1/4/2015

Interview x Ashleigh Parsons

Ashleigh Parsons

I first discovered Ashleigh Parsons while dining at Alma, the restaurant she co-owns with chef Ari Taymor. Since my first meal there over two years ago I have been quietly following her incredible Alma Community Outreach initiative. I finally got the courage to reach out to Ashleigh a couple of months ago for this interview and I am thrilled that she is kicking off this series in 2015.

To say Ashleigh is an inspiring woman feels like an understatement. She is a creator, dreamer, educator, and leader in Los Angeles. Alma Community Outreach works with public schools to provide wellness education to students and their families. Ashleigh and her team develop seasonal curriculum that gives students hands on experience cooking, gardening, and community building through sharing meals together.

Ashleigh also manages the front of the house at Alma. Everyone I know that has visited Alma comments on how friendly and warm Ashleigh is. That speaks volumes about her dedication to her business and her desire to build a community where everyone feels like they are valued. In this interview we chat about how she takes care of herself working long hours, the importance of spending time in nature, changing our definition of wellness, and empowering students to go after their dreams.

Share your self care musts. 
With running the restaurant as well as Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3), the days can be very long. I realized early on in this career that in order to sustain the busy schedule, I needed to take care of myself.  And the time to take care of myself lies in the morning hours when the world is still sleeping. So I wake early to practice some basic yoga and go for a long walk. Movement is important to me and I like to walk around the reservoir because I can walk directly from my house, no car needed. I set aside these morning hours to reflect on the events from the day before and to prepare for the day ahead of me. I find solace in these hours; they give me a sense of peace that carries with me throughout the day.

Ashleigh Parsons

How do you connect to nature?
I love to walk, and as often as possible I leave my phone at home during these walks so I can gaze up and observe the natural world around me. I also love the ocean more than anything and on days off, I like to drive to the Pacific to swim in the waves and sink my feet into the sand. Even one day away from the bustle of downtown Los Angeles can be incredibly rejuvenating.

Best advice you have ever taken.
Follow that feeling in your gut. Even when the rest of the world – your family, your friends, your professors – are telling you to turn away, if it feels right from within, follow that feeling. When I moved to Los Angeles to open Alma with my business partner, Ari Taymor, most of the people in my life thought I was insane. But I knew that this opportunity was one I needed to explore and here I am two years later still at it. :)

Ashleigh Parsons

What are you currently reading?
I love fiction, it’s about all I ever read besides the NY Times on Sundays and NY Magazine. Right now I’m reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A novel  by Haruki Murakami. Sometimes I go on vacation just so I can catch up on reading. It’s one of my passions.

Share a favorite seasonal meal.
Soup is my favorite thing to eat. Whether its pho or the sunchoke soup we make at the restaurant or something I make at home, it gives me a sense of comfort and nourishment that reminds me of when I was young.

Given that it’s fall, I crave squash soup. I would recommend picking up some delicata from the farmers market – they’re delicious this time of year and they have a sweetness that is unbelievable.

  • Roast the squash in the oven with a healthy amount of butter and shallots for flavor. This step adds a depth to the soup that makes it more sustaining and aromatic.
  • After an hour in the oven or until the squash are caramelized, remove them from the oven and add the squash along with some water and a pinch of salt to the blender.
  • Blend until smooth and flavor to taste.

I like to add roasted pumpkin seeds for texture and added flavor. And if I’m making this soup for friends, I would add Suzanne Goin’s cast-iron pan cornbread to the menu. Her recipe is simple to make and incredible to eat. The soup along with the cornbread make for a wonderfully nourishing and cozy meal.

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Name one of your biggest challenges and how you moved through it.
As a business owner with little experience in business, I have been faced with many challenges over the past two years. The greatest challenge has been learning to be more discerning. When running a business, it is incredibly important to surround yourself with a team that is exceptional in their field and that is made up of a group of people that you can trust. Nothing less than that is acceptable and at times, it has been hard for me to make those tough decisions but I’m learning each day and becoming stronger and stronger as a business woman.

What does wellness mean to you?
To me wellness means to be whole, and wholeness relates to the body, the mind and the spirit.  Each day, it is important to me that I feed my mind, my body and my spirit, follow up my passions and create an environment where those around me can do the same.
Ashleigh Parsons

Where do you enjoy silence?
I enjoy silence on my drive home from Alma Restaurant. When I leave Alma after a 12-16 hour work day, I love to drive in silence. During this drive, which often takes place at 12 or 1 in the morning, I like to observe Los Angeles and take in the city. I love it here. After two years of living here, it finally feels like home to me. And during those drives, I fall even more in love with the city, again and again. This quiet time also gives me space to reflect on the day that passed and take it in. I think sometimes in the busy world in which we live, we don’t take enough time to observe and reflect and I try to create space for that each day.

Tell us one thing you haven’t done yet that you really want to do.
I would really like to redefine how we address wellness within the current education system. We have become so focused on test scores and college prep that we often lose site of what it means to be well and to educate students that are whole in their minds, their bodies and their spirits. Alma Community Outreach 501(c)(3) uses skills such as gardening and cooking to empower students and to encourage self expression and creativity. Over the next years, I would like to explore the question of wellness in schools and make it so health and wellness become cornerstones of our education system.

Ashleigh Parsons

How do you create community? 
I create community by bringing a diverse group of people with varied talents to a single space: Alma.In that space, we work together, learn together and create together. It is a place where failures are embraced and where people are encouraged to be their most authentic selves. This same philosophy applies to Alma Community Outreach, where we use cooking and gardening as tools to empower and encourage the students we work with to work together as a community and pursue their passions and their dreams.

What are you most grateful for?
I am very grateful for my health, for my family, for my friends and for my work. I am also grateful for finding pleasure in simplicity. I try to do this everyday, especially when the days are quite busy. Whether it’s a cup of tea in the morning, or watching the sunrise, or a moment of laughter shared with a friend. These moments are the ones that carry us through even the most difficult days.

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Ashleigh on Instagram: @ashleighjparsons

First and second photos by Lani Trock.
Third and fourth photos by Lauren Edward.

Comments

  • Corina

    That Alma place sounds great! Wish I could go there. Since these series, Ashley, little by little I come across inspiring people or discover the inspiring things my friends do more than before. So thank you! :-) And btw. I love the third pic! Have a great day! Corina

    • ashley

      So glad you enjoyed this interview Cornia! I was really happy Ashleigh agreed to participate. She’s doing such great work and I love sharing it! Wishing you a great rest of the week! xoa

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