Multicultural Cuisines With Sylvia Fountaine


culturallyours podcast sylvia fountaine feasting at home interview

Season 06
Season 06
Multicultural Cuisines With Sylvia Fountaine

Show Details

In this episode Karthika talks to Sylvia Fountaine, an ex-chef turned uber successful food blogger and the creator of Feasting At Home, where she shares incredible multicultural recipes from all over the world inspired by her own multicultural household of Egyptian and Finnish backgrounds. Sylvia also shared her idea of comfort foods, how travel is a great way to expand your pallet and also shared some fascinating insight into gut health and how it can really shape the way we eat and live.

Show Notes

Karthika talks to Sylvia Fountaine who is an ex-chef turned uber successful food blogger and the creator of Feasting At Home. Through her food blog, Sylvia shares incredible multicultural recipes from all over the world inspired by her own multicultural household of Egyptian and Finnish backgrounds.

They also talked about comfort foods, foods that our bodies just crave because they know what is good and what is wholesome, and how our microbiome really gives us great insight into foods that our bodies crave.

The Transcript

Karthika: Welcome Sylvia. Thank you so much for joining me on CulturallyOurs as I am so very excited to have you on the podcast. And I cannot wait to chat with you. Get to know you a little bit better and just get to know your corner of the world a little bit better.

Sylvia: Oh, thanks Karthika. I’m so excited to be on your show.

Karthika: Yes. It’s been a long time coming, I’m so glad that the season is right. The topic is perfect and you are the best at this. So I’m very excited to chat with you. So before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you’re from, just to help set the stage for this chat?

Sylvia: Sure. My name is Sylvia. I live in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been in Washington state for the last, 25 years or so. I grew up in Los Angeles. Both my parents were immigrants. My mother was from Finland. My father was from Egypt.  so that was a really interesting home. Both my parents were so opposite and so different in not just personality, but food wise, everything. So that was, that was kind of fun. Now I live in Washington state, like I said, I have a food blog, and I’m married to Brian and we love to travel and we love to eat.

Karthika: You have an amazing food blog and incredible recipes, and I know you and I have traveled, so I know you love food and everything that is to do about food. So talk to me a little bit about sort of your food journey. You mentioned growing up in a household that was sort of multicultural. How does kind of food fit into your life, your lifestyle, and now with your food blog, pretty much everything that you do.

Sylvia: I was just exposed to really different flavors that I really young age, my Egyptian father cooked a lot of addiction food. My Finnish mother cooked a lot of finished food. And then we traveled a lot when I was young.  so that was kind of ingrained in me. I never thought I would end up in the blogging business or the food business, but life, you know, doesn’t go as planned.  I was a counselor for a while and kind of daydreamed about having a restaurant. This was 25 years ago. I think what’s amazing to me what is you dream about can actually happen. And I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

Karthika: To dream big and dream dreams is a good thing. Because otherwise it’s too boring. Right?

Sylvia: I was being a counselor and I would walk by this empty space in downtown Spokane. It was this empty brick building and I could just see this restaurant in there. Then it was like a year later I started a restaurant with my high school friend, Tanya, and just my life took a complete different path than ever. I mean, I just never imagined it. So had a restaurant, a vegetarian restaurant in Spokane for 10 years and then sold that and took a year off and try to figure out, okay, what do I, how do I want to spend my life? What do I really love? And I came back to cooking and I really love cooking. So I started a catering business and, I did that for 10 years.

Sylvia: And when I started the business, I guess I just didn’t realize,  how stressful catering is.  I thought it would be easier than having a restaurant. Restaurants can be very stressful. I thought catering would be easier, but no, it’s even more stressful because you know, you’re doing big events and weddings and there’s just a lot of pressure. So at the same time as the catering business, I had started this food blog on the side originally to kind of advertise the catering business.  and then when I started the food blog, I didn’t realize that that could be a business that just never entered my mind.  but just as time went on and you could see, you know, how food blogs were starting to generate income, it became a possibility in my head. I started dreaming of a different life again, a life without stress. And that was when everything started to change about five years ago, just trying to visualize having this life with food and food, still being predominantly the focus of my life, but not having the stress of a restaurant, you know, or the stress of a catering business. So that’s probably more than you wanted to hear.

