In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic first gripped the world, Ashley Brown lost her job as a sous chef at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
It was an unwelcome speed bump on the culinary path Brown had been following since childhood — but not a permanent setback.
Today, she’s chef de cuisine at Four by Brother Luck, and she firmly believes the pandemic “skyrocketed” her career trajectory.
“It sounds very strange, but if it wasn’t for COVID, I wouldn’t have had the time to realize that I was bored, or that I wanted something new, or that there was another technique I wanted to learn,” Brown said. “Without COVID … I wouldn’t have had any time to stop and think.”
A Colorado Springs native who graduated Mesa Ridge High School in 2012, Brown is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. While attending culinary school at the now-defunct Art Institute of Colorado in 2012, she was rejected by the first restaurant she ever applied to. The next day, she walked into an unplanned interview at History Colorado Center’s Café Rendezvous, and was hired.
In early 2013, Brown left the Art Institute of Colorado as it spiraled into a Senate investigation for fraud, then receivership and closure. She moved back to Colorado Springs, took a job in catering at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and was soon promoted to sous chef. When COVID saw her laid off almost 8 years later — then hired back as a barista and deli cook — Brown knew it was time to switch gears.
“I wasn’t being challenged — I kind of got a little bored,” she recalled. “That’s when I told my chef [Beau Green] at the time, ‘I want a little bit of a challenge.’ He said, ‘I can’t really give that to you right now.’”
Aware Brown’s talents were being stifled, Green called restaurants throughout the Springs, asking if they had a sous chef position open. Serendipitously, when Four by Brother Luck responded, Brown had already applied for the position — unbeknownst to both Green and Brother Luck. In September 2020, Brown began working for Four and its sister restaurant, Lucky Dumpling. In December 2021, she was appointed chef de cuisine (or head chef, in layman’s terms) of Four.
Looking back, Brown attributes her success to her willingness to commit.
“Whatever your goals are in life … go for it. Just dive in,” she said. “Don’t dip a toe, just dive in.”
Brown spoke with the Business Journal about her relationship with food, the team culture at Four, and how the restaurant industry and the U.S. military are related.
Tell us your chef origin story.
My first experience [with cooking], I was 7 years old. I grew up in a Hispanic background, and my family loved having cookouts and get-togethers. My uncle was pretty much the one that was always on the grill whenever it came to cooking. One day, I was just outside playing, and I noticed him doing his thing. I asked him, ‘What do you do, and how do you do that?’ He told me how to grill, all the details on grilling. I was like, ‘This sounds cool, I want to be a chef.’ I never changed my mind about a career path.
Then while I was a senior at Mesa Ridge High, I did the AVP [Area Vocational Program] at Pikes Peak Community College. That’s where I learned my basics; it was just to get your foot in the door for culinary school. There, I did a competition. … My chef instructor and I created and developed this surf and turf dish. I practiced for at least a month on it and went to the competition at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, and ended up winning first place.
What is your relationship with food?
One thing that I say all the time is that one quite literally cannot live without food … so food has to be everything. If it’s something that we cannot live without, why not make it the greatest thing ever?
Talk about the restaurant industry. It can be pretty brutal.
It can be. It can be brutal.
They say, ‘It’s just food.’ At the end of the day, yes, it’s just food — but we stress to create something very memorable with people who you love, to create those memories.
That’s what we’re doing. We’re creating memories, creating stories for people to pass on with these experiences that we try to provide them.
Then it comes to rush hour, and I have a ticket waiting 30 minutes on something that should only take five minutes. It can be very stressful from the different personalities that you’re dealing with from your guests, employees or vendors. Very different — it’s always something new every day.
How do you manage that stress and lead your team?
Keep calm. Keep calm because people feed off of energy. You can’t really get to somebody if you’re just nailing them into the ground, belittling them in any kind of way. My sous chef, when I was living in Denver, told me, ‘Don’t show fear because people will use it against you.’
With my leadership, I really try to see the big picture; I don’t try to see what’s going on in just that moment. I try to get both sides of what’s going with front of house, with back of house, with pantry or with sauté line. It’s just getting the big picture, understanding it, seeing a solution rather than a problem.
With the way that we work together, it all makes it worth it. When everybody’s just in sync with each other, it’s great. One thing I really try to preach to any of my teams is that the day is only as good as you let it be. No matter how long it takes to get a ticket out, or if you have a flat tire … the day is only as good as you let it be.
Is it true that a restaurant has a lot in common with the military?
Yes. The way that [the kitchen] is a team, the way that we work together, it’s very much like the military. You have your head chef, just as [the military] has its commanders. You have line level cooks, and [the military] has privates. You’re giving these directions, how to meet deadlines, how to create something, how to execute it in the best way possible. And you need discipline, to have everybody fall in line, and have something be executed, the best we possibly can.
What do you love about Four by Brother Luck?
I love the stories behind it. Four is based on the four corners [of the food world]: the hunter, the gatherer, the fisherman and the farmer. Everything that a restaurant needs comes from those four regions. It’s such a good key to have, and to remember — and to even educate on. The team is amazing. We do internships to get people to come across Four -— like our pastry chef. She’s brand new, and she just came across the restaurant once, and now she’s part of the team. She’s absolutely wonderful. Some of these interns end up becoming employees at the end of their internship, and it’s beautiful the way that some of these people think, their creativity, their journey within themselves. They become very talented. They already are — but it gets more refined with Four.
What are your career goals?
My goal is to run Four as swiftly, as efficiently and as successfully as I possibly can. I’ve had family ask me if I ever wanted my own spot, but I see how it can pull apart families — and that’s a big fear of mine. I love Four so much that I would love to eventually someday take it over, if Brother Luck would ever retire. … All the tools I’d ever need, it’s already there. It’s already built. Everything’s in play.
What’s the best way to cook an egg?
Personally, I love a perfectly poached egg.