The World of Pascale Naessens
How did your journey to natural foods and healthy eating start?
“When I was a model, my agency told me I would get more work if I lost a few pounds. It was actually pretty easy to do, because I was highly motivated. It wasn’t difficult for me to eat less for a few days, or just survive on a handful of nuts. After one week, I weighed a few pounds less. But then I gained them right back in the next weeks. After a while, I admit I ended up suffering from the so-called yoyo effect. And at a certain point I was tired of periodically starving myself. Besides, I do love good food and I was convinced there had to be a better solution for my problem – so I started to study nutrition in my spare time. After a while, I developed my own way of eating. I discovered that it was possible to enjoy good food in combination with good health and weight loss.”
You traveled a great deal as an international model. What trends did you see in eating habits around the world?
“It was some time ago that I worked as a model. But through the traveling I did at the time, I was introduced to the international cuisine that inspired me to create the fusion recipes you find in my books. I was inspired by Asian foods in particular. At the heart of the way people eat is a kind of respect for food. They live in harmony with their environment, and food is an especially important aspect. I was often amazed at the sophisticated and healthy food even roadside stalls served. At first glance things did not seem very hygienic – rats sometimes ran across the table – but the food was like the title of my book: Pure and simple. Asians are less inclined to eat carbohydrates than Western Europeans, despite the ever-present mounds of rice.
In recent years, I sailed long distances to the most exotic islands on earth, and I noticed people eat mostly natural foods. This is why my most important advice is: Eat natural, unprocessed food. I learned to appreciate Mediterranean cuisine in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea: Lots of olive oil, fresh fish and meats, vegetables and fruit. And far less bread than we might imagine. Italians also eat less pasta than we think. I enjoyed the most delicious grilled vegetables. A long time ago, I discovered the tsukemono technique in Japan, which is a way of fermenting vegetables. I notice that kimchi, a similar technique used in Korean cuisine, is very popular right now. There is nothing new under the sun.”
Your new book “Pure & Simple” is stunning. What inspired the concept?
“The most important thing is authenticity. The book must reflect reality as I experience it. First of all, I create all the recipes myself and try them at home about a dozen times, with my husband serving as my guinea pig. I direct the photo sessions myself, and work with top photographers. I prepare the dishes for the photographs myself, buy the ingredients myself, do my own styling, and all of the photographs are taken at my home. Not at a studio, no assembly line production. I only photograph a few dishes per day. And we eat the food afterwards! Of course every dish must comply with my vision on nutrition. Which means: Natural foods and a limited number of combinations, in short, no fast carbohydrates together with concentrated protein. Anybody who follows my recipes at home is eating delicious and healthy food.
It is not necessary to understand the theories behind it, though I personally always like to know why things are done a certain way. It is also important to know that my dishes are always simple and quick to prepare, but the results look as though you spent hours in the kitchen.
You sold millions of copies of your book in Belgium and Europe. What inspired you to bring your work to the US?
It might sound a little over the top, but I feel like I have a kind of mission. I want to teach people how to cook good food and become healthier and thinner in the process. In my home country, it is sometimes said that I have changed the way Belgians eat. I am delighted that people have become more conscious of what they eat, and I hope to achieve the same in the United States. I believe obesity is a huge problem in the USA, and I would like to contribute to the solution, even if I make just a small difference. I have seen that healthy eating is really popular in New York City. So my book has arrived at exactly the right time. A few months from now I will make a promotional tour to LA. There is plenty to do!”
In your book, you focus on the importance of food combinations.
“I want to provide tools for people who are interested in healthy foods. My main principle is that people should eat natural foods. Avoid processed and refined foods, and this will take you a long way. Through trial and error, I also found that it is better not to eat all kinds of foods at the same time. Animals eat what they find, usually one ingredient at a time. In primitive societies, people also eat whatever they just harvested, or the meat of prey they just killed. But when we go to the supermarket, we load our carts full of the foods we like to eat, and mix them all together when we cook. I have been selective with combinations of ingredients for many years. I do not eat concentrated proteins together with fast carbohydrates. In practice, this means I replace the potatoes and bread we eat so much of in our Western meals by vegetables. I eat lots of vegetables, not too much protein, and very few fast carbohydrates. These simple combinations are easy on our stomachs, improve digestion, and guarantee healthy eating patterns. Many scientists support the premise that it is a good idea to avoid combining protein with carbohydrates. I recently interviewed Professor Dariush Mozzafarian of Tufts University in Boston, and he confirmed that protein itself, for example in the form of meat, does not result in weight gain, but it will if meat and fish are combined with potatoes and bread. These food combinations reach back to ancient Tao philosophy. They were recommended all those centuries ago. The circle has closed.”
