Our August interview takes us to London, where we got to talk with Lea Mazzocchi, creator of the always-inspiring food site FoodSteamAhead.com. Aside from her gift for coming up with website names we wish we’d thought of, Lea is a worldly lady, a self-described “massive nerd and gamer,” whose food love has taken her across the globe (notable among those stops is a jaunt to my adopted second hometown of New Orleans, offering up one more sign that we’ll get along well if we ever meet in person). She talked with us on topics like how being the daughter of a professional chef has influenced her outlook on food and her recent travel to the London Gin Festival, and served up a pictorial demonstration of how she can spin leftovers into gold like it ain’t no thang.
Flavorful World: You recently attended the 2017 London Gin Festival. Tell us your favorite cocktail that features gin and why it’s your favorite, then tell us what product(s) you sampled that stood out as most memorable/enjoyable, and why.
Lea Mazzocchi: When I’m in one of my locals, I order what I call a Monkey Flower, which is Monkey 47 gin with Fever Tree Elderflower tonic. With gin I want to be able to taste it, so a gin cocktail for me involves only tonic! As for what I recommend from the Gin festival, then I’m going to be cheeky and refer you to the article I just wrote giving shout outs to my favourites. I am honestly so lucky to have attended the gin festival and recommend it to everyone to try. Do check out my link: http://www.foodsteamahead.com/blog/gin-festival-review
FW: Your travels have taken you to locales like Thailand, Spain, and Germany. Share what you think most first-time travelers to each of these countries would find most surprising about the food scene to be found there.
LM: Everywhere has different surprises, and I think the key is to just throw caution to the wind and step out of your comfort zone. When I was In North Africa I ate goat and Bric made by the local family I was hanging out with and it blew my mind. In the Netherlands when it was pouring with rain and I was starving from traveling, I just went to what looked like a hotdog stand and pointed to a hot dog bun. I watched with concern as it was filled with raw onion and raw herring. I braved a bite and it was the best thing I’d tasted in that whole trip! So just try anything. Oh, and always eat where the locals eat. Pointing and smiling is all you need to be able to do.
FW: How did being the daughter of a professional chef color your attitudes toward cooking and dining?
LM: Life is food. That is my attitude towards food, and my whole family is the same. I honestly don’t know if it’s because my father was a chef or because he was Italian, but food wasn’t just praised, it was worshipped. It’s an art form. It’s passion and love. Most of my memories will feature food. My friends have accepted that I will try to constantly feed them. My boyfriend knows that the first words out of my mouth when we wake up will be “Good morning honey. Did you sleep well? What shall we have for dinner?”
So even if my dad hadn’t been a chef, I’m still half Italian, and my Neapolitan roots will always come through and make me believe: Life Is Food!!!
FW: On your site, you discuss the year-long experiment you’ve embarked on with the hope of finding the ideal animal-based diet for you. Tell us how this experiment was born, and how you decide which diets to evaluate. If there are any diets that did not make it into the final rotation, what disqualified them?
LM: This all came about because I was sick of people following fad diets, following diets that are currently social media popular and I was tired of seeing the disappointment of failing to ‘succeed’ on a diet. I have always believed in ‘everything in moderation’ because life’s too short. Plus I fervently believe one diet does not fit everyone. We all have different bodies, genetics, physical abilities or illnesses, and where one diet works perfectly for one person it can make things worse for another.
I started discussing this with my friends who include vegans, vegetarians, those with [dietary] intolerances and those who just eat everything. We then started to discuss how far from our original ‘caveman’ diets we’ve come. That’s when I started to really look at animal and their diets. It’s not often you see and unhealthy, intolerant, or overweight wild animal, they eat the right thing for them specifically that will hone them into an optimum version of themselves. I wanted to be an optimum version of myself so I decided to emulate animals diets to see what would happen. We are after all, animals ourselves.
I cover all the major eating habits of animals and in the most they are all healthy diets that are sensible to follow. But yes there are some diets that will never be tackled, like cannibalism! Some animals eat their [own] species. I don’t think I need to explain why I’m not doing that one.
FW: If asked to choose one trip from among your past food-related travels, what trip would you point to as having been the most personally-enriching for you, and what made it so?
LM: When you say personally-enriching, I’m putting food revelation places like Italy and Thailand to the side. I’m ignoring stunningly rich culture trips like most of Europe and Africa and I’m going to focus on the place which soothed my soul. After the death of my father and being trapped in an awful relationship, I suppose I ran away. I ran to New Orleans in America. I have a love for not just food, but jazz too, and New Orleans has both in abundance. It beckoned me and I obeyed. So off I went on my own and I just absorbed the joy, the quirky mix of French and American. I learned Creole history and fell in love with the comfort food that was so standard. I partied and I laughed. New Orleans made me into a vibrant butterfly and still to this day I dream of New Orleans and yearn to go back.
FW: You’re planning a trip to Japan and earlier this month, solicited suggestions via Twitter for dishes to try once there. What dishes have been the most often suggested? What dish(es) were you most excited about sampling before the advice started to come in, and has input from your Twitter brethren altered your priorities in terms of what to try first?
LM: Yes I’m off to Japan in March for my next culinary journey. I will be constantly asking anyone out there for recommendation for dishes, restaurants and street food loves. The Japanese have such an abundance of food, I feel I’m going to have to eat constantly if I want to try as much as possible. I actually haven’t had any response yet on social media, but I do expect the message to gently spread and get out there and I’m sure ideas will start flooding in.
So far I’m most looking forward to Ramen! That and sushi, plus all the street food I can munch on. But if anyone wants to get in contact with recommendations you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @foodsteamahead
FW: What leftovers are in your refrigerator right now and if pressed to combine three of them into a single dish, what would you create?
LM: I have a boyfriend that eats everything, so it’s not often I have left overs, but I do have some forgotten things in my fridge. Mushrooms that are starting to wrinkle, leeks that are getting dry and opened Soya Cream. So let’s make lunch!
Chop the mushrooms and leeks roughly.
Then in a pan, add some butter of your choice, then a dash of garlic puree. Turn the hob on and get it sizzling. Now add the mushrooms and leeks, stir until it’s all combined, now add a pint of the stock of your choice. I’ve gone for vegetable stock. Now let’s season with a pinch of smoked salt and white pepper. I also like to add a little paprika for a lovely tang. Bring to a boil, then turn the hob down so it simmers for a good 20 minutes.
Then blitz it all together and add the soya cream, or normal cream if you want. Delish!
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?
LM: This is such a tough question as my ‘culinary exploits’ are so varied and often haphazard. I think in the end however I would call my memoir ‘Salt Adds Flavour’. The reason for this is because in my life, suffering from a disability and constantly struggling to be a relevant figure in society, plus the early loss of my father and personal hardships, life has been hard. All those things, much like salt, on it own can be overwhelming. But remember salt also adds flavour to food, it’s essential and can uplift most dishes. I firmly believe all the struggles I suffer just add flavour to my life. They make me live in the moment, appreciate everything, and make me a stronger person.
FW: When you aren’t cooking/eating delicious things, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
LM: One of my hobbies is writing. I’m currently working on my first cookbook and also a novel. I’ve always loved to write. There is no better world than the ones you can create in your mind. And if I’m not writing, I’m reading. Other than that, I’m a massive nerd and gamer!
*Note to readers: Visit Lea at FoodSteamAhead.com to follow along on her flights of food fancy across the globe. Like the lady says, you can also find her on Instagram and Twitter, where she is tireless in spreading the culinary love with a spoon and a camera. Visit her and be sure to submit food sampling suggestions for her upcoming Japan trip!
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.