Featuring Sarah Frison, a Pastry Chef from Belgium
Sarah is our first interviewee from Belgium, and she’s also a trained pastry chef! While she is unable to continue on this career path due to chronic illness, she now uses her knowledge to help others by using a stepped nutritional approach. When people approach her for advice and tips, it’s usually for Gastroparesis-friendly and easy cooking recipes. Painting is a hobby that she’s picked up quite recently, and her abstract works give off a bright, positive vibe. She also enjoys enhancing aesthetics and fixing things, as she believes that it helps to improve the general quality of life. Read on to learn more about this interesting lady!
The very colourful Sarah Frison!
ON COOKING & BAKING
- How did your passion for cooking and baking begin?
I’ve always enjoyed baking for as long as I can remember. When I was little I was always in the kitchen helping my mom. Growing up I would watch James Martin (a BBC chef) who had a show about baking that was aired on our national TV station. I would be in the kitchen trying all the different things he showed during the show as much as I could. I even pulled sugar in our kitchen when I was 11 or so. I’ve still got a scar on my hand from where the sugar burned me. I did manage it, though!
Once we got cable tv and I could watch the BBC, every weekend I would watch his Saturday morning TV show. Even when I was training as a pastry chef and I would have to get started with something, I would still watch it first. My grandmother and my mom have always baked as well. I still use my gran’s sponge recipe, even though technically it shouldn’t work, it’s a great cake. I always make it for birthdays.
- What about cooking and baking do you like?
I’ve always enjoyed baking as long as I can remember. Being able to create something and having it work out is amazing. It’s always come naturally to me. Cooking is second to that really.
- What’s the biggest difference between cooking and baking, in terms of skillset?
In cooking, you can freestyle, if you like, a lot more. At least it’s easier to do. In baking you need to know the science behind what you’re doing to be able to successfully change a recipe. In baking, and especially as a pastry chef, you need to be very, very precise. Certain recipes will fail horribly if you’re out by 1/8th of a teaspoon of one ingredient.
The main skill is to be able to observe what’s going on and then being able to correct it with what you’ve learned. At least for a pastry chef, if you’re baking at home, the main thing is alway to read any recipe carefully and make sure you get every measurement right.
- What about in terms of how they make you feel?
I’ve always enjoyed my work/training immensely. I can say I was pretty darn good at it as well so it’s been so very hard not being able to work as a pastry chef anymore. It’s seriously creative, competitive and quite addictive as well. If you’ve ever watched cooking competitions on tv where the contestants have to work in a kitchen, real life is very similar to that. You know what work needs to be done and you’re working using the clock (sometimes to the minute) to get that work done in time. We even had old men yelling at us 😉
Cooking has always just been something I’ve done for dinner. My mom would always make meals fully from scratch so if you wanted to eat, you would have to chop vegetables, make sauces etc. I’ve never really done that as a hobby or professionally but do know a thing or two about it.
- What are some kitchen equipment you can’t live without?
Definitely my blender. I’ve got a vitamix and it makes such a difference. I use it every couple of days for a new batch of smoothies that I freeze. It does such a great job at pulverizing every little seed or skin.
I got a food processor last year and that’s a big one as well. I don’t use it a lot but it’s great for prepping food when you’re cooking meals for someone else too.
- Do you cook all your meals? If so, how do you manage that?
I try to. I do manage most of the time. I always make my smoothies myself, I’ll do 4 or 6 at one time and then freeze them. My dinner is always pretty basic so I do that myself too. I live with my mom and she always makes her meal unless we’re having something we can both eat. I’ve got a post where I talk about how I cook, and some of my tips to make cooking easier.
- What sort of ingredients do you use? Do you think they make a big difference in the quality of food produced?
I try to get organic products as much as possible. Definitely when it comes to fruit and vegetables. I do notice there’s a difference in quality, produce lasts a whole lot longer before going bad as well. I try to get my produce from a local farm shop where they’ve good a good range of vegetables available.
Everything has to be gluten-free first though so if a certain product isn’t organic but it is gluten-free (and gmo-free if I got it in the US) then I still buy that one. Certain flours for example can be hard to find both gluten-free and organic. Here’s a post I wrote on where I buy ingredients and why.
- On average, how much time do you spend experimenting with recipes?
Not that often these days. I did a Christmas/holiday season cooking show/course last year so I spent more time in the kitchen coming up with the recipes and recording the whole thing.
- Are there any recipes that you dreamt and came up with from scratch?
Sure, pretty much all recipes from my holiday season course from last year are invented ones. Mostly recipes are based on something you’ve seen somewhere though. A traditional recipe that was modified.
- You mentioned that your blog is your business. Do you have a shop front where you sell food products, or how does that work?
