Education: Bachelor of arts in environmental ethics and philosophy from the University of Toronto and a nutritional culinary management diploma from George Brown College
Length of time blogging: Five years
When you were younger, this job didn’t really exist. What did you see yourself becoming? I had no real plan as a kid, honestly. At one point, I thought I would be a teacher. My family owns a local produce business so food was always a huge part of my life in the background. After I went to U of T, it bubbled up in a big way. I had been working in restaurants and that became what I wanted to do.
How did your upbringing influence your cooking? My parents lived on a huge property in the country and their hobby garden was massive. We always ate a lot of vegetables and home-cooked food. We had family dinner every night. I just grew up with that built-in seasonal awareness through the store and the way my mom was cooking.
Were you involved in the kitchen or did you learn to cook later on? As kids, we were involved but only when my mom would make a cake and we would get some icing out of the bowl. When I decided to eat more strictly vegetarian and vegan, I started to cook for myself a lot more. I was just more interested in it and I wanted to make versions of the foods that I loved without dairy.
What made you go vegan? I decided to go vegan when I was at U of T. In a lot of our environmental ethics classes, we were talking about monocrops and how animal agriculture is potentially really harmful for the planet. I was already vegetarian at the time and I thought if I could cut dairy and eggs I would be moving towards helping with this problem. Now I don’t necessarily go by a label anymore. Like if I’m on vacation on the east coast and I want lobster, I’ll eat it.
How did you get into food blogging? I moved back from Toronto to the Niagara region, which is where I live now, and I started serving at a relatively new restaurant that was not busy. I had all of this spare time. A friend of mine was always texting me, asking for seasonal tips on food or vegetarian staples and she pointed out that this info could be valuable on an online site. Photography was already an off-and-on hobby for me as well so I started looking at food blogs. Eventually it got to the point after about four years where the blog became my career.
How were you able to start making money off your food blog? It took me a long time. It started when someone saw my site and commissioned me to do food photography for their magazine. Eventually I decided I would put ads on my site, which I was against for a long time, but I figured if I could control it and if it worked for me, I would do it. Then, eventually, brands started asking me to do sponsored content on my site and on my Instagram. I try and be selective with that, working with brands and foods I would normally use in my kitchen anyway. I’ve been full-time food blogging for about a year now.
What inspires your recipes? I read all the food magazines and try and stay up-to-date with what’s happening with new ingredients and how people are combining flavours. Following food media and interacting with people all the time, it’s kind of a constant stimulation. Sometimes I’ll just be sitting and doing something unrelated to food and an idea will hit me.
You have a cookbook coming out soon, how did that happen and when can readers get a copy? I got my book deal around American Thanksgiving two years ago. It’s been a long process. My book is called The First Mess Cookbook: Vibrant Plant-Based Recipes to Eat Well Through the Seasons and it’ll be released in the U.S. and Canada on March 7, 2017.
Now that you’re a full-time food blogger, what is your average day like? When I was writing my cookbook, it was a lot of recipe development, sometimes trying the same recipe three or four times in the same day until I got it right. Some days I would just take photographs. With the actual blog, usually I try and stretch the process of creating the recipe, photographing it, editing the photos and writing the posts out over a few days so it doesn’t feel as congested—but sometimes time constraints mean I have to bang it all out in one day.
Do you find it tough to stay self-motivated? Sometimes, but because my reputation and success solely rests on me and my drive, that motivates me more. I like to get up and get at it. I can’t really sit still.
With so many food blogs out there, how do you keep your content fresh and different? When I go to develop a recipe, I think of the end result. Like, do I want somebody to make this and have this on the table in 30 minutes and have it feel really healthy for them to eat? Or am I trying for a special occasion dish because of a certain holiday? I always put the intention first and I consider the recipe from that viewpoint. I think that helps, and people identify with some of the goals I have.
What is the most popular recipe on your site? A lentil mushroom stew with kale. It’s a little creamy because I blend half of the mushroom and lentil mixture so it feels very lush on the palate. Then a couple years ago, I did a noodle bowl with spaghetti squash and peanut sauce, right when veggie noodles were starting to get popular. Those two are definitely the top hits on my site.
Of all the recipes you’ve created, do you have a personal favourite? I have a recipe for tomato soup and I really like it for its simplicity. You just slow-roast the tomatoes, and there’s a little bit of soaked cashews in it to make it creamy. I love it so much because in that post there are so many photos of the end-of-summer tomatoes from my garden. I was really proud of those shots and the visual style of that particular post.
What’s the best part of your workday? Probably when my man gets home and we eat whatever I’ve been working on all day and he gives me his honest feedback. He’ll usually be the first person to try something I’ve been working on for a while. I look forward to that and sharing that with him.
What’s the worst part of your day? The dishes. It’s tons and tons of dishes.
Who is a foodie that you admire and why? Amy Chaplin. She’s a chef and her cookbook is called At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen. She puts so much elegance into her recipes, but the flavour combinations are so relatable and almost comforting. I just really like her style and her book is beautifully photographed.
What attributes does someone needs to make it as a food blogger? A commitment to doing things regularly not just when you feel like it. Even if you are working at another job, consistency is really important. Also, people say not to compare yourself to others but I think it’s a good learning exercise to do that because you want to see what other people are doing right and why people are paying attention to them and apply it to your own project. And then, frequently engaging with the food community on social media. Overall, it’s takes a certain commitment.
At the end of a long day in the kitchen, what is your go-to treat to help you unwind? Dark chocolate and red wine. It’s so good.
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