Julie is a certified Raw Food chef & writer graduated from the renowned Living Light Culinary Institute in California. After successfully healing herself from chronic glandular fever (the precursor of chronic fatigue) with the help of raw food, she decided to pursue her passion for healthy plant-based foods and start her own business as a raw food chef. Together with her partner & fellow raw food chef Simon Matthys, Julie co-founded and ran the kitchen at the high-end pop-up restaurant Essence Cuisine in Ghent. In 2015 they launched Belgium’s first raw vegan product line ALL GOOD: cookies, crackers, granola and more – all homemade, raw vegan, and gluten & sugar free. Julie now offers raw food culinary workshops, raw vegan catering, raw vegan recipe eBooks and more. I had the chance to connect with Julie, who is a true inspiration to me and decided to ask her a couple questions. Read on if you are curious…
When and why did you chose to become vegan?
During my early twenties when I was studying Journalism & Applied Linguistics, I was diagnosed with chronic glandular fever caused by the Epstein Barr virus. I felt really tired all the time and I no longer had the energy to go out with friends or exercise. At the time, I hadn’t found the right doctor yet who could help me with the symptoms so I decided to radically change my eating habits in order to heal my digestion and have more energy.
I started by cutting refined foods out of my diet: wheat, pasteurized dairy, refined sugars and processed foods. Those first weeks were quite a challenge, but I quickly embraced my new eating habits. My diet back then was mostly vegetarian, inspired by macrobiotic cuisine. My digestion definitely improved but I still felt tired most of the time so I decided to dive a little deeper and look for answers online.
That’s when I discovered raw food. Reading about it sparked my curiosity. I started eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of green juices. After just a few weeks, I almost felt like a different person! My energy levels went up, my weight stabilized, my skin cleared up and I finally discovered a way to enjoy my favorite comfort foods and desserts without feeling tired or guilty afterwards.
Tell us a little bit more about your training to become a raw food chef and what motivated you to leave your potential career as a journalist?
The effects of the raw & vegan lifestyle on my body and mind were so mind-blowing that I almost immediately went looking for raw vegan culinary schools to become a professional raw food chef. My boyfriend Simon had been experimenting with juices and smoothies too, and we both decided to enroll in the Raw food Chef Training at the Living Light Culinary Institute in Fort Bragg California. There we learned how to prepare delicious gourmet raw food, how to organize culinary workshops and how to educate people about the science behind raw food nutrition. We also took the time to travel through California and visit as many plant-based restaurants and juice bars as possible. At the time, raw & vegan food was still very new in Belgium and Europe, so it was a lot of fun to taste all that amazing food!
It was during our travels through California and our raw food chef training that I started www.julieslifestyle.com as a raw vegan travel blog. When our friends and family started asking for recipes, it slowly grew into a culinary blog where I now share new recipes and videos each week.
How did you then go about starting your chef business and your vegan product line, All Good?
When we returned to Belgium, people were curious to learn more about raw & vegan food, so we decided to organize culinary workshops where we could show the many possibilities of vegan cuisine. When the blog became more well-known we also got catering requests for fashion and business events, weddings and other parties.
In 2014 Simon and I also co-founded Essence Cuisine in Ghent, a raw vegan pop-up restaurant that offered brunch, lunch and high-end fine dining. It was so much fun to introduce raw & vegan food to a broader public of gourmet food lovers! After our restaurant adventure, Simon and I launched Belgium’s first raw vegan product line ALL GOOD (www.allgoodcuisine.com): cookies, crackers, granola, cheesecakes and more – all homemade, raw vegan, and gluten & sugar free. We got the idea during our culinary workshops. Most people here in Belgium don’t have a dehydrator at home, so they kept asking if we could make the raw vegan snacks for them. And that’s what we did J I think desserts are the perfect way to introduce people to raw food, especially cheesecakes! They’re so flavorful and indulgent, nobody can argue with that 😉
What inspired you to write a cook book and what were the biggest challenges to overcome?
Inventing new recipes and getting creative in the kitchen is what I love most, so I was really excited when a friend introduced us to Belgium’s largest publishing house. During our first meeting, Simon & I introduced the publishers to our blog, presented them our ideas for a first book and had them taste our signature mojito cheesecake. I like to think the cheesecake did the trick.
The biggest challenge for me was selecting the recipes. I had (and still have) so many ideas. Luckily, Simon and my sister Caroline were there to support me and help me every step of the way. Just a few months after my first book got published, our publishers announced that they wanted to translate it into English too. That’s how ‘Vegan & Raw’ came to life. It has 60 raw & vegan recipes + tons of practical tips on incorporating raw foods into your daily diet. The recipes are gluten-free and refined-sugar-free too.
In March this year, we published our second cookbook ‘Vegan & Raw 2’. It has 65 easy plant-based recipes (both raw and cooked vegan) that are ready in less than 30 minutes with simple ingredients from your local supermarket. I wanted the recipes to be even simpler and quicker than the ones in my first book, and I incorporated lots of warming ‘comfort food’ dishes as well like black bean burgers, sweet potato crust pizza, quinoa risotto and coconut curry. Perfect for when you don’t have a lot of time to cook but still want to enjoy delicious and healthy meals!
Do you think veganism and the vegan lifestyle has a future in Belgium and in Europe?
