Ellory Blair Abels jumped into the food industry at the age of fifteen, when she began working in restaurants. After studying her passion at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York City, she accepted her first position with a catering company in a holistic retreat center in Upstate New York.
With expanding industry experience, however, came the feeling something was missing. So the Houston, Texas native, who grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, packed her bags and traveled to expand her horizon—and her palate. Through this journey, her philosophy about food, life, and the kind of person she aspired to be has evolved. Immersing herself in different ways of life and seeing different countries has opened her eyes to a whole new vision of food as a celebration of life and culture.
Upon returning, she started afresh in San Francisco, where she found her cooking match: Ellory joined the lovely Lisa Chatham in her personal cheffing business, which together they expanded into the catering company Green Heart Foods. Over the course of four years, the business grew from two people to fifty employees and a café. With two production kitchens and another in the making, helping to build Green Heart Foods was a life-changing experience for the young culinary talent.
Then, in 2015, Ellory made one of the hardest decisions she’s ever made—to leave behind what she knew in San Francisco and explore the unknown. Going after a lifelong dream, she once again packed her bags; this time not knowing when she would return. She bought a one-way ticket to Peru and traveled to eight different countries in one year.
Ellory has recently returned to the United States to begin her next adventure in Colorado, where she says she is “beyond excited to join the amazing family of Alpine Modern.” Now she can’t wait to share what she has learned and seen over the past year through her food at the Alpine Modern Café in Boulder.
A conversation with Alpine Modern Executive Chef Ellory Abels
AM Who are you, in a nutshell?
EA I am an opportunist. I’m always looking for ways to push the boundaries. I don’t like to live my life within the lines. I make my own rules and love to take risks. I am very curious and like to explore the questions of life. Besides that, I strive to live a simple life that’s not overly complicated. I take pride in surrounding myself with people I love and sharing memorable experiences with them.
AM Along your path, what experiences and encounters have made you who you are today?
EA Traveling! I have been lucky enough to have been able to travel pretty intensely from a very young age. Last year, I took a huge leap to leave the home I’ve made in San Francisco and explore the unknown. I decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine and travel longterm. I bought a one-way ticket to South America, with no plans other than to see all of the beauty the world has to offer. I explored eight different countries, two continents, and seven states in one year, collecting friends, stories, spices, and culinary techniques from every corner of the world.
It was the single most inspiring, eye-opening experience of my life and has shaped me as a person and as a chef. Traveling has definitely been my biggest teacher in life. The more I explore, the more my senses are awakened, and the more alive I feel.
“I explored eight different countries, two continents, and seven states in one year, collecting friends, stories, spices, and culinary techniques from every corner of the world.”
AM Share some of your childhood memories of food.
EA I grew up in a Jewish household where food was always the center of the event. My parents were amazing at exposing me to different ethnic foods from a very young age. Some of my favorite memories are cooking for the Jewish holidays and for Thanksgiving.
“I grew up in a Jewish household where food was always the center of the event.”
AM When and how did you know you wanted to become a chef?
From a young age, I was very determined to be an artist. I filled my spare time after school and my summers with a variety of art classes. My dream was to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design. Looking at the portfolio requirements to get in, however, I realized this was not what I wanted. I explored other ways to apply my creative ability. Food had always been a huge outlet for me. I grew up spending a lot of time cooking and experimenting in the kitchen with my dad. So I decided to put more effort into exploring the profession of food by working in different restaurants. After being involved in the food world for only a couple of months, it became very apparent that this was the path I wanted to take. Food is my own expression of art and is definitely my medium.
“Food is my own expression of art and is definitely my medium.”
AM Who taught you how to cook?
EA My dad. He inspired me from a very young age to get into the kitchen. He also grew up working in a kitchen for the family diner in New Jersey, called “Abels Diner.” The dinner served a mix of comfort food and Jewish specialties. Listening to the many stories he has about growing up in the dinner has always inspired me and made me want to be involved in food. Fun fact… Frank Sinatra was a busboy for my grandfather’s diner. True story!
AM Who is your culinary icon? What do you admire about her or him?
EA Yotam Ottolenghi. I love his approach to food. His style and flavor profiles are very similar to what I love to cook. Israeli food is also one of my favorite cuisines to cook, and his cookbook Jerusalem is by far one of my favorites.
AM What’s your favorite food, and what do you love about it?
EA Hmm, that’s such a hard question. It really depends on the season and what trip I recently came back from that inspired me. I’ve been cooking a lot of curries from my most recent trip to India. It’s been fun to experiment with a lot of spices I brought back and to try to master the art of Indian cooking. Besides that, my go-to food to cook is probably Israeli food. I just love the mix of flavors and textures.
AM What culinary traditions are your methods and recipes rooted in?
EA Exploring food while traveling has shown me a variety of traditions, methods, and recipes that I bring into my own kitchen. I cherish these experiences and try to recreate them in my own version and share them with others along with the stories behind them.
“Exploring food while traveling has shown me a variety of traditions, methods, and recipes that I bring into my own kitchen.”
AM What’s your definition of good food?
EA Clean, simple, colorful, thoughtful, lots of love!
AM How do you translate Alpine Modern’s ethos of “quiet design” into your work at the Café in Boulder?
EA The food I create for Alpine Modern is clean and simple. It’s not overthought and shows off so much more by letting the ingredients speak for themself.
AM What’s your vision for Alpine Modern’s culinary future?
EA We have lots of exciting plans that are in the development phase. We’re trying to expand the experience Alpine Modern shares with it’s customers and bring the community together. One of the big changes is that we are now renting out the Café during after-hours for private events.
AM What’s your favorite place in the world, and why?
EA Tough question, but I’ll have to say, even with all of the amazing places I have visited around the world, nothing will ever beat Yosemite. No matter how many times I go there for an adventure, that place gives me goosebumps and brings the biggest beaming smile to my face. It’s just pure magic.
“Even with all of the amazing places I have visited around the world, nothing will ever beat Yosemite… It’s just pure magic.”
AM What makes you happy?
EA I’ve learned it’s the simple things in life that bring me the most joy. Being surrounded by my family and friends and living an active lifestyle that gets me outside everyday is my happy place in life.
AM What are you working on these days?
EA Lot’s of different things. I’m getting in training mode for climbing season to really try to get after it this year. I’m also in the process of developing new recipes, lots that are inspired by my recent travels. Besides that, I’m really putting a lot of focus on sticking around the states this year and spending lots of time with my family and friends and my pup, Chalten. △