You’ve been to Pastaria on a date, a roommate night-out or a birthday dinner; you’ve maybe even ordered the Cacio e Pepe just for yourself, gone alone to pick it up and eaten it in your dorm room—no shame. You’re obsessed with even the small things (read: the bread and—dare I say it—the heavenly risotto balls).

At this point, you basically feel at home in the open-concept dining room with views inside the kitchen, after having visited this Clayton mainstay for various brunches, lunches and dinners. What could possibly enhance your admiration for this cheesy-carbohydrate heaven?

Drumroll, please.

The executive chef of Pastaria as of spring 2015, Ashley Shelton, was just named one of Eater’s Young Guns, an award for inspiring young talent in the restaurant industry, delivering authentic and delicious food and drink while redefining the restaurant experience for our generation. These trailblazers are selected from a group of publicly nominated individuals, judged by a panel of Eater’s trusted culinary experts.

And we couldn’t be prouder to announce Ashley Shelton’s well-deserved win—what would seem like an obvious choice for any one of Pastaria’s die-hard fans.


Photo by Spencer Pernikoff

From ingredient selection to menu creation to front-of-house service, Shelton prides herself on creating a wholly authentic Italian experience at Pastaria. After visiting Florence to take culinary classes and work two stints in Italian restaurants, she was smitten.

“Every chance I got, I was walking around and trying things and eating. We had field trips to wineries and butcher shops and food markets. It was literally nine months of complete sensory overload of what Italy has to offer, and it was awesome,” Shelton says.

Part fate and part luck, Shelton had the chance to convene with James Beard Award winner Gerard Craft while in Florence, after she heard he was planning on opening an Italian restaurant in St. Louis—and the rest really was history.


Photo by Greg Rannells

While the initial conception of the menu and the vibe was Craft’s doing, Shelton has made her mark on both the food and the feel of the kitchen since taking over the executive chef position in March of last year.

“We’ve completely re-done our brunch menu since I got here,” she explains, “but because of our customer base, we do have to keep many of the same pasta dishes. We’re always changing our entrée choices and running seasonal pizzas, so we’re constantly evolving on that front.”

The best part? Shelton aims to make the kitchen experience at Pastaria (almost) as fun for her staff as the dining experience is for all of us. A serious chef who knows how to have serious fun, Shelton says it’s important for her to see every cook walk in the door with a smile on his or her face.

“I choose to lead with smiles and candy and singing,” Shelton says. “I like to have a lot of fun, but I’m very serious when it’s necessary—the atmosphere is fun and inviting, and we joke around all the time, which is great, but in order to get that, you have to be serious about your job. I’m really lucky to have a team that can do both.”

By serious, she means she’s a true pasta lover at heart, someone who genuinely enjoys eating pasta just as much as she enjoys cooking it. Of course, I had to ask her what she cooks for friends and family, when she’s not at the restaurant. Her answer? Pasta (no joke), but especially lasagna, from scratch of course.

“I never get sick of it!” she claims, laughing. “We joke about that all the time in the kitchen. We always say that’s how we know our food is good because we crave it. In the middle of our service, I’ll crave a bucatini or a cacio, and I’ve been trying it all night.”


Photo by Greg Rannells

To the students out there who feel a similar passion—whether it’s about pasta or tacos or poké bowls—Shelton’s advice is to go for it, but also to know that being a chef is more grueling than it may appear.

“There is this whole façade about what it is to be a chef, but really, it’s hard, long hours. You have to want to wake up and go to work everyday—if you don’t, you’re just going to be miserable, and in that case, your food is going to taste bad. But if you love it and you think about it all the time, then go for it, and it will all be worth it. It has to consume you. And once you’re there, I always say to find that work-life balance, which we all struggle with every single day.”


Photo by Greg Rannells

A balanced diet, though, isn’t quite as important for Shelton. She simply has too strong a relationship with pasta to deny it (and I don’t blame her). To all the health nuts out there, Shelton has a word:

“Honestly, life is too short, and the food is too good. I don’t watch what I eat too much—I just go for it.”

My last question: what the $%#! is in the Pastaria risotto balls that makes them so damn good?!

The straight answer: cheese. The recipe includes mozzarella, fontina and grana padano.

“There’s just a ton of cheese inside this really gooey risotto,” Shelton says. “That’s why—it’s the fat. It’s the butter, the cheese and then deep-frying the whole thing. I’m sorry, there’s no crack in them! It’s just cheese, and everybody loves cheese.”