Can you make any type of food look ethereal, enticing to both the eye and palate? Elodie Bellegarde can. The French-born, Singapore-based food stylist has the Midas Touch when it comes to creating beautiful imagery to do with food and all things related to food and cooking. She is also the author of Kitchen Stories, a cookbook co-authored with Denise Hung. You might have seen her beautiful pictures and prose in The U Press, which she regularly contributes to. There, she whips up endearing narratives in her column about food – using flowers in food, for instance – making us think about the subject beyond pure sustenance. Elodie is also creator of Beylongue & Fille, an online shop curated with lovely, useful props for both styling and daily use in the kitchen or dining table. The brands include products created by local makers, including textile design studio Fictive Fingers.
Elodie is also mother to five-year-old Elliot, who will soon welcome a brother in about a week. Having lived in Tiong Bahru for a while, her family has recently moved to Joo Chiat for more space for the growing family.
In this interview, we also start a special segment, which includes a recipe contribution. Yes, not all moms start out being Nigella Lawsons. Aside from browsing through Cherry Bombe magazine, my current status as mom-cook involves painstakingly trying to follow recipes I’ve tagged in cooking 101-type recipe books. Hit and misses are a plenty. So what better way to learn than to ask fellow moms for tips? Look out for Elodie’s special cookie recipe at the end of the interview! It’s a recipe both parents and children can enjoy.
Can you share some favourite memories of your childhood that were important to you in shaping your current career?
Holidays at my grandparents in the South West of France. My grandparents were farmers and lived in the middle of the woods and corn fields in a place that was really remote. I loved that! They had ducks, pigs, chickens and all kind of vegetables. They also farmed ducks for foie gras so helping out as a child was something my sisters and I did without questioning whether the practice was ethically right or wrong. In hindsight, I learnt so much there. My grandmother’s cooking is also something that has stayed with me and that I reminisce every so often. Meals would always start with a soup, no matter what the weather outside was like. She has a few staple dishes that I very much cherish and love to eat again whenever I go back to France on holiday.
You are a food stylist. Can you share with us what your job entails? What’s the most challenging and also the best thing about your job?
In a nutshell, my job consists of making food look good for a photograph. Sometimes, depending on the client and the assignment, the focus isn’t just restricted to the food but also to the scene around the food (the set up, props, colours, textures). Creating food scenes with a story and sourcing for props are an aspect of the job that I thoroughly enjoy. I love my job for multiple reasons one being that it revolves around food which is a passion. So I can call myself lucky. It also involves creativity, a lot of cooking and preparing food, and shopping, so no one day is alike.
Seasons can be a challenge, especially when shooting a Christmas scene in July. It makes the sourcing of ingredients quite challenging. The aesthetic of food being paramount to some assignments, keeping the food fresh looking and delicious, can sometimes be difficult.
One thing that I however struggle with when it comes to my industry is the waste. I try to bring home most of the ingredients I don’t get to style or shoot so they don’t go wasted but in many instances, this isn’t possible. Some dishes are just not safe to eat after being handled too much and some are purposely undercooked. I recently worked on a rather large project that took us three weeks to achieve. In order to waste as little as possible, I tried to reuse some of the cooked items in several shots (a lot of freezing, thawing, and then freezing again was involved, making the food so inedible). I remember nearly gagging on some dishes but it was worth the discomfort.
What are some of your recent and upcoming projects?
I have just wrapped up what has been one of the most demanding projects I have ever worked on. This meant really long hours and working until the wee hours of night and at seven month pregnant, it can be a challenge. I am really glad with the outcome and can’t wait to share more once it is out but I am also happy it is over. Barely seeing my little family for three weeks was hard.
I’ve also launched a little online store (Beylongue & Fille) where I sell handmade items with a story connected to the kitchen and table setting. I make some of the items myself, like Le Petit Kit of Food Styling and I have just created a small range of table textile (napkins) that I screen print in my home studio. Funny enough, the name Beylongue refers to that village I mentioned above where my grandparents lived; my grand mother still lives there.
How has becoming a mother influenced your career, if it has?
Becoming a mother has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was given the luxury of taking a year off when Elliot was born although I was studying for my Masters at the same time. This allowed me to rethink about my career and what I want to achieve professionally. I am extremely lucky to have a husband who supported me with my choices. I don’t think motherhood has influenced my career choice but it has shaped it. Luckily, I do a job that allows me to have a work-life balance, that is depending on the project I work on, so whenever I am not on a photoshoot, I make sure to be at home to collect Elliot from the school bus. I love having a career and I love my job and don’t see myself as someone who could be a full time mum until the kids are 10. On the other hand my family comes first and my son (and soon, sons) are my priority. I have learnt that money and exposure are one thing, they come and go; but missing on my children’s important life events (or not seeing them grow) is something that I am not keen on.
Popular now among modern moms are books that talk about the ‘French’ way of bringing up a child! Do you parent by those techniques? If not, can you share your parenting philosophy?
Ah trends! I am French so that French trend when it comes to raising children isn’t something I relate to, not in a trendy way. Paradoxically, we raise our children in a very French manner but for us, it feels quite natural because this is the way I was raised (my husband is British). I always had meals with my parents and sisters so this is something we’ve done with Elliot since we started weaning him and something we will do with our second child when the time comes. Meal times seated around the dining table are important and is the best way to communicate with your children, laugh with them, observe them and share with them the love of food.
