Stories / Beard House

Our Next Fellow is Ready to be Back in the Spotlight

Learn more about Lay Alston

Morgan Carter

November 04, 2021


Image of chef Lay Alston wearing a brown shirt outrdoors
Photo: Clay Williams

For decades, cooking at the James Beard House has been an aspiration for many chefs and is considered a career milestone. In May, we launched the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One, which re-envisions the potential of this historic space into a hub of training and professional development for talented emerging chefs.

The program’s pilot, beginning in May 2021 and running through March 2022, launched in partnership with the Food Education Fund (FEF). Our initial class of  Fellows will all be alumni of FEF’s New York-based partner high schools.

Each Fellow will have a one-month residency at the Beard House, and will receive training in financial and legal matters, public relations, policy and advocacy, social media, and more. Fellows will also develop a Beard Box meal kit in collaboration with Great Performances, available for purchasing and shipping across the continental U.S., and will also include a special gift for Capital One cardholders. Sign up for the waitlist to get your Beard Box.

Meet our newest Fellow: Lay Alston. From an early age, Lay demonstrated love by cooking for her mother, which sparked her passion for culinary arts. After attending Food and Finance High School and competing with Careers Through Culinary Arts (C-CAP), Lay continued her education at The Culinary Institute of New York-Monroe College. As a professional chef, Lay worked at various New York establishments including Morimoto and Café Boulud. In 2017, Lay appeared in an episode of Celebrity Undercover Boss with a disguised Marcus Samuelsson. Impressed by her work, Samuelsson offered her a spot on his team as a sous chef where she was a part of the opening of Red Rooster, Shoreditch, in London, staged at Kitchen & Table in Stockholm, Sweden, and worked at Red Rooster in Harlem. Most recently, she worked as a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in Los Angeles. She is currently in the process of launching an upscale mobile restaurant, soul&wheel. 

We asked each Fellow a few questions about their culinary dreams and signature dishes. Read on to learn more about chef Lay and one of her favorite—but underappreciated—condiments.

James Beard Foundation: Do you have a signature dish? 
Lay Alston: I wouldn't consider myself to have a signature dish, but I do enjoy working with seafood the most. I've been a pescatarian for as long as I've been cooking professionally, so anything fish for me.

JBF: What is your earliest food memory?
LA: My earliest positive food memory is cooking for my mom as a young girl. Food was my love language before I understood what that meant. So, I made it my business to show my mom how much I loved her by cooking for her.

JBF: What is an item you think everyone should have in their pantry?
LA: Liquid aminos. The most underrated condiment. The flavor profile is similar to tamari or soy sauce—slightly sweeter, less salter, and milder. Liquid aminos are made from soybeans but do not contain wheat, making it gluten-free. It is also vegan and contains no chemicals, artificial coloring, or preservatives. Not only does it add umami to any food, but it’s packed with amino acids.
JBF: What is one culinary destination you hope to go to one day?
LA: Africa is top of my list for sure, but Tokyo is easily second—the level of skill and technique blows my mind every time. Africa for that flavor, Japan for the skills.

JBF: What is your favorite or least favorite current food trend?
LA: My favorite trend going on right now is the heightened attention on plant-based food. It's so pleasing to see people open their minds up to a different way of eating that isn't only good for their health, but better for the environment.

Sign up for the waitlist to get Lay’s Beard Box, on sale November 15.

Learn more about the Beard House Fellows program, presented by Capital One.
Morgan Carter is the content manager at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.