When Getting Pregnant Upended This Pastry Chef’s World, Life Truly Began

·Editor

Every week, we spotlight a different food blogger who’s shaking up the blogosphere with tempting recipes and knockout photography. Today, we chat with Ashley Rodriguez, the former pastry chef-turned-food blogger behind Not Without Salt, which since its founding in 2008 has become one of the Internet’s most popular food blogs. Swing back all week for a new recipe from Rodriguez every day.

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Photos courtesy of Ashley Rodriguez

For Ashley Rodriguez, the food blogger whose site Not Without Salt helped define the food blogging genre, success can be boiled down to a single trait: confidence. It was a characteristic learned early, from watching her mother move self-assuredly about the Bellingham, Wash., kitchen that was the setting for Rodriguez’s earliest memories.

“She walked into the kitchen with confidence and wasn’t afraid of it, and rarely used a recipe to make us dinner,” Rodriguez told Yahoo Food. “Things like that gave me a big head start because I wasn’t fearful in the kitchen. Never have been. I’m always trying new things and experimenting — and recognizing that some things don’t always work out.”

Asparagus tart with mascarpone and walnuts.

Things certainly didn’t work out as planned when it came to her career, although Rodriguez is thankful fate had other plans in store. She’d originally intended to use her fine arts degree to become a high school art teacher, but a semester studying art history in Italy provided a different sort of education.

“In Italy, I spent all my free time shopping in the market,” she recalled. “It was the first time I experienced a food culture where so much of life happens at the table… I just fell so in love with that feeling, and I desired to create that experience back home.”

Upon her return to the States, Rodriguez embarked upon a career in food. Rather than go the culinary school route, she began working at a bakery in Seattle, and soon kickstarted a small business selling chocolates out of her own tiny kitchen. Then, in 2005, she got her big break: a pastry gig at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant Spago in Los Angeles. She and her husband picked up and moved to the city of angels without much of a second thought.

Quick-pickled red onions.

“It was very intimidating — they threw me on the line to start, and I had no idea what that meant or what that looked like,” Rodriguez said. Hours were long, and the pace faster than she’d ever imagined. Yet it proved a tremendous learning experience, one for which Rodriguez is endlessly grateful. What got her through? She knew she could do it. “It was very challenging at first, but I grew to love it,” she said. “I was in the process of moving up and becoming pastry sous chef, and then pastry chef.”

But less than a year later, Rodriguez began feeling unwell. “I’d be making the food, feeling terrible, then running into the bathroom and throwing up,” she said. The flu was going around, so she didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until she and her husband were making a late-night grocery run for banana split ingredients — a sudden, ineffable craving had struck — that Rodriguez began to connect the dots. Along with the chocolate sauce and whipped cream, she snagged a pregnancy test. The verdict: she was three months pregnant.

Greek-inspired nachos.

As suddenly as the news struck, Rodriguez’s entire life changed. Deciding that her fast-paced restaurant job was incompatible with motherhood, she quit and moved with her husband back home to Bellingham. There, she had her first child — a son, named Baron — and started a wedding cake and dessert catering business. She started a blog, too, Artisan Sweets, to promote the business.

It proved to be another major turning point. Rodriguez loved the blogging process — making a dish, photographing it, and writing about the feelings it conjured — and realized that a blog could be more than just a marketing tool. In 2008, after the birth of her second child, Rodriguez started a new site, Not Without Salt.

There, she tackled recipes from butter-braised pork chops to arroz con pollo to roasted strawberry milkshakes, but also opened up about her struggles with postpartum depression and the difficulties of family life. Rodriguez’s poignant, vulnerable writing — as well her gorgeous photography and interesting recipes — struck a chord with readers. 

Chocolate chip cookies.

In 2013, Saveur named Not Without Salt the cooking blog of the year, and her social media following ballooned. She now boasts more than 45,000 followers on Facebook and upwards of 74,000 followers on Instagram. Perhaps most notably, since its founding, Not Without Salt has inspired second and third waves of food bloggers who, along with Rodriguez, have helped transform the food blogosphere into a legitimate proving ground for home cooks.

For Rodriguez personally, Not Without Salt’s success has translated into a cookbook — Date Night In, released last year, which features recipes for rekindling romance at home — and an online shop, through which Rodriguez sells her popular salted chocolate chip cookie mix. ”In my humble opinion, I think they’re the best chocolate chip cookies,” she said.

Now a mother of three, Rodriguez says she isn’t sure what’s next. She hopes to write another cookbook, and perhaps expand the offerings in her online shop. But she’s open to other possibilities, even some she can’t quite yet fathom. “I never set out to be a blogger, and part of that was because being a blogger wasn’t a ‘thing’ when I started,” she explained. “I’m just kind of riding this wave and enjoying it while it’s here.”

Circle back to Yahoo Food for a new recipe from Not Without Salt every day this week.

More bloggers who should be on your radar:

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How a Food Blog Helped Unite a Family 6,844 Miles Apart

Why This Food Blogger Refuses to Eat Oysters