Definitely! More and more people are looking for vegetarian and vegan alternatives to their favorite meals – whether it’s to have more energy, alleviate chronic diseases, lose weight, deal with intolerances… It’s amazing to see how the food market is changing so quickly here in Europe. Five years ago, most restaurants didn’t even have a vegetarian option. Nowadays, there are plenty of juice bars, vegan restaurants and even raw food cafés in the bigger cities. Traditional restaurants are also evolving and adding more plant-based options to their menus. Some Michelin star chefs are even creating vegan menus that are gluten and refined sugar free!
Why do you think are people resistant to eating vegan?
I think changing habits is always hard, especially when it comes to food. There are many prejudices around vegan food: that it’s bland, boring, not satisfying, lacking in protein… When I first told people here in Belgium about raw & vegan food, they thought I ate nothing but carrot sticks and lettuce – when the contrary is true! It’s amazing what you can create with just vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and that’s exactly what I wanted to show in my books. There are recipes for burgers, fries, buffalo wings, pizza, pasta, cheese, bread, chocolate mousse, cheesecake, ice cream… If people would give vegan cooking a chance, they would come to realize that it doesn’t have to be complicated, time-consuming or boring at all. If you stock your cupboard and fridge with plenty of fruits, vegetables and ingredients like coconut oil, quinoa, nuts, dates and lots of spices, you can re-create all your favorite comfort foods – without the gluten, dairy, refined sugars or processed ingredients. You will be amazed how good it makes you feel too!
What are your 3 favorite vegan foods and how do you use them in recipes to convert people to eating vegan? 😉
So hard to choose just three!
I guess my 3 favorite vegan foods at the moment would have to be sweet potato, banana and leafy greens.
Adding sweet root vegetables like beetroot, parsnip and sweet potato has really helped me to beat sugar cravings, feel satisfied and keep my energy levels up. I could have sweet potato every time of the day! I use it for sweet potato toast in the morning (a great replacement for bread), as the base for gluten free pizza crust, in curries, chocolate brownies… Or as sweet potato fries in a satisfying Buddha bowl, oven-roasted with a drizzle of coconut oil, sea salt, black pepper and smoked paprika. So addictive!
Bananas are probably the fruit I use the most. I use it as the base for green breakfast smoothies (it makes them so sweet and creamy!) and I love whipping up some fresh banana ice cream with almond or peanut butter. The perfect treat without any cream or refined sugars!
Leafy greens are one of my staples. They’ve really helped me to heal my body and boost my energy levels when I was suffering from chronic fatigue, and I always recommend them to people who are just starting out with raw & vegan food. You can use them raw in green smoothies & juices, salads, tabbouleh, pesto, gazpacho… Or you can enjoy them warm in cooked soups, stews, black bean burgers, quinoa risotto… There’s no limit to what you can do with leafy greens and fresh herbs! I have them at every meal.
And there’s quinoa, avocado, chia seeds… I told you I can’t choose just three…
What are your plans and wishes for the future?
Generally speaking, I hope raw & vegan cuisine will become more mainstream here in Belgium and Europe. The more plant-based alternatives, the better!
We also hope to reach a wider audience with our ALL GOOD product line and cheesecakes. We’re currently working on improving our product line & bringing the blog (Julie’s Lifestyle) & ALL GOOD together: re-styling the website, working on new products and flavors, re-branding our packaging… It’s all very exciting J
As to personal wishes, I hope we’ll be able to travel more in the future. There are so many countries and cities I’d love to visit! Hawaii, Bali, Sicily, Costa Rica, Australia & New Zealand, Canada… Simon would love to go on a US road trip from the East to the West Coast too. I think it would be so interesting to discover all these cultures and taste the local food. We have a long bucket list 😉
***Exclusive: Discover one of Julie’s delicious recipes from her new cookbook***
Coconut curry noodles
Sometimes, all I want after a long day of work is a big plate of pasta. Only… traditional wheat pasta gets me so bloated that I end up looking like I’m two months pregnant. That’s why this coconut curry dish has vegetable noodles instead of regular spaghetti. It’s creamy, surprisingly filling and it only takes about fifteen minutes to prepare.
TIME: Prep time: 15 minutes – Keeps up to 3 days in the fridge
YIELD: 3 – 4 servings
EQUIPMENT: blender, rubber spatula, spiralizer
Coconut curry sauce
1 can (400 ml = 2 cups) coconut milk
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small clove of garlic (optional)
1 small green onion
½ (large) cup (120 g) of pure tomato purée
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 small tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 small teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon maple syrup or 1 pitted date (optional)
cayenne pepper to taste
4 medium zucchinis
4 medium carrots
1 handful of pine nuts
2 large handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 handful of cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley)
Coconut curry sauce
- Put the coconut milk, tomatoes, garlic, green onion, tomato purée, lime juice, ginger, curry powder, sea salt, maple syrup (or date) and a little cayenne pepper in the blender. Blend until smooth.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if desired. I often add half a teaspoon of Indian garam masala, a blend of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and other warming spices. Delicious!
- Peel the zucchinis and the carrots. Use a spiralizer to turn them into noodles.
- Lightly toast the pine nuts until they’re golden brown.
- Mix the vegetable noodles with the coconut curry sauce right before serving to prevent the pasta from becoming soggy. If you prefer something warm or if you have trouble digesting raw zucchini, feel free to warm the pasta and coconut curry sauce on low heat.
- Serve with the cherry tomatoes, green onion, cilantro and pine nuts.
JULIE’S TIPS & TRICKS
You can make noodles from other vegetables as well, like red beet, celeriac, parsnip…
Recipe from “Vegan & Raw 2 – 65 easy recipes for more energy” by Julie Van den Kerchove
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