Yes, at the moment I sell an e-book on eating gluten-free and I’ve got products based on my paintings as well. It would be great to have actual food products but that’s pretty impossible at the moment with Belgium’s food regulations and my energy. I’ve had courses in the past as well as workshops. I’m probably bringing my holiday/Christmas course back for this season as well as previous live workshops as on-demand workshops.
- You’re from Belgium! What are some pros and cons in terms of chronic illness care there?
Overall, I’m very fortunate to have a great doctor who thinks with me and is always up for listening to my suggestions. Medication and care is very affordable, although getting disability benefits as a young woman has proved very challenging. The system here is set up so that you have to see a government-appointed doctor who decides how your illness affects your life.
The first doctor I saw felt that I wasn’t ill at all which meant that I spent the past almost 3 years working with a lawyer to get disability benefits. Getting a diagnosis hasn’t been straightforward either. Dysautonomia and gastroparesis (my main illnesses) aren’t well known at all over here, let alone doctors would suggest testing for them.
I have friends in the US with the same illnesses and they helped me get diagnosed. Once I knew what tests I needed, I suggested them to my doctor who then got me the script to have the tests done.
- Is it easy to obtain gluten-free food there?
Getting gluten-free food has gotten way easier since a Dutch supermarket chain (Albert Heijn) came to Belgium a couple of years ago. They label all their own-brand products so you’re certain they’re gluten-free. That’s great for staples! Other supermarkets always have a small section of gluten-free foods but nothing as extensive as that chain.
It’s nice to know you can go out and just buy a jar of jam or a pack of sausages without putting on your detective hat. That supermarket also has a couple of decent quality ready meals that are gluten-free. Great for a convenient meal.
Other than that, the gluten-free landscape is pretty bare. We haven’t got gluten-free options in cafés or restaurants, other than in just 5 or so places across the country. I went on a trip to the UK in June, and was blown away by how pretty much every single place had some gluten-free option. Even though they weren’t always safe enough for me to eat because they were kept next to non-gluten-free items, it’s such a big difference.
- Do you have any plans of expanding your business?
I do, at the moment I just do things that are health and cooking related, but I’m bringing more things about creativity into it as well. I’ll be doing a group creativity project in the Fall where we’ll be making a small craft. Anyone will be able to join in and watch the live videos.
- Opinion on fast food?
Hmm, that’s a difficult one. If we’re talking about McDonald’s than yeah, no thanks. If we’re talking about pre-made meals (the kind you get in the supermarket’s fridge section) once in a while, there’s not much wrong with that. I love being able to go to the supermarket and picking up something gluten-free for when I’m not quite feeling up to cooking. That doesn’t happen that often that there are GF things my stomach can have.
- Favourite kinds of cuisine to eat and why?
Anything refreshing, I love curries too. You can make them in a gastroparesis-friendly way as long as you keep the spice level down. I prefer modern American/British foods really. There’s so much amazing stuff happening with tasty dishes available from all over the world.
I was in a tiny local shop in Cornwall on holiday and they sold palm sugar in those blocks. I had never seen that in real life, let alone in a small neighbourhood shop. It was a small surfing town, but still. I love Gluten-free Girl’s American Classics cookbook as well as anything James Martin, Jamie Oliver and similar British chefs are putting out. We’re nowhere near that level in Belgium.
- What about least favourite foods to cook?
Cooking not that much. Eating? Probably Moroccan tagines and curries with cilantro leaves. I’m allergic to cilantro leaves as well as hating the taste (team soap here). Moroccan because it can be quite sweet and same-y, also I hate raisins in savory dishes.
- What sort of cooking/baking advice do people seek you out for the most?
Gastroparesis-friendly options and ways to make cooking easier.
- Any tips for newbie bakers and chefs?
For baking, follow the recipe to the T. For cooking, read the recipe fully, make sure you’ve got all the ingredients before you get started, make the recipe as it’s written at least once, then start to make changes.
- Goto resources online?
I love Gluten-free girl’s website and books, and often use the BBC good food website for references.
Nice art supplies!
‘Storm’, an abstract painting by Sarah
- How did your love for painting start?
I only started painting early spring of this year. I’d always done creative things as a pastry chef but never felt I would be able to paint or draw. I got this abstract painting course in a bundle with a business course. It looked pretty doable to do from watching the videos so I figured I would get some basic supplies and see if it worked. I knew with the first brush stroke that this was something for me.
- What inspires you to paint?
I tend to just see the idea of where I want to take something and then I try to make that happen. It doesn’t necessarily make sense but that’s how it always works for me. Sometimes I just start to paint and then the finished thing becomes clear half-way through.
- How would you describe your style?
As abstract really. Just fun and uplifting rather than the complicated, intellectualized, often gloomy, paintings we picture when thinking of abstract art. I try to use bright, fun colors and textures because that’s what I enjoy looking at most and using as well.
- Artists you admire the most?
