How I Gather

Bringing people together around a table is our greatest passion in life and we believe food is one of the most powerful tools for connection. But what makes a gathering meaningful? In our series, How I Gather we go behind the scenes of our favorite chefs, foodies, and tastemakers to answer that question.  See All

Ashleigh Amoroso is a photographer and food stylist–and one of my favorite creative women with whom to collaborate. Not only does she ooze talent from every gorgeous, glowing pore–she also radiates a warmth that makes it impossible not to love her from the moment you enter her zone of sunshine.

I was thrilled when Ashleigh completed renovations on the gorgeous studio in downtown Austin that she shares with painter Aileen Fitz and photographer Jenna McElroy. When our team had the chance to step into her studio for a recent project, I witnessed the supportive and collaborative environment these talented women had created. I asked if we could capture their magic for our How I Gather series, so Ashleigh invited us for an early spring happy hour to toast new chapters and a fresh season–with elderberry cocktails enhanced by flowery ice cubes, no less. Scroll on for our interview, including her genius tips for making gatherings unforgettable while keeping it easy. I, for one, am so ready to invite some friends over.

First things first.

Ashleigh, how did you learn to cook?

I did not grow up in a foodie family – meals were simple and often repetitive. Once I was out on my own, I ambitiously took on hosting my first Thanksgiving meal at 19 for several friends in college. I fell in love with creating a menu, adding special touches, and hosting. Through trial and error, adventurous foodie friends, and YouTube, I now feel somewhat confident in my cooking skills. And I surround myself with people who are leaps and bounds ahead of me–which drives my never ending curiosity and inspiration for food. 

As you know, our team is obsessed with your studio. Tell us about it.

“Synchronicity” was my word for 2021–and that’s exactly how I found the studio. I had been searching for a studio for over a year and settled on a very cool historic loft in Elgin. On the very day I was set to sign the papers, my friend Claire Brody posted on Instagram Stories about finding the studio and looking to share it with someone. I met her that day and within hours all of my plans had changed. This was the spot, I could feel it. It was a massive undertaking as I would embark on adding a modular prep kitchen and a shoot kitchen. Still one of the best decisions I’ve made. 

On cooking…

What’s your must-have cooking tool? 

 Shears! I use them constantly. I just got these from Material and I love them. 

Get the recipe for Ashleigh’s Spring Crudité with Green Goddess Dressing.

What are your favorite cookbooks?

The Reducetarian Cookbook – It was the second cookbook I shot and I have such fond memories of shooting it with my first assistant, Brooklyn.

The Noma Guide to Fermentation – It’s fascinating!

Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand I live for Thai food and the sauces in that book are addicting.

Tell us a few things we’ll always find in your refrigerator? 

Sparkling water and charcuterie board ingredients like cheese, hummus, and grapes.

Your go-to weeknight meal to eat at home?

Sheet pan gnocchi with roasted cherry tomatoes and a lemon ricotta sauce–easy, elegant, and everyone likes it. 

Ashleigh’s Spring Happy Hour menu:

On her entertaining style…

What does a great gathering look like for you?

I like to play to all of the senses when planning a gathering. I think in another life I could have been an experiential director. I consider the elements–lighting, smells, sounds, taste, feel. My friends joke that I’m always “burning something,” likely sage or sandalwood incense cones. The lighting should feel calm and comfortable, the music should be noticeable but not avoidable, and the temperature should be comfortable.

I want folks to come into the environment and be able to jump right into great conversations and connections with total ease.

What are a couple products you love for the table?

Sertodo copper tray – I absolutely love everything he makes.

Hand-blown glasses and vintage linen napkins from Claire Brody’s shop.

What scares you about entertaining?

Whenever I host something where I’m bringing different groups of people together, it initially makes me nervous–but it always turns out great! I scan the room and see who needs to meet who and who is feeling a little on the outs and then go scoop them into a conversation. I strive to be a connector and community builder. 

Your signature dishes for gatherings?

Always a charcuterie board. My friends lovingly call me “snack mom” because this is kind of my signature thing. I live to design a charcuterie board and always have supplies on hand.

What’s one tip for someone who wants to host a gathering on a budget?

Cut branches from a tree outside! Splurge on just one great cheese and fill your charcuterie board with fruits and veggies. 

Favorite conversation starter?

The party connector is a great place to start, “how do you know…____?” I try to stay away from the standard, “what do you do?” and hit more on the elements of the person.

Just plain old curiosity has been the driver in the realest, deepest conversations

Get the recipe for Ashleigh’s Elderberry Cocktail.

The perfect dinner party playlist includes:

Something for everyone – some old, some new, and a peppy happy vibe. 

Go-to centerpiece solution:

I keep some dried florals and pampas grass on hand which can be easily thrown in a small arrangement. Also, always have candlesticks around. Lastly, grab those shears and head outside for some fresh cut greenery!

What is your no-stress party rule to live by? 

If you build it, they will have fun.

Dream dinner guests?

Meredith Berman and Cassie Shewmaker Godfrey. Funny story, but on assignment for Camille back in 2015, I covered a shabbat dinner at Meredith’s tiny house behind the family’s winery. I met them there that day, and they welcomed me to dinner and we’ve since become the closest of friends. They’re my number one dinner guests forever. 

Rapid-fire round:

“A perfect meal should: be unpretentious” 

“It’s not a dinner party without: great music” 

“Every cook should know how to: pivot.

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Photography

Michelle Nash Instagram