In those early days of the pandemic, chef Ashleigh Fleming was just trying to keep it all together. “I was running a taco and tamale place out of my own house,” she says. “I wanted to get out of the industry.” But when she drove seventy miles north to Littleton, North Carolina, to interview for an operations position at Blue Jay Bistro, she unexpectedly fell in love with the place—and its culinary team. “It was a shot in the dark,” Fleming says. But one that happily placed her at the helm of the kitchen.
Unlike the buzzing urban Triangle where Fleming had lived, Littleton offered a peaceful green countryside flush with farms. The rolling fields brought in heaps of produce to play with in the kitchen, including crates of ripe summer peaches. She soon took the sweet fruit and added her own “Texas twist,” she says. “Texas loves to cross sweet and savory. It’s like a religion.”
Fleming thought back to her childhood in Houston with her grandmother, whose love for fresh fruits and veggies inspires her work at Blue Jay Bistro today. “I think we were the only kids running around Houston eating raw sugarcane, the same way she grew up. A lot of our food at Blue Jay Bistro has threads to her.” When it came to brainstorming what savory spin to add to the peaches, Fleming remembered a Texas treat she enjoyed eating with her grandmother: the puffy taco. But as she researched and learned more about the recipe, Fleming found it had a painful history. It tied back to Indigenous American fry bread, a food made from U.S. government rations of flour, sugar, and lard, given to Indigenous communities after they were forced off their native land. “For me, the puffy taco was from my childhood, but studying the history and culture around it offered a reevaluation of the dish.” Calling it a puffy taco on the menu, Fleming says, felt like stretching it away from its history.
The crispy, puffed dough turned out to be the perfect vessel to hold sweet North Carolina peaches alongside a savory companion. At Blue Jay Bistro, Fleming tops the peaches with a savory bacon jam and ricotta. “There’s a lot of wood and smokiness from bacon that goes with the subtle hints of sweetness from the peach, giving it some weight.”
To make the recipe at home, Flemings likens preparing the fry bread dough to making biscuits or pie. “It’s important not to overwork it, or it won’t be airy,” she says. The bread takes on a golden brown color and crisps up like a flour tortilla for a deliciously balanced brunch bite to kick off peach season in the South.