Reformed Smuggler Turns Foodie!


Reformed Smuggler Turns Foodie!

When I was little, my father took us on vacation to Portugal every year. We drove the whole way from Belgium, through dry, hot days and cool, pitch-dark nights speckled with bright stars. Along the way, we had to stop at European borders for routine controls and I can still remember my sister and I exhilarated but pretending to sleep on a case of wine at a crossing so my father could smuggle it back to Belgium for meals with friends and family!

I’m not sure if wine smuggling was my first lesson about flavour and terroir, but it is definitely the most memorable. Perhaps it was the seed that led to a decade of life, and food, abroad. Only this time I didn’t have to smuggle anything!

Growing up, my father worked long hours for the family flower business so I started cooking at an early age as a way to help. I enjoyed making dinner for the family, even if it sometimes felt more chore than play. I also took a liking to foreign language and culture, and I loved watching the BBC to learn English and find out what was going on beyond my quaint hometown of Bruges.

With seeds of travel and foreign lands planted in my mind, I dreamed of seeing the world. And that’s just what I set out to do after my university studies. One problem: cash! Nothing a gruelling summer of temp jobs couldn’t solve; shivering as I packed frozen fish and sweating to clean hotel rooms in the time allotted.

You could say I packed my bags and didn’t look back. After leading tours on the Nile and in Cyprus, I visited my sister during her studies in Japan. I was captivated by each country’s passion for different foods: falafel in Egypt, baked halloumi cheese in Cyprus and seafood in Japan. This was all new to me in comparison to the traditional Belgian dishes I knew like mussels & fries, endives with ham & cheese sauce and spaghetti Bolognese.

Still eager for life and cuisine abroad, I left for the US on a whim and, through random connections and last-minute negotiations, scored a job in New York City. I had landed in a metropolis where foods of the world meet, mix and reinvent!

Belgium is a small country but boasts over 300 beer breweries with a passion and appreciation to match. Ironically, I learned the most about this culture from New York City where I worked for a Belgian beer company. I also learned that, armed with great ingredients and passion for flavour, my American brewer colleagues could create equally delicious Belgian-style beers right in Upstate New York. Turns out the secrets are great water, great hops and craftsmanship!

Over and over on my travels, I was drawn to and appreciated simple foods that highlighted quality of ingredients rather than lots of frills.  This is the same spirit I take to the kitchen, whether it is my first attempt at my version of a foreign dish or to remake a meal I know from childhood.  It’s also the spirit that makes me so passionate about MIA. It’s a belief that with good ingredients, care and passion the people of Africa can make chocolate, and more, that will delight and inspire people around the world!