Olivia Mesquita is the creator of my newest preoccupation, the food blog Olivia’s Cuisine. A food website whose creator is also an actor who tends bar on NYC’s Broadway, and declares “The Kitchen is My Stage!” would seize my attention on any day. Throw recipes and reflections obviously influenced by the love and kitchen artistry of the creator’s Brazilian grandmother into the mix, however, and I defy anyone to look away from the great things coming to this food blogger’s table. I was honored to interview Olivia recently on topics like holiday cooking and her ongoing series of Disney-inspired recipes, but given that her site is still somewhat new, also on things like finding one’s identity as a food blogger, and what legacy she’d like for her blog. Keep reading to hear all that we talked about, and to get to know this awesome new food blogging talent.
Flavorful World: On your “About” page, you say that Olivia’s Cuisine is a place where you can share your adventures in the kitchen. What has been your most memorable kitchen adventure, and what made it so?
Olivia Mesquita: It was definitely last year’s Thanksgiving. It was my first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner and I decided I would make everything from scratch. People offered to help, but I just asked for wine because I’m a control freak and wanted everything to be perfect. Well, needless to say it was a very chaotic day and I barely enjoyed anything because I was working so hard. The night before the big day, we had tickets to see Richard III on Broadway and I could not pay attention to the play because all I could think about were the recipes and the order in which I would have to cook things so that everything would be ready. This year I am delegating so I can actually enjoy my friends and food!
FW: Olivia’s Cuisine has an extensive recipe collection. In terms of ingredients that are exotic or that you haven’t worked with often, give us a preview of what new creations are on the horizon this Holiday season for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or New Years.
OM: That’s a tricky one! Some ingredients that may be considered “exotic” for Americans are not exotic for me as a Brazilian. I just recently published on my blog a recipe for Turkey Breast with Apricot Sauce (http://www.oliviascuisine.com/turkey-breast-apricot-sauce/) that is a favorite of mine for the holidays. I might also do some kind of poultry with passion fruit. I also have a recipe for Farofa (http://www.oliviascuisine.com/holiday-brazilian-farofa/)—which is similar to stuffing—made with manioc flour, raisins, nuts, bacon and onions. Oh, I also can’t forget Manjar Branco, which is a coconut pudding with dried prunes, and is usually served as a dessert during the holidays in Brazil. For New Years Eve we avoid eating poultry in the first minutes of a new year due to a popular belief that birds scratch the earth backwards, so eating them will mean moving backwards in life instead of forward! So, I’m doing pork loin with pineapple and maybe something with lentils because lentils are symbolic of wealth and who doesn’t want to be wealthy?!? 😉
FW: Your site devotes a tab to “Blogging.” With regard to finding your identity as a food blogger, what has been the most revealing bit of self-examination that resulted from your participation in the Writing Process Blog Tour?
OM: When I wrote the post for the Writing Process Blog Tour, I had to answer a question about why I write. That forced me to stop and think: why am I running a food blog? That was a great exercise because we, as writers, should always keep in mind why we are writing. That not only keeps your work fresh and three-dimensional, but reminds you constantly that you love doing what you do (because let’s face it, there are lots of challenges in blogging that will make you frustrated and wanting to give up).
I think I’m still finding my identity as a blogger (and photographer) and I’ll probably always be evolving, but today I know that I write about food because I think that food is representative of culture, besides being necessary to survive. It is full of emotions and stories that need to be told, and I want to tell those stories. We all express ourselves through something. I express myself through food!
FW: On your site, you mention your Grandmother’s Beef Stroganoff as your favorite food. Using beef as your main ingredient and the following three cuisine styles as inspiration, tell us what beef entrée you would prepare that best represents those influences: French, Italian, Japanese.
OM: Oh, that’s fun! To represent the French cuisine I would make a classic Beef Bourguignon, which in my opinion is the French version of comfort food and I absolutely love comfort food! (Who doesn’t, really?)
Next, for my Italian dishes (yes, dishes, because I couldn’t possibly choose between those two): a delicious and flavorful Bolognese Fettuccine and a Beef Parmigiana served with Four-Cheese Tagliatelle. After all, Italian food is supposed to be served in huge quantities!
And finally, to represent the Japanese cuisine, a Teppanyaki Chateaubriand cooked with a delicious garlic butter.
FW: What do you hope will be Olivia’s Cuisine’s legacy in terms of what it means to cook and eat?
OM: I hope Olivia’s Cuisine inspires people to find joy in cooking at home. There’s something magical about planning a dish and making all the ingredients come together to create a delicious meal for your family. I always say that the reason my grandmother’s food is so special is because of love. When you cook something with love, there’s no way it’s not going to taste spectacular! You don’t have to go to culinary school to be a great cook! You can be a disorganized clumsy girl like me and still make some fantastic dishes! And that’s the message I’m trying to spread with my blog! 🙂
FW: Tell us about your journey with your Disney Gourmet series. What is the most challenging part of maintaining it, and how have you overcome the challenge?
OM: As you probably notice, I’m a Disney fan. So I created this series to have some fun creating dishes inspired by Disney movies. Some of them are easy – like spaghetti and meatballs to represent Lady and the Tramp (http://www.oliviascuisine.com/lady-and-the-tramp-spaghetti-with-meatballs/)—while others are really challenging and require me to explore my creativity, which I love. If something obvious doesn’t pop in my mind right away, I start thinking about the movie. For example, where and when was it probably set? The movies usually don’t have a specific location, but if you start analyzing some of the elements, you can probably guess or at least decide on something that would be truthful. And then once I decide on a country, I might create something appropriate for that location… For example, for my Dumbo themed dish I made Peanut Butter Popcorn (http://www.oliviascuisine.com/dumbos-peanut-butter-popcorn/). Popcorn because Dumbo lives in a traveling circus in the US (the movie starts with a map of Florida) and peanut butter because elephants like peanuts! Clever, huh? (I know, I know… a 2-year-old could have come up with that!) I’m also saving the most challenging ones for the end so I have time to fully develop something appropriate!
FW: What is your next goal for Olivia’s Cuisine?
OM: Oh my… There are so many! I definitely want to improve my photography and writing. I’m also eager to learn more about all aspects of blogging so I can master that and focus more on cooking, which is what I really love. In February I will be attending the Food Blog Forum conference in Orlando and I’m excited to meet lots of other food bloggers and learn a lot of new things!
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
OM: I think I would name it “A Pinch of Brazil”, because although my blog is not focused only on Brazilian cuisine, it does have a huge influence on me and my cooking style. I might be cooking a Chinese dish (like this vegetable stir fry inspired by the Kung Pao chicken http://www.oliviascuisine.com/chicken-vegetables-stir-fry/) but I usually make a “Brazilianized” version of it! So I do like to think I add a pinch of Brazil (or even better, a pinch of my grandmother) to everything I make.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
OM: If I had a more balanced life between work and play, traveling would be my answer, but that is not happening much at the moment! Lately, in between cooking/eating delicious food and then posting it on the Internet plus working 40 hours a week, I don’t have much free time. When I do, I regret to say that I spend it in my pajamas binge watching some TV shows, like Scandal, but all the while enjoying the company of my family (husband and dog!)
*Note to readers: Sample more of Olivia’s Cuisine at www.oliviascuisine.com and stay up to date on her kitchen adventures by joining her culinary journey on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. Wonderful, applause-worthy things are happening on her stage all the time, so don’t risk missing them.