1. Sure, classic grape jam on toast is great and all — but have you ever paired smoked peach jam with spicy chicken? What about mixing strawberry chipotle and fig jam in with your margarita? Get into, sis! Founder and Chef, Ashley Rouse, transformed her passion for cooking into a thriving business dedicated to culinary innovation. At Trade Street Jam Co., food-lovers alike can indulge their taste buds in an eclectic variety of jams, to then, be used in "cocktails, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, marinades, pan sauces, and more." The philosophy surrounding Chef Rouse's business is deeply-rooted: "cooking should be fun and reflective of the person at hand, but what it shouldn't be, is complicated."

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chef Rouse on achieving her dream in culinary arts, her favorite Trade Street Jam recipes and why cooking is a reflective means of therapy for all.

Check out the exclusive interview with Chef Ashley Rouse below.

  1. 21Ninety: How did the concept for Trade Street Jam Co. come about? What inspired you to create a company built around culinary innovation?

Ashley Rouse: I’ve always been in the food industry, and always been super inspired with the creativity behind food creation. I started doing ‘food swaps’ around 2010 when I lived in Charlotte, where tons of friends would get together and bring a signature dish, portioned out and perfect for swapping (think: homemade pickles in a mason jar, etc.). I started doing jams around that time, and really loved the idea of preserving seasonal flavors to be used at a later date. I wrote down the idea and knew I’d come back to it at some point. I also lived on Trade Street at the time, and wrote down ‘Trade Street Jam Company’ as the name. It stuck then and I still love it now. Moving to Brooklyn in 2015 really got my creative juices flowing (The art! The music! The culture!) and I decided to give the company a try.

Photo: Ashley Rouse

  1. 21N: What prompted you to pick the ingredients, that you did, for each jam? Can you describe the handmade cooking process behind creating your jam? 

AR: I literally started a little “test kitchen” where I would dream up these crazy combinations, walk to the store down the street, grab the ingredients and come home to cook jam. I’ve been cooking professionally since I was about 17, so I have a pretty good knowledge of what flavors will mesh together before even trying it. I have a list of over 150 flavor ideas that I haven’t even tried yet! The process can be tedious, but I take care when making jam. Our cooking process usually goes one of two ways: slow cooking, to produce a thick, almost buttery spread, or quick cooking, to retain as much color and flavor in the fruit as possible. We add minimal sugar, and skip the pectin and preservatives.

Photo: Trade Street Jam Co. / NYC Food Muse

  1. 21N: We partnered with you to gift one lucky winner a $50-valued Trade Street Jam Co. bundle of Blueberry Lemon Basil Jam, Plum + Rose Jam, Chinese 5 Spiced Apple Butter Jam, scone mix and a jam spoon. What are some foods and/or cocktails you humbly recommend to incorporate with these jams? 

AR: Plum goes great stirred into champagne, Bellini-style, or into Greek yogurt. Blueberry is perfect for overnight oats or a vinaigrette for a light salad. Apple is good on a biscuit but even better over brown sugar bourbon glazed ribs or chicken thighs. Literally, the possibilities are endless. Head over to our site and IG page for way more ideas and recipes!

21N: On your Trade Street Jam Co. website, you provide a variety of cocktail recipes, savory recipes and sweet recipes for foodies to practice at home. Which recipes are some of your favorite to make? 

AR: Two favorites come to mind: Our Manhattan Vol. I cocktail with our Cranberry Raspberry Sage Jam, pinot noir, bourbon, simple syrup and lime juice and our Crispy Brussels where we toss roasted brussels sprouts with a vinaigrette made with our Plum & Rose, maple syrup, vinegar and olive oil. 

21N: In your opinion, why is it important to dedicate time towards healthy and reflective cooking? 

AR: Cooking can really be healing in multiple ways; I use it to relax, reflect and heal my mind all the time. It’s a huge de-stressor, even if you aren’t the best at it! And honestly, how can something be healing for your mind but be terrible for your body? It’s important for us to introduce a product to the market that progresses humanity and Black culture in particular, especially with all of the looming health concerns and black’s tendency towards diabetes. Even if you’re making a delicious dessert with our product, you can be sure that you’ll avoid tons of sugar, preservatives and crazy ingredients that you can’t spell or pronounce, and therefore shouldn’t be consuming.

Photo: Trade Street Jam Co.

21N: As an entrepreneur, what is the most rewarding aspect you’ve experienced since opening Trade Street Jam Co.? 

AR: It’s been a really rewarding experience to quit my 9 to 5 and take on this company full-time. That’s been the biggest leap of faith I’ve had to take to date. I love being my own boss, making the rules and calling the shots. It’s not easy by any means, but there are huge benefits like sleeping in, scheduling my own meetings, taking time or days off when I want. I don’t have to ask permission and I’ll never look back!

21N: Can we expect to indulge our taste buds in an Ashley Rouse restaurant one day? 

AR: I’ve worked in many restaurants in my hayday, so I’m not sure if that’s in my future. I’d love to open a store, though! In the meantime, guests in the NYC area can taste what I’m cooking up at our dinner parties, like the one we’re having this month.

Photo: Ashley Rouse

21N: Do you have any advice for aspiring Black, female chefs striving to create their own business and break into the culinary industry? 

AR: Be persistent and do your research. As with anything, hard work pays off and a thick skin will get you where you want to go. Oh, and prayer. 

Ready. Set. Boss. Our daily email is pouring out inspiration with the latest #BlackGirlBossUp moments, tips on hair, beauty and lifestyle to get you on track to a better you! Sign up today.