Karthika: That’s amazing. And what’s fascinating is how, like hearing you say it, everything evolves around food. And going from a counselor to a restaurant owner, to a cater, to an amazing food blog owner, it’s so different, but there’s an underlying team of food, right. And you’ve not gone to culinary school or anything like that. This is just your interest and your passion. That’s quite something Sylvia and, you know, food blogs and blogging in general has exploded so much in the past few years or I would say seven, eight years.  it’s amazing to just take a step back and think about, yeah, you can actually make, this is a, it is a business. It’s not a hobby. I mean, maybe people started off as a hobby, but it’s actually a business that you can on a full-time living doing. So that’s amazing. Now talk to me a little bit about sort of your cooking style since you’re not, you’ve not gone to school, but you still make amazing dishes.  do you use cookbooks? Do you kind of just conceptualize things in your head? What does that creative process look like for you of coming up with recipes and coming up with these food narratives?

Sylvia: I think for me, it always starts with what’s in season, you know. My cooking is really grounded in what is fresh and seasonal and available locally. It is harder here where I live in the winters because there’s lots of snow. And so, getting fresh produce in the winter is pretty tough. But in the summer, I mean, it’s bountiful here. And I usually just, I mean, I just go to the farmer’s market, I smell things. I pick up things and whatever looks good. That’s kind of where my recipe start. I just bring it home and I just play, I just play with those fresh ingredients. And the thing is when you have fresh local ingredients that are allowed to ripen longer on the vine, they have so much more flavor that you don’t need to do too much to them. And so cooking that way becomes really simple and also cooking that way is really grounding. I feel like your seasons ground me in a way right. And cooking that way is just feels like it’s a way to be in unison with the environment, you know?

Karthika: You put that so beautifully. I am a terrible cook. I don’t feel like I’m creative in the kitchen. Like I opened my refrigerator and I’m like, okay, what is it that we’re going to have today? What is it that I’m going to make today? And I find myself reverting to what I know best.  cause that’s easy and that’s for me, less stressful, but I like your philosophy of looking at what’s in season, what’s fresh and what’s in tune with the environment and where we are at that point and trying to go from there. So that’s a very interesting thought. Now tell me what are some of your sort of favorite dishes to make and to eat if they’re not one in the same?

Sylvia: I think because my father was Egyptian, and I was exposed to all those middle Eastern flavors. I mean, that is definitely a comfort food to me. I love cooking with those spices and all the dishes I grew up with just simple things like falafels and hummus and tabbouleh.  I love eating that way. I love cooking those things. But I can’t pick one favorite one favorite thing cause you know, I like everything.

Karthika: So going along those same lines, is there a particular dish or a particular accusing that you’re, I don’t know, dying to try out or want to get better at or something. Something you kind of look forward to making.

Sylvia: Well, I kind of go through phases. When we went to India together that really exposed me to this whole new world of just amazing flavor. So then every meal I wanted to cook after that trip, I wanted it to be Indian. It just really opened my world.  I really enjoy those flavors.  I love learning about new cuisines. Like one thing that I want to learn more of now is how to cook Korean food. I haven’t been to Korea.  So I’d like to go there and really experience it and learn.

Karthika: That’s interesting. I think a lot of Asian cuisines and Asian food is very flavorful and there’s lot of textures. Your taste buds just kind of explode and especially with Indian food. It’s funny because you change one small spice and it changes the whole composition and the flavor of the whole dish. And you wouldn’t think that, but everything is proportionate, and everything has a place. And when you kind of shift it, it completely changes. And I know you’ve done quite a few Indian dishes on your blog too, so it’s always nice to see that. Now you talked about comfort food being that your father used to cook and kind of what you grew up with. So talk to me a little bit about what are your comfort foods beyond what you grew up with or is that pretty much what your go to is when you are in the mood for just food that’s just soothing.

Sylvia: I think it just depends on my mood. My dad would make this lentil soup. It sounds so boring. And growing up, I actually hated the lentil soup because that’s how often we had it. We had it so often, but now every once in a while, just like I have to have this lentil soup, my dad’s lentil soup. It just, I just love it. It just feels so nourishing to me. But I’m also, you know, I also love pizza the other day. I was going off to one of my friends about how much I love, love, love, love, really good pizza with really good crust. It’s, it’s delicious or Mac and cheese. I don’t eat those things very often, but when I do, they are just like, oh my gosh, no wonder they’re so popular.

