Interview by Megan Cole
Julia Child is often credited as being the one who taught thousands of people how to cook, thanks to her TV show, but what would Child have done in the wake of food blogs, Instagram and Twitter? Food bloggers were the innovators nearly a decade ago, when the world of self-publishing online via blogs became accessible to anyone with a computer. Ashley Rodriguez, author of the blog Not Without Salt and the new cookbook Date Night In, was one of those innovators, along with a handful of others. Food blogs have now exploded and have quickly become a go-to source for many home cooks’ recipe ideas, and home cooks themselves have even gotten online and built their own community. We caught up with Rodriguez to talk about food blogging and the stigma of the world “blogger.”
How long ago did you start your blog?
I started blogging eight years ago with a different blog, but I started Not Without Salt six years ago.
Why did you decide to start blogging?
We had just moved back from LA. My husband and I were living in LA and I was working at Spago, and to our surprise we got pregnant and we moved back to Washington State. I started a dessert catering and wedding cake business, and the blog started as a way to start marketing that business. It was a free website I could update as often as I wanted. But it was so different than what the blog is now. It was more like, “Look at the wedding cake I made last week,” and my husband was taking all the pictures. I grew into the blog and my life dictate what it became. When I had our second child, then that’s when I started Not Without Salt, and I started focusing on sharing recipes that people could actually follow, the food we were eating, what was inspiring me… and it became more useful to people.
What do you think is so endearing about the really great food blogs, like your own?
When I started food blogging there was really only a handful of us. We all knew each other and it was this really small community; food blogging was its own niche. Now there are so many more niches within food blogging, like vegan, cookies and gluten-free. It’s crazy how many categories there are, but what I love is, for me, it’s like a journal. With the recipes, they’re easy to follow, but they aren’t as perfected as the ones that are in the book. It’s more casual and informal, and there’s more of a story to go with it. Those are the kinds of blogs I like to follow; they give recipes, but share an experience with it. I’m reading the reason behind the food itself. You really get to know someone through their blog if they are writing as if it’s a journal because it’s about the day to day or the week to week. They aren’t so polished, but more just tell a real story about food and life.
That’s what food is all about. It’s not always polished china and high-gloss pages of a cookbook. It’s the stories of the people who gather around the table. And that is what’s captured in so many food blogs.
That’s what I am really interested in. As much as I love food I really love the community and experience it creates. It brings people together around a table, and eases us into this really intimate moment with great conversation. We have to eat, and it’s where memories are made and experience are created. I’m really drawn to the blogs that tell that story.
When did you start the “Dating My Husband” part of your blog?
That I began four years ago.
Why did decide to include that feature?
The inspiration came out of our own relationship and recognizing that we needed to make that commitment to take one night a week and have those date nights at home. The other part of it was to push myself in the kitchen. I wanted to cook food that was more thought out and planned out than our everyday food that I use to feed the kids. I also wanted the accountability of the blog, and that’s the reason why I put it up there. If I said it was a series and I write about this, and people grow to expect it, than that would help us to actually do it. I knew the importance of it for us and how much we needed it, and I wrote very candidly about real romance and what happens when the butterflies fade away and life happens, and the intention and work that goes into making a long-term relationship or marriage work. It really hit a chord with people because I think too often people are afraid to say that relationships take work. It sounds so unromantic, but people could relate, and the comments I received from that post reassured us in what were doing and kept us dating, and writing about it.
Have you cooked for your husband from the beginning of your relationship, even when it was brand new?
Yeah, it’s kind of funny because we got married so young, and I was just getting into food when we got married. I always enjoyed cooking, and was never afraid of the kitchen, like so many people seem to be these days, but at the same time we were starting our marriage, and I was falling in love with him and food at the same time. It was an exciting and fun time, because everything was so new to me. I’ve always been the primary cook in the family.
Me too. Sometimes I want a night off. [Laughs]
I know. I tried in the beginning to get him excited about cooking, and when we started the blog I thought it would be fun to get in the kitchen together, but one thing is he really doesn’t like it, so I always felt like I was forcing him to do something he really doesn’t enjoy. The other thing is because I worked in professional kitchens, I have grown to expect a certain way of doing things in the kitchen, and a certain speed, so I can tend to be a bit controlling. It’s better for our relationship if he goes over to one corner and makes us a cocktail and puts the kids to bed, and I go into the kitchen and make the meal. That works for us.
What was the process like for the cookbooks? Did you always know that was part of the plan when you started the blog?
Not initially when I started it; it wasn’t until I started to see the other bloggers get book deals that I started to think it might happen. I remember when Molly Wizenberg of Orangette got her book deal, and we were friends around that same time, it really made me realize it could be a possibility for me. The desire to write a cookbook became stronger, and I have always liked the idea of creating something tangible that you work for years on, and then you have this tangible thing that you’ve worked so hard on and a team of people that worked together to make something amazing. There were other book ideas that happened while I was waiting for the right one. I held out for a while.
Do you think we are at a point where people are starting to take food bloggers more seriously? There was a time when chefs and professional cookbook authors thought of food bloggers as amateurs at home, and didn’t really give them much credit, but now with so many food bloggers publishing cookbooks, like Smitten Kitchen, Joy the Baker and you, it seems like people are maybe taking food bloggers more seriously.
Yeah. I don’t know. I like to think so, but I also don’t think of myself as just a food blogger. I started off working in professional kitchens, so I have that background that plays into it, and everyone has their own reasoning for why they got into it; like Joy has her background in kitchens and things like that, too, that you can sell. I like to think that bloggers are being taken more seriously. There is still maybe this stigma that comes with that “blogger” name. I would like to think each book is evaluated on its own and not just looked at as another “food blogger” book, because it’s not simply that. I have mixed emotions on all of that. I always thought the blog was what works for me now while I have young children, but it wasn’t always the end goal. I’d like to be looked at for more than the blog, but having said that, I don’t want to discredit the blog because it has given me so many incredible opportunities. It really led me to this career that I would have never had because I was on a completely different path to being a pastry chef working in restaurants. And then that changed when I had children and the blog led me to food photography and recipe development, that I had never thought of doing, but this is exactly what I want to be doing, and what I feel I was made to be doing. Blogging has given so many talented people a voice, where they may not have had the opportunity to speak and to show their beautiful photographs. It’s amazing to think of all these people who have used a blog to teach them how to do these kinds of things. There is so much talent out there. It’s crazy.