For September, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Brad, creator of food blog Belgian Foodie. As a California native having spent the past twenty-five years residing in Belgium, Brad’s perspectives on cooking, eating, and drinking always bring something compelling to the table (pun very much intended). He talked with me on topics including the changing food scene in Belgium, eating Vegan, and his favorite Fall recipe.
Flavorful World: This summer you celebrated 25 years in Belgium. How does the current food scene compare to what it was during your early days there? What aspect(s) has changed? What aspect(s) has endured?
Belgian Foodie: I’m originally from Los Angeles, California. I grew up having food from all over the world. There were so many choices for tasty Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian food, to name a few. When I moved to Belgium 25 years ago, most eating options out of the house tended to feature food from Belgium, France, or Italy. A spattering of Greek, Moroccan, Thai and Chinese restaurants offered other choices, yet it was sometimes hard to get people to try other cuisines outside of their comfort zone.
The food scene has diversified a lot since 1990. As the European Union expanded to new countries, dishes from these new Member States started to pop up on menus, as did the ingredients in the supermarket. Even at home people have started to use olive oil sometimes instead of butter, to eat vegetarian (now even vegan) dishes at least once a week, and to eat less red meat. The food choices available have certainly become more international.
Customs have changed a bit as well over these 25 years. Families generally choose either lunch or dinner to be their main meal of the day and then all eat accordingly, with the other meal being light. More people used to have their main meal of the day at lunchtime. Some children, for instance, used to go home for lunch with their parents. Belgians now tend to have shorter lunchtimes than before so choose their main meal to be in the evening.
What has endured over the past 25 years is the high quality of the food in Belgium. Belgium has long been known for its cuisine, even beyond its chocolate, beer and waffles. People generally enjoy food as well as the dining experience shared with family and friends around a table. Eating remains a moment of pleasure.
FW: You recently attended the 4th annual edition of the food and drink festival eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX. Considering how much great fare this festival offered to visitors, if pressed to select a single eating or drinking experience that made the entire trip worthwhile, what would you choose?
BF: As odd as it may sound, the most worthwhile single eating experience I had at eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX was tasting crickets in various forms. Little Food offered tasting samples of chocolate with crickets on top, sautéed crickets over salad, and cricket pâté. I definitely had to step out of my comfort zone to try these samples and was so glad I did. To see photos and my review of this event, click here.
FW: You’ve amassed quite a varied Pinterest link archive since joining back in 2011. Which board(s) do you find tend to attract the most interest/shares, and to what do you attribute that popularity?
BF: I currently have about 55 food-themed boards on Pinterest. Most of these boards are “group boards” with the active and much appreciated collaboration of many other Pinners. My boards Absolutely Tasty Recipes!, Mediterranean Recipes, Soups, Stews, etc., Desserts for Everyone!, and Vegetarian and/or Vegan Recipes have probably been my most popular boards. My flagship board Absolutely Tasty Recipes! now has more than 20,000 followers.
I am amazed at the success of my boards and would have to attribute their growth in popularity to the quality and variety of recipes that can be found on them. By inviting other Pinners to collaborate on my group boards, there is always a flow of new recipes for others to enjoy.
I try to go through the boards on a regular basis to remove duplicates and unrelated materials as well as to check links on pins that look suspicious. By sifting out these unwanted pins, I hopefully make it easier for Pinners to view directly the content that interests them.
FW: Tell us about your experiences with eating Vegan before 6:00. What aspect of the plan surprised you the most in the early stages? What was the most difficult dietary adjustment required of you? What was the easiest dietary adjustment required of you?
BF: Switching to eating Vegan before 6:00 was not so difficult because I already enjoyed eating vegetables, fruit and grains. The most difficult dietary adjustment probably was eliminating dairy products, especially when eating with other people, since many dishes in Belgium call for butter, cream, or cheese.
At home it has not been difficult to adapt to a Vegan before 6:00 diet since I have control over the ingredients I use. However, when travelling it has often been difficult to find vegan options on menus, in particular in some countries like Belgium and France.
The easiest dietary adjustment has been reducing consumption of meat since I’m not such a meat lover.
FW: Tell us about a favorite dish utilizing seasonal Fall foods that adheres to your before 6:00 eating regimen, and what appeals most to you about it.
BF: My favorite vegan Fall dish featuring pumpkin is Pumpkin Soup with Roasted Garlic and Leeks. Its simplicity allows you to enjoy the elegance of this dish.
To my kids’ chagrin, I usually stock up each Fall on several pumpkins which I use in many forms. The easiest way is in soup, mixed with different vegetables, beans and spices. For the past couple years I’ve made a vegan pumpkin tofu potsticker that has quickly joined my top recipes. Pumpkin gnocchi is another favorite but is not vegan, unless you use a non-dairy cheese. Of course, my pumpkin pie with a gingerbread-pecan crust takes center stage of the dessert table at Thanksgiving. You can look forward to seeing the recipes for these favorite dishes this Fall on my website, Pinterest, Facebook page, and Twitter.
FW: Where do you most want to eat next outside of Belgium, and what will you eat when you get there?
BF: My favorite cuisines are Lebanese (and surrounding region) and Thai. I would probably pick Thailand as my next destination since I’ve always dreamed of travelling there and sampling their street food. Although not the most exciting choice, Tom Yum soup would be the first dish I’d pick as it really feeds the soul as well as the body. I love the blend of fresh flavors found in Thai food so would next have to start tasting some of the curry dishes, with fresh spring rolls as a starter.
FW: What is your favorite dessert food? Do you prefer to use your own recipe, or do you have a favorite restaurant version that has become a regular order (and if the latter, at what restaurant do you enjoy it?)
BF: I’ve been trying for the past few days to pick a chosen dessert food and cannot. I love desserts and enjoy preparing them, yet I also like variety. Chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cheesecake (with a cookie crust), fruit pie, pumpkin pie, and any kind of ice cream or sorbet are among my favorite desserts. I’ve recently shared on my website a recipe for Peach, Nectarine and Plum Pie, which has become a family favorite at the end of summer each year. My friends often ask me to make my chocolate chip cookies and my sugar pie (aka Uncle Brad’s Sugar Pie). In general I prefer my own recipes to those in restaurants.
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?
BF: “The Accidental Blogger” because I never planned on having a blog about food but it just happened “accidentally” springing from the reaction I received on Pinterest for my boards.
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
BF: When not cooking and/or eating delicious food, I love to spend time with my wonderful adult children, watch movies, cycle, walk and travel.
*Note to readers: Keep up with Belgian Foodie’s epicurean adventures here, or as the talented man said above, follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter for great recipes, food photos, and event information.