During the recent CIAA basketball tournament weekend, 30-year-old Christopher Wheeler, chef/owner of Bobbi-Ashi Chef Services, was given the opportunity to provide personal chef services to several celebrities who were in town, including Doug E. Fresh, Charlamagne tha God and Mack Wilds.
"It's very private," says Wheeler. "You take it to their hotel room or another location where they want to eat away from all the hustle and bustle. It's always exciting, because it's clients whose work you admire, so to actually provide their meals and know that you're contributing to their foodie needs is really exciting."
In addition to catering on the corporate, community and personal level, Bobbi-Ashi (the name was inspired by a late family member) also funds Direct Effect, an informal program to help the less fortunate. Wheeler strives to make daily outreach his goal, which sometimes is simply taking a plate to someone on the street. (You can find out more information by visiting www.bobbi-ashi.com.)
Wheeler prides himself on a diverse staff of chefs and an ever-evolving, customer-focused menu. The success of Bobbi-Ashi stems from the motivation that drove Wheeler to start the company: the pure love of making food.
Creative Loafing: How would you define the culinary style you aspire to at Bobbi-Ashi?
Christopher Wheeler: I would define it as very diverse and getting back to more of how food used to be. What I mean by that is that food has obviously transitioned into so many things — money and business. I do believe that you're starting to get less for more money. And now, you might leave a restaurant and still may be hungry in an hour or two because the portions aren't really the same. That's one thing I wanted to emphasize in our dishes, that you will be full, you will have leftovers. The other thing was to acquire different chefs from different parts of the world that could authentically cook [a variety of] dishes.
How do each of your chefs contribute to Bobbi-Ashi's diverse menu?
We have a Vietnamese chef who cooks authentic Asian cuisines. There's a lot of prep in Asian cuisines, compared to the traditional American foods. I've had the opportunity to be around his family, and they don't cook any meat on that day [of purchase]. If they buy it that day, it has to go through a marinating process — they don't eat anything straight from the store. I also have a guy from New Orleans who does a lot of grilled foods, and a lot of spice. Obviously being from that area of Louisiana, a lot of their foods are from the water: crawfish, crab and shrimp. We have another Southern chef, but more Western — I like to say it's Hollywood Southern. Sandwiches and more quick items that still go through a process of marinating. We want to give people diversity, because there are so many different cultures now in the United States and in this city, and [the food] is very limited sometimes.
What are some of your favorite things and ways to cook?
I do enjoy the grill or a gas stove. There's nothing like a flame. The naturalness of wood burning gives it that smoky flavor. For those of us who are foodies, we can taste the difference. If somebody wants their steak rare, you can put it on an open flame and cook it for a couple minutes on each side, versus just a conventional gas flame, [which] sometimes might take a little bit longer and then it doesn't give that charred taste. I enjoy different meats, and I eat them all. All of our meats are marinated ... [and] all of our marinades are from scratch, they're our own recipes. We marinate for at least 24 hours, but sometimes as long as three days.