Interview with Ashley Hildreth of MAYDAY Seafood Market & FOSS HILDRETH Design.
1. Take us through a typical day of yours, in atypical times.
Walk blindly to the kitchen to make coffee and take my dog Tubby out. Morning yoga (the kind where you just roll around on the ground and stretch), read Frank Don/Susan Miller astrology. See what horrifying events have happened in the news, then cheer myself up with aggressively scouring the internet for Phoebe Philo Celine, check emails (4 email accounts) and see what the day holds for me! I have two businesses, FOSS HILDRETH (Interior Design, Creative Agency) and MAYDAY (Seafood Market). Having to manage several projects at once, I meet with my partners throughout the day and try to finish at a reasonable time to take Tubby to the park, attempt to read various Jane Austen novels and/or watch adaptations, then bed. I’m a Taurus so bed is the most important time in my day. Oh yeah, and cooking three meals a day gets squeezed in there too.
2. Can you tell us about Mayday and how it came to be?
Well, Mayday was a total accident. Prior to working in design, I was in the restaurant world for many years. Chris Kronner (MAYDAY Partner) and I owned a restaurant in Oakland, called KronnerBurger. When the pandemic hit, a lot of our friend’s restaurants or food businesses either closed, seriously downsized or were forced to reimagine themselves quickly. As a way to support some of these friends in the industry, we bought a CSA fish box from Monterey Fish Market - an institution in the Bay Area since the 1970’s (they’ve provided local, sustainable catch and provide seafood to prestigious restaurants like Chez Panisse). Their normal wholesale restaurant business became nonexistent, so they developed direct to consumer CSA fish boxes as a way to ride the wave. After moving to Los Angeles last year, we found it extremely difficult to find high quality fresh seafood, so we were thrilled to participate!
We started making sushi with their fish and posting photos on Instagram and before we knew it our DM’s were flooded with people asking where they could purchase. In an effort to support the fisherman, we started selling the fish to friends via Instagram. We had a wild response! We used our 1984 Mercedes station wagon (RIP) to deliver the fish and it all felt very underground/hustler style which people seemed to be into! Now we have a little space in Echo Park that we are slowly renovating as the business grows. We hope that by next year we can have outdoor dining! For now we are focusing on getting the website up and running since I’m still personally answering every email every week!
3. Can you tell us about sourcing and sustainable fisheries, why is this important?
So happy you asked this question!!! Most people do not realize that they are purchasing non-sustainable seafood and are supporting a heavy carbon footprint due to transportation emissions. If you’re buying fish from outside of the US you have to take into consideration how it was transported to the table you’re eating at. Responsible sourcing and fishing is all in the technique and environment as well as understanding seasonal fishing and harvesting. Sustainable fisheries are directed fisheries, catching targeted species with little by-catch. Fish are caught at an age and volume that do not affect the species ability to reproduce and repopulate. The idea is that you do not deplete any species!
4. What are the benefits, for consumers and producers, of a community supported food exchange?
Buying local should be the fabric of our lives. California is of such abundance when cared for properly. Knowing that your fish is coming from San Diego, Produce is coming from Somis, and that your dairy and meat are coming from Marin means that you are not only supporting jobs in California, but that there are less emissions. Climate Change people! It’s real!
5. I know you offer produce boxes as well. Where do you source your produce? And what are some of the things we can expect to find on the prepared items menu + "kits"?
The produce boxes are put together by Chris. He goes to the Market at 6am on Wednesdays to see what’s in season that week. He has an eye for particular items that are of rarity and may have a short growing period so the boxes always feel extra special because you never know what you’re going to get. Being able to support these smaller farms means they can keep growing these specialty items and you’re supporting generational family businesses.
The prepared foods have seemed to be a life/time saver during the pandemic. Finding yourself cooking every meal is exhausting and you can end up eating a lot of the same thing. We’ve been offering Thai style seafood sausages, salmon burgers, al pastor rockfish tacos and signature KronnerBurgers. We also have vegan/veggie burger options, such as our EarthBurger. We just started offering seafood stock and other pre-made grocery items that make cooking easier and more interesting because let’s be honest, we are all sick as hell of our own cooking!