You talk about your eating disorder in your book. How did you overcome it and develop a healthy relationship with food?
“When I was a model, I was sometimes told to lose a few pounds. Not that I was overweight, but it is just the way things are in the world of modeling. To achieve my goal, I starved myself, sometimes surviving on just a few nuts. Then I would submit to enormous bouts of overeating, resulting in the well-known yoyo effect. I pretty much became addicted to fast carbohydrates, a phenomenon many people will recognize. When I realized what was happening, I started to search for a solution. I read stacks of scientific literature about nutrition, and began to cook and experiment with combinations according to the discoveries made in research performed by Doctor Shelton and Doctor Hay. I conquered my eating disorder by eating that way, and in addition, my meals tasted great and I was satisfied after every meal. I stopped craving fast carbohydrates.“
What tips do you have for somebody who is trying to transition into a healthier lifestyle?
“The first thing you should do is become aware of what you are eating. What am I putting into my mouth and how does it affect my body? Then you should decide to only eat natural foods. Does it grow on a tree, or in the ground, or does it walk around? Does my food come straight from nature to my kitchen? And then you can start applying my first and simple rule: do not eat concentrated protein together with fast carbohydrates. Replace bread, potatoes and pasta with vegetables. Eat lots of fruit. Discover that delicious and healthy eating will make your life better in many different ways. Better eating is better living, just like I wrote in my book.”
You entertain guests, and make it look so simple. What are some of your best tips for entertaining?
“It is important to keep things as simple as possible. The American title for my book is “Pure&Simple” for a reason. Enjoy working in the kitchen, but also enjoy how easy and fast it is to do so. When I cook, I don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen; I want to socialize with my guests and join them at the table. But I also want them to know that I prepared the meal with care and love.”
You are a creative spirit. Not only are you an author, but also the creator of a ceramics line, TV host, and interior designer. How do you combine all of this?
“My life has always been unpredictable. I started as a model, but the work did not bring me any kind of satisfaction, except as far as the traveling went. My husband had a job in television, and through him I was introduced to that world. After years of wandering around, I became a TV host at one of the major national networks, and I did that for years. I made programs about architecture, met dozens of famous architects and designers, and discovered an entirely new world. But I grew tired of TV at a certain point, too. I could not find full release for my creative energies. I made a documentary in Tunisia together with my husband, and this is where I met a potter, a woman who truly inspired me. When I arrived home, I started taking lessons from an experienced Belgian potter and discovered an ability for creative expression. Cooking and pottery are excellent companions. I made beautiful meals and served them on plates I made myself. The food and plates formed a harmonious entity. After a while, I also started designing chairs and tables. In this way, I created my own world, which was soon called "The World of Pascale Naessens”. Everything simply grew spontaneously, and is interconnected.”
What inspires you?
“I find inspiration in nature – I live in an old country house – beauty, sunshine, and water. I spent many years sailing and discovering nature, as well as many different cultures, along the way. I interview scientists and professors about nutrition. Their visions and ideas also inspire me. Everything I experience has a place in my world. I practice yoga, and used to practice tai chi and Shiatsu, I take long hikes and I cook. Everything comes together to create a whole.”
What is one of your guilty pleasures?
“I love chocolate. But only really dark, pure chocolate, without all sorts of additives like sugar and flavors. I visited a cocoa tree plantation in Costa Rica and learned how beans are transformed into delicious pure chocolate. Chocolate sometimes makes an appearance in my cookbooks. Actually, the word forbidden is not part of my vocabulary, because I have another rule that I call the 80% - 20% rule: Eat 80% natural food, and you can have 20% comfort food. And that is anything you desire. I am all about freedom! Anything is possible, and everything is allowed.”
How can readers find out more about you?