Appearing Now on Your TV: The Zoo’s New Chef

Posted Date

July 8, 2024


In The News, Local Area

On your next visit to the Milwaukee County Zoo, be sure to swing by our food locations — the elevated menus are worth a second look, complements of our new Executive Chef, Ashley Turner. Her culinary skills will also be showcased on television — again! — when Season Five of Food Network’s “BBQ Brawl” premieres Monday, July 8, at 8 p.m. CT. Hosted by culinary star Bobby Flay, Chef Ashley is one of 12 grillmasters competing for bragging rights and the honorary title of “Master of ’Cue.” In 2023, she appeared on Food Network’s “Chopped,” placing second. We’re thrilled that Chef Ashley is now here at the Zoo, and we’re excited to share more about what makes her so special.

A bit of background:

  • Chef Ashley is a West Texas native and a third generation cook, honing her Southern-style culinary skills in family businesses in San Angelo and Dallas.
  • Every job she’s ever held has been in the food business — from fine dining to food trucks, serving to stocking, catering to cooking.
  • Since moving to Wisconsin in 2019, Chef Ashley has infused her Tex-Mex-infused barbecue and Southwestern-inspired fare to reimagine the menus at several breweries, including East Troy Brewery and Hacienda Taproom & Kitchen in Milwaukee.
  • She was also a finalist for several of the Wisconsin State Fair’s Sporkies awards. Her “Glazy Boy” sandwich — pork loin topped with raspberry mustard and pickled jalapeños on grilled, glazed doughnuts — won the top prize in 2021. Her “Sconnie Slugger” — a brat corn dog with cheese curds, deep-fried in cruller cornmeal batter — took second place in 2022.


For people who’ve never seen the show, what is “BBQ Brawl” about?
So, there are 12 competitors, divided up into three teams coached by celebrity chefs and TV personalities Bobby Flay, Sunny Anderson, and Michael Voltaggio. At least one person gets eliminated every round after various challenges. Some of them involved cooking without wood or charcoal, preparing roadside barbecue, and “nose to tail” cooking. This season was filmed in Texas, so it was nice to return to my roots.

What do you like about being on these TV shows?
Well, they’re definitely exciting. But, quite literally, I enjoy a challenge and driving myself to learn new techniques. Being a chef allows me to be creative through flavors, textures, colors. I love to create experiences for others through food, and crafting delicious, Southern-inspired dishes is really my passion.

What made you want to join the Zoo?
The Zoo is a really special, beautiful space. The energy is good. I started here in early April, and I was fortunate that they agreed to push back my start date a bit so I could film “BBQ Brawl” first. Also, the food business can be a little turbulent sometimes, and this was a unique opportunity to really settle in and help elevate our food menus. And if I ever need to stop and take a breath, I can just watch a flamingo! Where else would I get to do that at work? And of course, my family loves the Zoo too.

What sort of changes can guests expect when it comes to all things food at the Zoo?
Throughout the summer and fall, you’ll start to see more of my influence on the menus. We’re also shifting to more from-scratch cooking, whenever possible. We want our guests to be wowed when they receive their food.

We’re also excited about our three new concepts for A La Carte at the Zoo in August: county “fare,” creative pizzas, and of course, Texas barbecue. We’ll be sharing more info soon, but I’m excited to bring out my smoker!

Tell us some of your favorite menu items here.
I really like our pear and fontina cheese panini from one of our newer locations, the Snack Barn, located in the Family Farm. It has garlic aioli but it’s still classic enough for kids, and parents will like it too. At Nourish 414, we have a smoked turkey club sandwich with candied bacon and green tomatoes. We also have fresh beer-battered cheese curds at our OOZ food truck. You can never go wrong with cheese curds.


Thanks, Chef Ashley! We’re looking forward to following your journey on television and can’t wait to see what you bring next to the Zoo.

For faster entry: Members and pre-ticketed guests, park at West End (enter at 106th St).