When you adopt the plant-based lifestyle, trying out new foods and recipes is an absolute must. You might say that it’s an entirely new way of cooking, which means starting from scratch. Luckily, there are leaders out there, paving the way when it comes to this exciting type of cuisine. We spoke to Josefien Smet, a remarkable plant-based chef and blogger living in Belgium, to find out what inspires her to create innovative dishes.
How did your journey as a chef begin?
I actually studied communications and advertising. My first work experience in this sector made me realise that it wasn’t going to make me happy. I had always experimented in the kitchen and had always been passionate about food at an early age.
So, I quit my job and ended up unemployed for a while. I started blogging about food under the name YOSOGREEN just to pass the time. It wasn’t long after that I got a job offer as a chef in a lunch bar and I’ve been working in the kitchen ever since.
Tell us about your current chef role
I work at another lunch bar in Brussels that is also a catering business. I mostly create and take care of everything vegan on the menu as well as executing big catering events. Apart from that, I take on catering and product development requests as a freelance chef and I sell products on request or order through Instagram and e-mail. I’m also currently working on a proper line of products with an accompanying webshop, so stay tuned!
When did you find your passion for plant-based food?
I guess I’ve always been attracted to nature, animals and plant-based and healthy food. As a kid, I loved the outdoors and all sorts of animals. According to my mother, I refused to eat meat or fish every since I was five years old.
I guess my decision or belief only grew stronger over the years up until the point where I stopped eating dairy altogether. I did so because my stomach hurt every time I had it. Then when I was 20 years old I lived in Berlin for a while and that’s where I really got into plant-based food and went fully vegan.
Why do you think that the plant-based diet is so popular?
I think the reason is twofold these days. First of all there’s people who eat more plant-based due to a heightened awareness of the impact of the meat and dairy industry on our planet. Secondly, people understand the impact that a certain diet or certain food has on them better. Eating certain types of food can induce or fail to counter sickness, weakness, tiredness and all sorts of stresses.
On the other hand, food can energise you, make you happy, help you relax and help you digest. People should be, and are becoming, more conscious about the consequences of consuming the food they are consuming.
Back in 2011, during his TEDxTalk, Matthew Kenney already tried to explain that it shouldn’t be considered ‘normal’ for people to have to go take a nap after eating certain dishes. Food is supposed to provide energy for the human body, not diminish it.
What inspires you to cook this style of cuisine?
I care about our planet, I care about animal wellbeing, and last but certainly not least, I care for myself. That is something I really try to educate people about. Even if you’re not really into the environment debate, or let’s say you couldn’t care less about animal wellbeing, you should at least still care about you. Half of the stuff we are consuming these days is not good for you.
What inspires me to cook this style of cuisine are the benefits it has for me. I’m really into functional food. I always try to create food that adds something to your day and that’s nutritious. That’s why I like mixing adaptogens into my recipes.
Lastly, I think food should look nice and tasty, and I think plant-based and vegan food often doesn’t and that’s why some people are still skeptical towards it. I like it when I manage to change people’s opinion plant-based food.
You recently did a Plant Lab with Matthew Kenney in LA. How did you find that experience and what did you learn?
It was such a good experience! The courses took place in Venice, which is just such an inspirational place. I took courses on raw food and culinary nutrition. Day in, day out, we created raw dishes and were challenged to experiment with our own recipes.
I learned more about different raw food techniques to create texture and extra flavors without losing nutrients. I also learned how to make raw, fermented and fully plant-based cheese products. It really intrigued me so I continued to do research on it. I created my own prototype brand of plant-based cream cheese and it is where I got the idea to start my own product line back in Belgium.
What food development projects are you currently working on?
After I got back from LA, I wanted to continue with the plant-based cheese and create my own brand. I developed my own flavors, my own production method and started selling both directly to customers as well as to restaurants. I’ve been working on the brand and the product development and hopefully you will find my products in stores soon.
What do you believe the future holds for plant-based food?
I think, in contrast to what some people think, vegan and plant-based food is not a trend. I think they are here to stay, simply because our planet’s wellbeing as well as our own wellbeing demands it. They are here to stay and to evolve, to become more complex and to become more fun.
I think eventually the only thing that will have been a trend is the usage of the words ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’, because it will just become the way we eat. I’m not saying that I think every person on the planet will stop eating meat and fish completely. I’m saying that I think the majority of people will eventually realise the benefits, both external as well as internal, of a more plant-based diet.