6. Are there any other farms, delivery services etc. you would like us to know about and support at this time? Where are your favorite places to eat in California?
Some of our favorite businesses right now are The Wax Apple (Taiwanese pick-up only food service), Kismet Goods (grocery + Wine), Cafe Wednesday (vegan/veggie options, pay what you can meal service). Farms to support are Jimenez Family Farm, Murnak Farms, Schaner Family Farms, 2 Peas in a pod Farm (family owned).
Some of my favorite restaurants have since closed as they were family or independently owned restaurants that just couldn’t make it. Here are my survivors list: Bay Area: Rintaro, Chez Panisse, The Slanted Door, Fish Sausalito, La Taqueria Southern CA: La Super Rica, Mh Zh, Kismet, Papilles Bistro (currently For The Win burger pop-up), Madi Borbely’s Pizza House (book coming out 2021)
7. I know you designed you and your partner’s previous restaurant. Can you tell us about that?
KronnerBurger was designed in collaboration with Wylie Price. After cutting your teeth in restaurants, it’s the dream to open your own. There are tons of rules and regulations around building restaurant/commercial projects so this was a massive learning curve for us. It is a Flatiron-style building and was a train stop in the old Oakland key system. We had to be thoughtful in restoring the space as the community was extremely sensitive to any change to the structure -- leading us to understand why it was abandoned for several years. We did our best but can’t please everyone! Designing the space felt so natural that it made me want to leave restaurants all together and work in the design world. Transforming space to create a vibe and feel was what I wanted to focus on.
8. How does your work in these two industries inform and influence one another as aesthetic experiences?
I made the leap into design about 5 years ago. I worked as Sales Director for The Future Perfect in San Francisco. Having David Alhadeff as a design mentor was extremely formative and showed me worlds I would’ve never known existed. While working with interior designers and architects, I noticed that was a gap in sourcing unique pieces for restaurant/commercial projects. I often saw designers select the same pieces over and over again, leaving most restaurants feeling like replicas of each other.
Luke Foss, who was the Director of Visual Merchandising at The Future Perfect, and I broke off to work on some restaurant projects in LA with the goal of creating more visually appealing restaurants that felt bespoke without being fussy. Having experience in both industries helped me see some glaring holes in the hospitality world -- basically there are so many places I want to eat that just don’t exist in Los Angeles. Restaurants here feel overly hyped, over designed, commercial or gapingly large. I want to help create atmospheres here that don’t take themselves too seriously, feel authentic and have personality and intimacy. Our goal is to create timelessness and ease.
9. Dream interior?
Any John Pawson Project. I aspire to own less, to create minimal distraction and more intimacy. I feel fulfilled by a project with zero frills, but with levels of intention and mindfulness.
10. How has this time affected your relationship to cooking, what have you been making?
I’ve always been a cook at home kind of gal. Having access to fish allows me to make my favorite dishes I would normally order in restaurants. I’m a super lazy cook, so I tend to make things with light preparation. I find myself eating California halibut crudo with TART vinegar and preserved lemon paste at least 3x a week. Shrimp can be boiled from raw and kept cooked in the fridge for up to a week, so I’ll make shrimp salads for lunch a lot! If I buy meat I typically will salt in advance and let it sit overnight for a very tender piece of meat the next evening. But my most favorite dish to make is sausage and Manila clams in a giant cast iron with crusty bread. Don’t worry, I also eat veggies with every meal, it’s just not as fun to talk about!
11. Any rituals outside of the kitchen?
I’ve been getting back into journalling a bit. Setting intentions, working on mindfulness and being present. I’m looking forward to the fall and going on early evening walks. The pandemic has left time for self-reflection and it feels good to finally make time for myself in that way.
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Deliveries in Los Angeles and pick-ups available in Echo Park, Beachwood Canyon, and Tartine Santa Monica.