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Maker Profile: Julie Hubert, Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt

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not without salt

Close your eyes for a moment and think about your ideal chocolate chip cookie.
(A tough ask we know, but play along.)
Is it warm, straight out of the oven just like Mom used to make? Does it crunch when you bite into it, or do your teeth sink into layers of gooey, buttery, rich goodness? Is it dunk­worthy, the perfect accomplice to an ice cold glass of fresh milk, or does it prefer to be broken apart and marveled for its decadent chocolate interior?
However you define the perfect cookie, Ashley Rodriguez, creator of Not Without Salt and Julie Hubert, operations expert behind the company’s direct shipments, have pondered these tough questions and more. In 2014, the pair made their Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix available to buy online and created an instant legend among bakers and blog followers eager to unwrap its gourmet contents in their own kitchens.

Once a pastry chef in training at Beverly Hills most popular dining destinations, Ashley has embraced a new kind of pace in the kitchen at home in Seattle, where she blogs regularly for Not Without Salt. Ashley also develops recipes for cookbooks, most notably Date Night In (Running Press, 2014), aimed at busy couples who wish to forego dinner reservations and reconnect over the simple pleasures of good food and good company at home.
Ashley and Julie sat down with Postcard Pantry to tell us about their first forays in the kitchen, their transition into the food blog community, and their thoughts on the artisanal food movement.

What’s your first memory in the kitchen?

Ashley: I doubt it was my first, but my most vivid memory has me in the kitchen, flour, eggs and clutter abound, preparing a meal for my parents. They sat outside in the yard, having just placed their order from my hand written, albeit limited menu. They ordered pasta. Homemade. I set out to crank my dough on the pasta maker I begged for for Christmas. I wish I could tell you it was glorious, I wish I could say that I whipped up homemade pasta that would make an Italian grandmother proud but sadly it was a soggy clump of wet floury goo. But my parents, in their great kindness and desire to encourage me in my kitchen endeavors, ate it happily. Hey, we have to start somewhere right?
Julie: I can still remember standing at the butcher block top of our old fashioned dishwasher, the kind you had to move over to the sink and connect the hoses to. I’d stand there on a stool and make cookies with my Mom, covered in flour, a rolling pin as tall as I was, hands in the dough. Making cookies is one of the very first memories I have in the kitchen – we go way back.

Was there anyone who nurtured your love of cooking growing up?

Ashley: It’s not that I have a ton of memories of cooking alongside people, but rather I just grew up around it. My mother would come home from work and within 30 minutes have a delicious homemade meal ready for us. She rarely cooked from recipes but she knew, instinctively, kitchen timing and how to pair flavors. I learned by watching and observing. She taught me not to be afraid of the kitchen and I took that lesson and ran with it.
Julie: Certainly my Mom, who taught me a love of feeding people and nourishing them through food. I also have a good friend, Kay, who was sort of like a kitchen surrogate to me. She was the cookbook editor for Simply Classic, which was filled with such incredible, novel things like pesto chicken and spanikopita, all things far outside my Mom’s meat­and­potatoes, Americana repertoire. Kay possesses an incredible depth of knowledge and interest in food, especially from the romance countries and European traditions. I knew her from about the time I was 7 – she was my best friend’s aunt – but I remember going to her home for Thanksgiving one year when I was about 14. The table was set with this lush tablescape, plates on top of plates, florals all down the middle. Everything had a theme, and I was like, “What is this magic?” Although the meal was riffed from the Thanksgiving tradition, it was still totally new and novel: wild mushrooms in the stuffing, turkey roulade instead of the whole bird, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic instead of the flaked stuff. She was and still is this unicorn of sophistication to me, and certainly someone who raised the bar for gourmet before the gourmet movement even took off.

Which do you prefer: cooking or baking?

Ashley: Yes! It’s so hard to just choose one. I love the creativity and spur of the moment excitement that comes from cooking. But I also love the giddy excitement that comes from planning out our next baking project. I could never choose.
Julie: I’d say I split my time 50/50, but my affection probably leans towards baking. Baking is more standalone. You can bake a friend a loaf of bread or a batch of cookies in 20 minutes, versus cooking which involves many more steps and social procedures. I bake probably every day and cook just as often, but it’s more whipping up soups and entrees on the fly. Baking feels like more of a constant in my life, something I can do without pulling out all fancy china.

Ashley, can you tell us about your transition from chef to blogger? In what ways is it different, and in what ways is it the same?

Ashley: I moved away from restaurants abruptly. When Gabe and I found out we were pregnant with our first I was just in the process of becoming pastry sous chef at Spago in Beverly Hills. But the moment I heard I was going to be a mom, everything changed. Being a mom and wanting to provide good food for them led me to the blog and to writing and taking photographs. It’s exactly where I want and need to be. It’s similar to restaurant work in that it forces me to be creative although the diners I feed now are much more particular in their tastes. 🙂 Sometimes I miss the rush and buzz of the restaurant world but I love the freedom and flexibility I have with my current career and I love that my family gets to be a part of it.

How long did it take to perfect the cookie mix?

Ashley: The recipe had been perfected long before I had ever thought to turn it into a mix. These cookies are the recipe I make most often at home and I wanted that to be said for other families as well. Now having the mix our favorite cookies are even easier to make. And actually going back to the question before, I knew that I wanted to be the mom who would often have warm cookies waiting for my children when they got home from school ­ now I’ll admit that doesn’t often happen, but having that desire led me to make certain choices in what career path I walked down. I love that I now have a mix on hand that helps families create that sweet moment using great ingredients to get an amazing cookie.
Julie: Ashley’s deep baking knowledge from places like Spago and Essential Baking Company really helped her accomplish the kind of taste and texture she wanted in the cookie mix. It uses three types of sugars, but 90% of the sugar we use is some version of a brown sugar. There’s dark brown, turbinado, and a little bit of white refined. In our testing, we found out that this really affects the moistness and richness of the crumbs and dough itself. One of the questions we were faced with was how we were going to add vanilla to the cookie, without leaving that burden to the customer. We came across this company that imports Heilala vanilla bean powder from New Zealand, and found that it perfumed the sugar so beautifully. Chocolate­wise, we tasted many different kinds. The Guittard we use is 72% dark chocolate, which has a huge impact on the flavor and makes it more of a “grown up” cookie. Something important to note is that nothing we add to the mix uses stabilizers. The chocolate melts instead of staying solid, creating some yummy striations and swirls within the cookie itself.

Why are we seeing such a demand for artisanal, small-batch goods?

Ashley: People are being so smart with their dollar and wanting to making wise choices with food. Having a story, passion, and love behind the product makes the buying decision that much easier. There are people behind our product, there are families and there are years of perfected cookie research in each tube of mix. 🙂
Julie: I think we’re seeing a pendulum swing away from the manufactured, dumbed down, heavily processed foods of the past, simply because we’re more informed than ever before. We want to care about the quality, the origin, the manufacturing process because we can make decisions for ourselves and our families, not what the big companies think is best for us. Artisanal products also provide a better experience. There’s a romance and lore to the maker’s story that people crave. Making the leap from successful blogger to successful product is really about the personality behind it. When the story about a product is strong, people begin to relate not only to the story of the maker, but the story the product tells about their own life.

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