RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been less than a week since Ashley Christensen won the top honor in what is often called the 'Oscars of Food' as the James Beard Foundation award winner for Outstanding Chef in America.
Back home in Raleigh at her first Raleigh restaurant, Poole's Diner, Christensen is still allowing the win to sink in.
"One of my favorite things about that room was thinking how much I can't wait for everyone that I know that deserves this award to feel that energy and that light from that stage," Christensen said.
During her acceptance speech, Christiansen thanked her staff and mentors. "This belongs to 270 amazing folks," she said. Christensen said she has replayed a video of some of her staff at Death and Taxes celebrating the moment her name was called.
"I saw that everyone was in tears watching that. That will be my go-to video for bad days when I need something to lift my spirits."
Christensen owns and operates several Raleigh restaurants as well as a cocktail bar and event space. As she built her business, she became a national leader in the industry pushing for change. Christensen is also a philanthropist, work she believes sets her apart in winning the top honor.
"One of the reasons I live in Raleigh is when I started out through the connection of my great friend, Eliza Kraft Olander, she connected me with Frankie Lemon Center and it changed me. I understood the work. When you look down and see the child who you're serving and meet the parents who the school works to help with what life will be like and push through challenges, you're never the same. We now work through the model of the power of our voice and the causes of our community with great need. I love the piece that serves the community that serves great causes."
Christensen has a new restaurant in the works, Poolside Pies, a Napoli inspired pizza place in Raleigh right next door to Poole's Diner.
It is expected to open in late summer 2019. As she gets back to work, Christensen hopes her win inspires others in Raleigh.
"I hope we inspire people to invest in Raleigh. And, there are a lot of things very challenging getting through permitting and I encourage our restaurant community especially our independent restaurant community to speak up and have their voices heard in that conversation because it will be what makes it possible for folks like myself way back then to make it happen. That's something I want our city embracing, having young independent restaurants in this city."
Christensen said she will hang the latest award near the front door of Poole's Diner right next to her 2014 James Beard for Best Chef Southeast medal.