In this inspiring interview, Melissa Sharp of Modern Baker–the popular UK bakery–shares her journey of surviving breast cancer, predominantly with real food. In her new baking cookbook, she shares her secrets for how to use clean, nutritious ingredients and superfoods to improve digestion and wellness.
Welcome back to the In Her Shoes series, where we share inspiring interviews with influential experts in health, nutrition, and lifestyle.
Whenever I meet healthy, beautiful, successful women, I’m always dying to know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. What do they eat? What products do they use? What’s their routine? I’m obsessed with other peoples’ stories and love sharing uplifting women with y’all!
Today we’re chatting with Melissa Sharp, author of the cookbook Super Loaves and Simple Treats: Modern Baking for Healthier Living where she reveals the secrets behind her good-for-you breads, buns, cakes, cookies, and more. This beautiful book is available TODAY on Amazon (as in, it literally just came out)!
GETTING TO KNOW MELISSA SHARP
I first learned about Melissa a few months ago when her publicist reached out to let me know about her forthcoming cookbook. But what really struck me was Melissa's story.
Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, Melissa supplemented her chemotherapy with nutritious eating, took control of her wellness and is now a breast cancer survivor.
Not only did real food help Melissa beat cancer, but it developed a new passion in her. Enthused with a mission to nourish herself and others,Melissa quit her corporate job and became the owner of Oxford’s hit bakery Modern Baker.
Now, in Super Loaves and Simple Treats, Melissa reveals the secrets behind Modern Baker’s nutritious breads, buns, cakes, cookies, and more. Highlighting gorgeous photography and more than 100 recipes for tasty breads and sweets – like Rye Sourdough with Raspberries and Blackberries, Gluten-Free Sundried Tomato and Basil Sourdough, and Fig Upside-Down Cake with Lucuma – this book is a must for anyone who loves real food, yet is a sweet tooth slash carboholic at heart!
The recipes aren’t your typical “healthy” treats, which are often disappointing and lacking in flavor. By baking with sourdough starters (easier on digestion), reducing the amount of refined sugar in her recipes, and incorporating superfoods and adaptogenic herbs throughout, Melissa encourages bakers to foster gut health and wellness. Using high quality, unprocessed ingredients—many of which are gluten-free and/or vegan—you can literally have your cake and eat it too!
WHAT ARE THE FIRST 30 MINUTES OF YOUR DAY LIKE?
My two dogs dictate the first 30 minutes of my day, and I love my early morning walk with them, which is around 7 am. I have a 16-year-old fluffy white Coton de Tulear called Silla, and a 4-year-old French Bulldog called BoBo. Both of whom I adore. Don’t tell anyone, but I do often check my emails in bed when I wake up.
My first drink is always a mug of hot water, which I follow with an organic, outdoor grown wheatgrass shot, which we buy frozen from Live Wheatgrass, 3 months’ worth at a time. Then, a big glug of organic aloe vera juice from Pukka, which I started taking during chemo and saved me from mouth ulcers. Apparently, it’s nature’s botox!
SHOWER TIME! WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO PRODUCTS?
I work my way around different products because it’s my business to know what’s out there, but always natural and without parabens. At the moment I’m using everything by the very Swedish L:A Bruket. I love their packaging as well as the products.
WHAT’S YOUR TYPICAL BREAKFAST?
I’m never hungry first thing, but when I’m ready, generally around 10, I’ll have something on sourdough toast (Modern Baker, of course). My favourite bread at the moment, I go through phases, is our Superloaf, its quinoa makes for a good protein hit. It’s normally hummus or avocado on top, with a big helping of sauerkraut swimming in probiotic goodness, which my boyfriend Leo makes in vast quantities. Someone has to eat it!
ARE YOU A TEA OR COFFEE DRINKER?
I love a cup of organic, Monmouth black coffee in the morning (a great independent coffee roaster in London and what we serve in the cafe), and a couple of cups of Tiosk green tea during the day. Coffee is one of the most sprayed crops there is, so in our café we wouldn’t sell anything but organic.
WHAT’S YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE?
I work out about 3 times a week, my current theme is a morning group class, it’s a take on circuit training. And I love speed walking with BoBo, my French bulldog.
TIME TO GET READY! WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO BEAUTY AND SKINCARE PRODUCTS?
I actually use very little make-up these days. Not through any attempt to avoid products, it’s just that since I started taking care of myself food-wise I’ve developed more confidence in the rest of my body. However, I do love an occasional red lipstick indulgence, ILIA Beauty is my favourite.
I’m currently trialling some natural beauty products made by a small, independent skincare specialist from Oxford, UK and loving her facials. And starting to think about probiotic skincare too. Believe it or not, the natural bacteria that’s behind sourdough’s magical properties may well be the basis of some interesting skincare.
