Food & Drink

Ambrosia Salad

The classic dish is reimagined by Shelley Cooper of Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee


“Every family has its own way of doing ambrosia,” says Shelley Cooper, chef at Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in rural Townsend, Tennessee, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The traditional dish is a throwback to a time when tropical ingredients were exotic luxuries. “I can remember my maternal grandmother in the Mississippi Delta, she would do ambrosia with fresh fruit and whipped cream for special occasions,” Cooper says. “My North Carolina mountain family would go to church on Sunday, then have ambrosia with potluck lunch. It was the fruit cocktail and marshmallow stuff.” Cooper, who grew up in Memphis, spent her formative career years cooking Southern food at restaurants in places from Alaska to New Zealand, until coming home to Tennessee in 2013. (“It was a spiritual calling,” she says.) As she built Dancing Bear’s menu, she wanted to revisit that family favorite in a fresh way. The greens, goat cheese, and brown butter dressing always stay the same, but the fruit changes with the season. In early summer, Cooper uses berries she gathers on the property—unless one of the lodge’s namesakes is already foraging for them. “You do have to be careful,” she says. “But if the bears are out, there’s always somebody showing up in a pickup who wants to sell me something.”


>See More Summer Berry Recipes


  • For the Dressing (Yield: About 3 cups)

    • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter

    • ½ cup rice wine vinegar

    • 1 tbsp. sugar

    • ¼ cup maple syrup

    • ¼ cup pecan halves

    • ¼ cup dried cherries

    • ¼ cup kosher salt

    • 1 tbsp. white pepper

  • For the salad (Yield: 6 servings)

    • 6 cups fresh mixed greens

    • 10 strawberries, quartered

    • 10 blackberries, halved

    • 10 raspberries

    • 10 blueberries

    • 10 bite-size pieces fresh pineapple

    • 1 cup goat cheese, crumbled

    • 1 cup shaved unsweetened coconut, toasted


  1. Place the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat and cook until light chocolate brown, stirring occasionally. Cool for 30 minutes. Slowly whisk in each remaining dressing ingredient.

  2. (If the dressing gets too cool, it will solidify. Gently reheat in a saucepan over low heat or microwave and whisk to reblend.)

  3. To serve, plate greens, top with fruit, cheese, and coconut, and spoon desired amount of warm dressing over the salad. 

Recipe from Shelley Cooper of Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro Townsend, Tennessee