights (2010), Inverness (2013), Riverchase (2015), Homewood (2017), and Birmingham’s Pizitz Food Hall (2020)—McMakin had to adjust her home recipes to a commercial scale. The cookbook was the reverse; she had to scale large café and catering recipes down for home kitchens. She credits Hoffman Media for making it all happen and fitting production into the entrepreneur’s busy schedule.
“They said they would hold my hand through the process,” says McMakin, who also was involved in a corporate rebranding process while working on the cookbook. “They were true to their word.”
But she says it’s a happy coincidence that the cookbook and rebranded company ended up with the same name, “Ashley Mac’s Kitchen.” In fact, McMakin isn’t sure which came up with that name first, the publishers or the unrelated branding agency. Long-term, the McMakins eye expansion for their cafes – possibly Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Huntsville, Fairhope, or even outside Alabama.
They also are focused on extending Ashley Mac’s reach beyond its cafes. The company is now wholesaling; its frozen poppy-seed chicken, sour cream biscuits, chicken salad, and pimento cheese are sold in Birmingham area Piggly Wiggly stores and at Star Market in Huntsville.
The Birmingham-based meal service Nourish also sells Ashley Mac’s casseroles and other prepared food. For the first time last December, strawberry cake fans living out-of-state could order them shipped.
“It’s helping get our brand out there,” McMakin says. “We feel we have momentum going and exciting things happening. That’s our hope, to continue to grow and see where God takes us.”