We’ve recently DNA sequenced our sourdough culture and found out some incredible information. Our gut is not the only place in our body that houses bacteria, our skin is a huge microbiome too – and it really doesn’t like commercially made personal and beauty products.
And, shock horror, I haven’t worn underarm deodorant now for a couple of years. Nor Leo.
WHAT’S IN YOUR MEDICINE CABINET?
My supplement cabinet used to be a lot fuller than it is now. Immediately post-illness I took a wide range, but I’ve learned how to get the majority of my nutrition from my food.
I do everything in my power not to take prescription antibiotics, and eat as many unpasteurized fermented products as I can, generally homemade, in the hope they will help keep me fighting fit.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE ON-THE-GO SNACKS?
My one right now is a Modern Baker pecan, oat and cranberry sourdough biscuit. I don’t have one everyday though, just as a treat. It has around 12% sugars in it, non-refined, of course, yet sweet enough.
I do get cross at the thoughtless levels of sugar crammed into commercial snacks, even some so-called healthy ones from well-respected brands are at nearly 50%. But that’s all an opportunity for Modern Baker. As my diet has improved over the years I naturally find myself snacking less and less.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL LUNCH LIKE FOR YOU?
It’s normally a big salad with as much goodness as I can cram into it as possible, and a really wide range of ingredients. I spent much of my adult life avoiding food, and it amuses me still that I can in fact eat like horse, so long as it’s whole foods, and not put on any weight!
WHEN YOU’RE GROCERY SHOPPING, WHAT INGREDIENTS DO YOU AVOID ON THE LABEL?
I don’t believe in avoiding any food groups, I just avoid processed food and obviously everything with high added sugar levels.
A big problem in society is that as nutrition quality has plummeted, the experts have stopped bothering to distinguish between say, whole and refined grains, fresh and rancid fats, range-fed and factory-bred animals, resulting in whole food groups being demonized.
Our ‘platform technology’ at Modern Baker is the art of fermenting carbohydrates into slow-carbs, as opposed to the fast-carbs that are at the heart of the diet-related chronic illness epidemic that’s close to out of control.
WHAT’S IN YOUR PANTRY?
Chickpeas and other high fibre pulses for salads, stews and stir-frys, coconut milk, organic butter, every type of nut. Modern Baker bread, with freezer back up.
DINNER TIME! IF YOU’RE EATING OUT, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR ON MENUS TO STAY HEALTHY?
I actually sometimes treat myself to a steak when I’m out but I have to know it’s grass-fed, and I always take a bit home for the dogs. But mostly I try and pick things that I think the chef couldn’t have played around with too much. If I find myself somewhere where there’s no evidence of a chef, just chilled or frozen meals from a weekly delivery, I will leave and find somewhere else. No thanks.
WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND?
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Written in 1999, the fact it hasn’t dated is testament to its brilliance. Mary Enig I’m liking too, it’s about time we stopped being frightened of the right fats in food.
BED TIME! WHAT’S YOUR NIGHTLY ROUTINE?
I can be in bed as early as 9.30. I’ve just completed a mindfulness course so I really try and do a little before I go to sleep – which includes not feeling guilty for watching a bit of trash TV now and then. I must have a glass of water by me. And, one last guilty secret. Silla sleeps on our bed!
I love internet shopping and am an expert at ordering a dozen items of clothing and sending eleven back. My other guilty pleasure is a glass of full-bodied, red wine. We only have organic, no added sulfite wines at home, and it’s a mystery to me why it’s not more popular as it doesn’t have to be any more expensive.
FAVORITE HEALTHY INDULGENCE?
The cornerstone of Modern Baker’s proposition is an equal balance between Provenance, Nutrition and Taste, so we know that healthy can also be indulgent without compromise. We sell a ‘healthy hot chocolate’ in the café made from raw cacao, lucuma, maca and almond milk, and every now and then I love to sink into one.
FAVORITE PRODUCT THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO TRY?
I know I’m talking my own book, but a proper, long-fermented (48-hour) sourdough bread, made from just flour, water and a pinch of salt, with no added yeast, is in a class of its own from both flavour and health perspectives. Sadly it’s almost impossible to find, the vast majority of so-called sourdough isn’t, the industry is awash with cheats because the profits are huge.
My tip to home bakers is to halve the sugar in the recipe, you might be shocked by the result.
Right now I’m really enjoying Tiger Nut Milk from Rude Health and using it in our café in smoothies. At home we’ve recently stopped eating rice and substituted it for quinoa and I’m really surprised what a good alternative it is.
But I’ve realised now that when you have what we call ‘the will to health’ the surprises never stop coming.