Ashley Madden shares her transformation from pharmacist to plant based chef

by | May 21, 2020 | Features

Ashley Madden from Rise Shine cook is a pharmacist turned plant-based chef, holistic nutritionist, and food photographer.

In her early twenties, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosis ignited her interests and determination in taking responsibility for her own health.”Through all my training and experience I know for sure that we can support our individual wellbeing through food and satisfy our appetites without compromising taste, ease of preparation or elegance.”

Can you name some people/teachers who have had the greatest impact on your holistic wellness journey?

 So many! From my mom to Oprah! Ok but really, I would have to say Sarah Britton (of MyNewRoots) – my first intro to holistic cooking, Forks Over Knives – my first brush with whole food, plant-based eating. Amy Chaplin- cookbook author and my idol!

What is your personal eating philosophy/plan?

I could write a book on this!

Well first, I think we all have to acknowledge that our dietary needs shift throughout life. Right now I focus on a vegan diet with as few processed foods as possible. Veggie forward meals, mindful eating and low to no added oils. This has been my approach for about 10 years and it’s served me well.

What are the top 3 things in your opinion that people can change right now to move towards a happier and healthier life?

  1. Cook from home, cook anything, just cook
  2. Give up soda and sugary beverages
  3. Make half your plate at dinner vegetables

Can you please share with us how your personal health crisis in your twenties transformed you?

 I’ve written about this in my plant-based cookbook coming out later this year.

But to summarize, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 23. It was a shocking and unexpected event – it totally derailed my whole life.

At the time I was working as a pharmacist and I just couldn’t believe that I now was labelled with this disease that I read about so objectively. In addition to the fear of what my life was going to look like, the event really turned my whole world upside down. I began to reassess everything and it took me years to accept my new reality. I wasn’t sure who I was, what I wanted, or how much time I had to figure it out!

I began educating myself on all kinds of topics and eventually became a holistic nutritionist. I wanted to know more about alternative health care methods and was surprised at how ignorant I was to some of the most basic principles of health. I eventually went to a plant-based culinary school in New York City and the rest is history!

I adopted a plant-based whole food diet, began teaching cooking classes and giving talks. I did demos and corporate events and recipe development for restaurants. I am now finishing up my first cookbook and spend a lot of time doing food photography.

My health crisis changed the trajectory of my entire life. In a way, I knew I was going down the wrong path and MS was my course correction. Of course, I wish I didn’t have an autoimmune disease, but in a weird way it was a challenge that pushed me to follow my passion and to become present. I try to live day to day and appreciate every experience.

What role does self love play in health?

Self love. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned.

It plays a consistent role but I would say it’s a working relationship. Self love for me has been a learned practice. It’s constantly evolving. The more you do it, the more you acknowledge yourself and all your goodness, the more power self love has. It’s been one of the most transformational revelations for me – it’s helped me heal in many ways.

What are your favourite ways to slow down and relax?

Early mornings are when I reset and find balance.

Relaxing jazz, a cozy blanket, my journal and a tidy space. But when I need to come down after a long week on my feet,  a good movie and some cauliflower hot wings hits the spot.

Can you share your morning routine?

Yes! I love mornings – this is my sacred time.

An ideal morning goes something like this – 5.30 am rise, I put the kettle on and then sit in a warm and dark room and meditate for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Then I might make tea or pour over coffee and I sit for a few minutes, sometimes planning my day, sometimes contemplating a recipe, and sometimes doing nothing! Then it’s yoga or a walk and then a shower and I hit the kitchen!

Lately recipe testing has been my main priority but  a new photography project starts soon (the photography for another cookbook) so this routine will change a little.

Can you tell us about your love for photography? Do you take all your gorgeous photographs on your website? Are you self taught? Any tips for aspiring food photographers out there

I started dabbling in photography because I wanted to share recipes on my website RiseShineCook.ca.

I started the site right out of culinary school when I was full of ideas and energy to share everything I had learned. But I had no clue and my pictures were horrendous! I mean it, no one could have been more green than me!

It’s taken me about 6 years to get where I am with photography and I’m still learning. I am mostly self taught but in the last year or so I’ve really wanted to take my styling and manipulation of light to the next level so I have taken some courses. I take and style all of my own pictures on my site and in my upcoming cookbook.

My advice to aspiring photographers would be to not be afraid to start small and shitty (can I say that?! LOL). No, really. Don’t be afraid to be bad. You are supposed to be crappy in the beginning.  Everyone is bad in the beginning. You have to move through the stages of growth to get where you want to go. And then, practice, practice, practice.

Watch some youtube videos to get an understanding of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and just take pictures. Photography is a time commitment but also a financial one. Start with whatever camera you have and don’t feel rushed to spend lots of money on gear.

You completed your yoga teacher training in NYC. Can you tell us a little bit more about your yoga journey and influencers?

Yoga came into my life at a time when I was going through a lot of physical and emotional pain.

Many people meet yoga this way. I started with online videos and eventually started going to a fabulous yoga studio in my hometown Nova Yoga ( NovaYogaOnline.com). There are some incredible teachers online who have had a major impact on my practice– Tracy Noseworthy (traceynoseworthy.com) and Melanie Caines (.melaniecaines.com) are two of my favourites.

Over time I developed a deep desire to know more, to understand the practice better. I wasn’t the most experienced practitioner by any means but with encouragement from other teachers I once again set off to NYC to train at Yoga Works.

Going through teacher training helped me get closer to the practice and yoga took on a new meaning for me. I actually don’t actively teach right now, as the culinary world has become my main focus, but I know I will return to it. I still get on my mat on the regular – sometimes for 10 minutes sometimes for an hour.

What’s next for Rise, Shine, Cook?

EEK! I’m so excited for the next year.

I have been working on a cookbook for 4 years (yes, 4 YEARS!) and it’s finally getting published. The book and the recipes come right from my heart and have been tested vigorously.

It’s everything from whole grain bread to 1-pot pasta to decadent chocolate cake. Every recipe is vegan, gluten-free, and oil-free. There are over 100 pictures in the book and I’m still finishing up the final manuscript. So this book will be the next phase of my journey and we’ll see what comes from it.

I will always share my recipes on RiseShineCook.ca, she’s been consistent in my life and a place I always return to connect with other health foodies. I have a lot of photography work and collaborations in the works. It’s going to be a busy time but I’m really looking forward to whatever is next!

Ashley’s favorites

Favourite plant based breakfast?

Creamy overnight oat parfaits or buckwheat pancakes!

Plant based comfort food?

Mac ‘n cheese with a sweet potato cheese sauce.

Plant based treat?

Ohhh…so many. For a quick one Chocolate Beet Bliss Balls!

Plant based book?

At Home With The Whole Food Chef by Amy Chaplin.

The next plant based recipe I’d like to try is…

A creamy cauliflower casserole baked in a dutch oven (currently testing this recipe).

A plant based eatery anywhere in the world I’d love to eat at …

Oh this is a tough one. I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a bit of travel and I’ve lived in Europe, North America, and Asia. Our itineraries are always guided by food. So let me pick a couple. Plants in Taipei. Teresa Carles in Barcelona. Cafe Gratitude in  Los Angeles. Meat on Main in Vancouver

A plant based chef I’d love to meet and share a meal with

Amy Chaplin. Hands down. I met her once briefly, but I would love to sit with her for an entire meal!

Thank you Ashley xo

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