We never fed our Elliot finger food even when we started weaning him. It was straight to using a rubber spoon. It was messy but it was fun. I made his meals myself introducing one ingredient at a time to check for allergies. Everything was pureed at first and then little pieces where introduced, again, was spoon fed. Snacking throughout the day in the pram isn’t also something we did. My parents were quite adamant to us eating three good meals and having a “gouter” around 4pm – the way the french like to do it. I still do (and so does my dad). There was no snacking in between meals, or standing up and eating at the same time and this has stayed with me and it is the way we’ve raised our son. We eat together around 7.15pm, talk, play cards, laugh, occasionally argue and after that it’s bedtime story and a cuddle before Elliot goes to bed around 8.15/8.30pm.
What to you is the most poetic thing about being a mother, and what’s the most underrated, in your experience?
The pregnancy and birth. I had (and currently have) a very good pregnancy and loved the feeling of having my children growing inside me. The birth of Elliot (and fingers crossed, I’ll have a good second labour) was the most amazing day of my life. It was beautiful, overwhelming, intense. We went for a natural birth with no painkillers and to feel everything was, madly enough, wonderful. It’s not particularly poetic given how graphic a birth is and I didn’t cry when I first met him (but how much did I cry after, just looking at him, observing him). But that intense feeling of given birth and being supported by the person you love, aka my husband- who was an incredible birth partner- was just incredible.
The love that I feel for my son is somewhat visceral. I know my husband is deeply in love with his child (he is a fantastic papa) but the way he relates to Elliot is somewhat different from the way I feel – a love that is so deep, so intrinsic, quite difficult to describe and certainly not something I expected to be so intense. On the other hand, Elliot knows how to drive me a little insane whenever he is in a bad mood and decide to be very naughty.
How have your daily rituals changed after becoming a mother? Can you share what a typical day for you is like? How do you think this will alter when your second child arrives?
Time has become a luxury. First, because children grow up so fast and second, because they take up so much of your time.
I usually wake up around 6.30/7am, get ready quickly while my husband wakes our son up. We make breakfast and have breakfast with Elliot. Then, it’s a rush so he can be ready on time for the school bus. It’s hectic and epic but we usually manage to read a couple of pages of his favourite book while eating or play cards (he is into that at the moment). As soon as he is on his way to school, I tidy up a bit and try to fit in a meditation (I practice Vedic meditation). I am usually good to start my working day at 8am. If I have a photoshoot I need to get ready for that or if I am working from home I tend to head to a cafe for an hour or so and work there. I work throughout the day and every day is different. If I am on a shoot, I usually start around 9.30am, until about 6.30/7pm. I would come back home, and take over the nanny if she is around unless my husband is working from home. Then it’s time to prepare dinner, have dinner, read a story to Elliot and put him to bed. I meditate once again once all is quiet. Then, I either read, occasionally watch a movie or work a little bit more. Finally, I crash into bed!
If I am not on a shoot, I pick up my son either from school or from the school bus and play or cook with him until it’s shower time around 6pm. And the rest of the evening unrolls usually in a more relaxed way than if I had a photoshoot.
What are your biggest personal challenges in balancing motherhood, career, being a wife and having time to yourself?
My sanity! I want to do everything without help but sometimes things have to give in. So that balance can sometimes be a challenge. But we have our routine and ways to do things. I am very fortunate to do a job that I love so although it can be really stressful and demanding I have to appreciate that my job is fantastic. Our lives have changed a lot since we’ve had Elliot, our couple time as well, but it’s all in a good way. You have to be a lot less selfish when you have children but reconnect every so often to who you are as a human being. Time off is necessary and when it happens, it is a luxury.
My husband is very hands-on especially during the weekends so the boys tend to have one activity together on either day of the weekend while I can get on with my things. Otherwise, we spend the weekend doing things together. Elliot is a great little guy and helps out in the evening whether it is setting the table for dinner or cooking with me. But if he is exhausted and not in the mood, well, it’s a different story.
What are your passions and how do you aspire to share them with your children?
Food and art. These are the two areas in which I graduated in and that interest me. Food is definitely the thing that I hope Elliot will develop an interest in, whether it is cooking, growing, sustainability or even eating. We live in a funny fast world not always in favour of the environment and animals. We barely eat any meat and little fish at home and whenever we do, it’s free range and sustainably source, as much as possible. I want Elliot and soon his little brother to understand that food doesn’t come for free and that some things are best not to be eaten if it doesn’t benefit a farmer, an animal or nature. It’s a long shot but I hope they will get it.
(Continue this sentence) Play to me is:
Surprising Elliot by unexpectedly telling him to jump with me in the pool with our clothes on at night even if I am very pregnant, we just had dinner and a shower and the neighbours are not going to be particularly happy about it. He was over the moon, and kept telling me for a good week how “cool” this was and that we should do it all the time.
Please explain to us why you have decided to share this recipe with us.
I came across this recipe on the net (101 cookbooks blog) after looking for healthy snacks that are tasty, easy to pack and does not use sugar. I’ve tweaked the recipe a lot, adding coconut flour, and new flavours to make it more versatile to our palates ( I would put chocolate everywhere, my husbands prefers seeds and raisins). It is also incredibly easy to prepare and so great to make with children.
Banana, Oat and Chocolate Cookies (adapted from 101 Cookbooks):
3 ripe to very ripe large bananas
1.5 cups oats
1/3 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup coconut flour
1tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
A good handful of dark chocolate chip (I like 70% minimum)
1/2 cup desiccated or shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a large baking tray with parchment.
In a large bowl, mash the bananas to a paste. Add all the remaining ingredients and combine with a tablespoon. Take a tablespoon of the mixture and with clean hands, form little cookies or balls. Place each cooking flat on the baking tray, flattening the top slightly. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Enjoy with a glass of cold milk.
+ photo credit (portrait): Playground
+ + photo credit (Kitchen Stories, cookies): Elodie Bellegarde