Lisa and I have decided to add a bit of a twist to our weekly blog posts. We are embarking on a journey of connecting with and interviewing some fascinating foodies! We’re calling this series “Foodie Features”. We are already having so much fun with this endeavor and hope you will enjoy coming along with us on a journey to learn more about what makes these interesting foodies tick and why they do what they do. We are interviewing a wide range of people – from food bloggers to restaurant owners to farmers – and they all have one thing in common….a love of life and a passion for food!
First up on our interview circuit is Jenn Sebestyen, a well-established and respected food blogger and recipe developer catering to those interested in learning more about a plant-based diet. We met Jenn several years ago through a mutual friend and once we tried her famous (she has been on TV showcasing this recipe…so yes, it is truly famous!) butternut squash mac and cheese, we were completely hooked. Neither Lisa nor I are vegetarians, although Lisa dabbled with this for many years. We are both vegetable lovers through and through, and Jenn delivers recipes that will make your mouth water: falafel burger w/cucumber peanut relish, creamy dairy-free potato soup with kaleor if you have a sweet tooth, how about pumpkin chocolate chip barsor lemon coconut cashew date balls?
Jenn has an infectious smile that draws you in, and although she is a successful food blogger with a book just about ready to hit the shelves, she is one of the most authentic and modest people you will ever meet. She doesn't pretend to be something she is not, and her responses to some of our interview questions were so refreshingly honest.
We asked Jenn how she got started on her food blogging journey, and we loved her answer, "it just started as a way for my mom and my best friend to see what I made for dinner"! Jenn started on this journey when her twin daughters were born almost eight years ago because, in her words, “I was a little bored and needed something more for myself." She started posting online about things she made for lunch or dinner and much to her surprise, it started getting attention, and people started asking her for more. She connected with a bloggers group and got involved with a small group of about ten bloggers. This group is where Jenn learned to hone her blogging craft, and from there, her butternut squash mac and cheese made history on the blogosphere! She then started to think, "maybe I could start sending pictures of my food out purposefully"! From here, Jenn began to create her own recipes….this is where Jenn's modesty comes in…she talks about this talent as if anyone could do it and you know what, after 2 hours spent with Jenn, we both left the meeting thinking, heck…I can create a recipe too, knowing full well that neither one of us have the skill or patience to do so! Jenn kept saying throughout the whole interview, "I didn't start out wanting to be an entrepreneur," but yet she managed to jump head-on into the world of recipe creation, writing, and professional photography (her pictures are second to none…and Lisa is a photographer so we have a reliable source on this one!!!).
When asked what motivates Jenn, her response was just simple and made us smile, "I want to make my readers happy. I love when my readers reach out and ask me to re-create a recipe they love/remember, but in a plant-based format." She takes it on as a challenge when someone comes to her with a far-out request, i.e., vegan cheesecake anyone?! Jenn gets pleasure out of seeing her readers engaged; it can be lonely in the world of remote online blogging sometimes, so she loves it when people reach out and comment on how a recipe of hers hit the mark with their family. She mentioned to us that she has several notebooks full of recipe ideas and her head is always swirling with more, but she prioritizes working on recipes requested by her readers. What's impressive about this process, and what Lisa and I were fascinated by, is how we all take for granted that we can open up Pinterest, type something in and BAM, 100 recipe options come up for us to scroll through and choose. We don't realize the time, sweat, and tears that go into a robust recipe design. As Jenn said, “I have sometimes spent from sun up to sun down working on perfecting a recipe, sometimes throwing it out and starting over 5 or more times!”. When she posts something, you can be sure that it is good! It’s not all beautiful insta-ready meals either in Jenn's world, she wasn't afraid to let us in on the fact that when she spends 8 hours testing a donut recipe, she ain’t turning around to make a beautiful home-cooked meal on the table…, sometimes "it's donuts for dinner all-around" Jenn told us!
Jenn is a mom of 3 kids (twins are part of that trio), so she is running a family full-time. We asked her what her kids think of all this, and her response was so sweet, “they think it’s cool and sometimes tell me that they told someone at school about my blog”. She loves that her kids can see her as a strong, confident working mom while also having the balance to be with them, “that’s why I am doing this, to have the balance, but I also know they are watching me all the time and I want them to know that they can do whatever it is they want to do…you can make anything into a business!”, she said.
We finished up our interview with Jenn by asking her our Reflection Institute round of rapid-fire hot-seat questions and here is what we learned about this fascinating foodie:
Q: If you could describe yourself as a food, what would it be and why?
Jenn: “A good piece of salted chocolate, because I’m pretty sweet, but have a little bite!”
Q: Where do you love to eat?
Jenn: “My favorite restaurant locally is Dukes because they are locally sourced and sustainable as much as possible, they have lots of vegan options, they change up their menu all the time”.
Q: Which do you like to eat more, the food you have cooked or the food others have cooked for you?
Jenn: “It depends who is doing the cooking!! Eh me….I just prefer to eat what I cook, he he!!”
Q: What is your favorite ingredient?
Jenn: “That's tough; there are so many. Tahini is a real big fav; I like that in sweet and savory. I've also really been loving miso lately…it has a really nice cheesy flavor, FYI :)"
Q: What is your least favorite ingredient?
Jenn: “Olives…but it really wouldn’t be an ingredient for me as I would never use them!!”
Q: What is your favorite smell?
Jenn: "The Fall, those warming spices, cinnamon, clove, and the fresh air of Fall."
Q: What is your favorite food book?
Jenn: Terry Walters, "Clean Food," and "Clean Start."
Q: Are there any funny stories that your family tells about you that comes to mind?
Jenn: "My mom talks about how my first cooking experience was cooking Kraft mac and cheese at age 7 or 8, and I forgot to drain the noodles, I was apparently stirring it and stirring it wondering why it wasn't turning into mac and cheese consistency!!"
We laughed so hard at this last story because her point here is that "if she can do it, anyone can." She once messed up Kraft mac and cheese and years later blew up the internet waves with her butternut squash mac and cheese. I have personally made this recipe along with many others from Jenn’s site, and you can't go wrong!
Thank you so much for meeting with us, Jenn, we can’t wait for your book to come out SOON!