Gosh, that’s a hard one. I haven’t started that long ago so I don’t have many people that I look at yet. I just don’t know that many people in art I guess 🙂 That’s not a bad thing, in a way, that just takes away from creating yourself.
I feel that architecture, interior design, etc are all great for inspiration that doesn’t come from looking at someone else’s work. Seeing different ways of using light, textures in curtains, fabrics, color combinations etc are all so wonderful.
I do always love the works of Caroline Zook (Kelso before she got married) at madevibrant.com, also because she got me into painting and drawing in the first place. It was her course I took last winter.
- What’s your toolkit like?
I’ve got a pretty small toolkit really. I guess it depends on what you consider small, of course. I try to stick to buying the items I know are going to work well. I just go on gut feel as well as trying to buy the best I can afford. That does make a difference.
I recently got a cart to put all my things in. It looks pretty neat and tidy right now and not even that much. This is just the stuff I use all the time, though. I keep some extra supplies I stocked up on or things that came in a larger set (like brushes or markers) in a separate drawer, that’s also where I keep my paper.
- Favourite mediums to work with?
I love using acrylic paint. That’s what I learned to paint with so… It’s also easier to find allergen-friendly than oil paints. I’m seriously allergic to certain solvents and binders, so I need to be careful with what brands I buy. I use the Liquitex and Amsterdam Acrylic paints, they work for me so I tend to stick with them. I recently started to use watercolors as well, that’s great fun but very different to acrylic paint.
- Do you work with any other art forms as well?
I recently started dabbling in a bit of illustration as well. I’ve been really enjoying it but it does take practise of course. I use just a simple sharpie or a similar marker to draw. I love the look of using a fine tip sharpie. It gives it a fun feel and a very ‘drawn’ look, rather than looking realistic.
- Any favourite colours? And colours to work with?
I love the pink/dark pink/blue color combination I’ve usually got going on in my abstract paintings. I think it’s such a fun combination and something I always come back to. For my watercolors I just use the colors that fit the image best so no real favourites there.
- Works you are most proud of, and the stories behind them?
I quite like ‘Ocean’, the first fully abstract painting I did. I never really have specific stories behind a painting or a reason for painting them. I just do what feels right for the piece.
- Do you display any of your own artwork at home and where?
I put up some prints for a while on one of the walls in the living room. I took them down and haven’t quite put something in its place yet. I am working on a large piece, my first on canvas, to go in the hallway/study area that leads to my bedroom. It’s an area that doesn’t get that much natural light and doesn’t feel like a room in itself so I figured having something there would help. I’m only halfway through it so we’ll see how it’ll look once it’s done.
- Any plans of starting a business? Why or why not?
I have sold one painting so far, yay! She ended up getting a digital copy and printed it herself because of shipping fees etc. I do sell products based on my paintings at Society 6, and prints of my work on my own site.
I’m hosting a Facebook live series this fall where people will be able to watch a workshop of sorts to make a fall/thanksgiving card. It’s free to watch but people can donate if they’re enjoying the content. I’m definitely hoping to incorporate this more into my main business.
- Goto resources online?
I love Made Vibrant. Here’s some people I follow on instagram as well: Eva Mouton, Marloes De Vries, Emma Block, and A Question of Eagles.
- Tips for budding painters?
Hmm, just get started really. Take a good course or online workshop, follow along and see how you can make things your own. Use enough paint! It just doesn’t work if you scrimp on the amount of paint you’re using.
‘Ocean’, Sarah’s first painting
ON ENHANCING AESTHETICS & FIXING THINGS
- Why do these interest you?
I feel that our environment plays such a big role in how we feel and behave. If we don’t pay attention to the aesthetics of our day-to-day life, we lose out on so much quality of life. All these little details, and sometimes quite big things, can truly make a big difference in how much we’re able to enjoy our surroundings. We can say we don’t really care about looks or aesthetics, but is that really true or is that something we feel because we don’t think we can truly affect the way things look?
- How does it play a part in your everyday lifestyle?
I always try to make the best choice possible when it comes to how I dress, what stores I support, what brands I buy and how I pick a certain option over another. It’s not even about being vain or slim, it’s about picking things that are the best option for me and my body. I might be slightly vain and pretty slim but that’s not the core thing, the core thing is that these choices matter and do affect everything on a larger scale. What we support is what we’ll have more of.
- What sort of things do you fix or enhance?
I always try to find a way to improve what’s there and look for ways to make things possible. That’s part of what a health coach and a pastry chef both do, look at the thing and use your knowledge (or the other person’s in the coach’s case) to make it work. I’ve been known to be able to pull things round last minute and still make it work.
Sarah enjoying a little snack!
*All images here used with permission from Sarah Frison. Want to be featured too? Click here to sign up! You can also read more interviews on that page 🙂
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Sarah Lives with the Following Illnesses:
Learn more about her experiences living with them on her blog.