Karthika: I was talking to this about this to my friend too, the other day.  Growing up, like you had lentil soup, we had this lentil pancake. It’s like a dosa, but it’s made all of it’s just lentils. There’s no rice or anything like that. It’s all beans and lentils and it’s called Adai.  and I hated it growing up to me, it was so bland and it was boring. It was something my mom would make when she didn’t have time. And you know, when she was just not in the mood to cook. So I hated that dish and about six months ago, I think during COVID I just tried it. I bought the batter because it was ready made.

Karthika: I didn’t have to put too much effort into it. And now it’s my go-to. And I don’t know whether it’s because, you know, I associate that too with memories of my childhood and my parents and you know, my mom’s cooking or just that my taste buds have changed. Now I find it delicious. It’s so healthy and I’m forcing it on my kids. And they’re like, oh, this is so bland. This is really good. And I’m a prime example of that. So it’s funny how comfort food, I feel changes too, as you go through different phases in life. It was very fascinating that something I hated now is now becoming quickly becoming

Sylvia: If you think about it our microbiome, there’s all these bacteria in our gut and, I swear they have a mind of their own. And I feel like the stuff that we grew up eating, they liked that stuff. And they kind of like drive us back to getting those things. I’m fascinated by it. I had my micro biome kind of examined by a company and they tell you all the gut bacteria that you have all the good ones, all the bad ones, how to strengthen the good ones and how to suppress the bad ones. And then they give you the list of foods that you should eat. And the number one protein that I should eat are lentils. I know. And then the other weird thing is in the top 10 vegetables that I should eat are grape leaves, which I ate those as a kid I’ve never thought of grape leaves as a vegetable. And then I compared this to my friend, and hers were completely different. And so I wonder if our gut or our microbiome got that from my parents. It was just fascinating.

Karthika: It makes sense. It’s like your DNA, right. It kind of tells you a history of where you come from and what constitutes your sort of sphere of influence if you could call it.

Sylvia: Yes. And what’s good for you. Like what is good for your body?

Karthika: Yes. That’s interesting. I have to check this out. I wonder what mine would say. I think mine would say rice and yogurt and lentils, I guess. Cause that’s pretty much what we had growing up.  So tell me a little bit about sort of your kitchen. And maybe this is kind of also stems from the fact that you said you love to travel, and you come from a multicultural household. Would you say your kitchen and your dining table is very diverse?  A lot of different cuisines, a lot of different dishes.

Sylvia: Very diverse. Yes. I have a lot of spices. There’s not enough room in my kitchen for my spices. I have a huge pantry.  I kind of think of it like if you think of an artist with all the different colors, they mix colors to get that perfect color. I feel that way about cooking. I always want the perfect spice. So my kitchen is pretty stocked.

Karthika: I don’t think there can ever be too much spice or too many spices. Cause they all have a different purpose. And when you mix and combine a few it brings up a whole different flavor and that has its own purpose. I like how you associated it with colors on a palette because that’s essentially how it is. Right?

Sylvia: Yes.

Karthika: What about your eating habits? Are you quite adventurous in your eating as well? Or are there things that you will never ever eat?

Sylvia: You know, I don’t like to say I will never eat something.  I think because I love cooking so much. I try everything. Well! Almost everything, you know. I am adventurous. I eat everything, mostly plants, but I have meat occasionally and I love fish. And when we’re traveling, I eat tons of street food all the time. I will try anything, almost anything.

Karthika: I remember when we went to India, actually, you guys are pretty adventurous, but I do remember in Varanasi you refuse to try the sugar cane juice.

Sylvia: It wasn’t the juice itself. It was the machine. I was looking at that machine going, oh my gosh,

Karthika: I know it was a good thing you didn’t try it. Cause I remember I felt sick, right after that. And it was good thing. We were coming back because I was sick as a dog.

Sylvia: I feel like I made up for that sugarcane. Cause when I went to Bombay, I ate like every street vendor, just like one after the other, all of them.

Karthika: When you guys travel and you’re looking at places to eat, what do you guys think about? I mean, are you trying to go for comfort food or are you trying to go exploring and kind of seeing, just trying anything that’s there or are you somewhere in between?

Sylvia: When we’re traveling, you know, food is at the top of my mind, like I just want to experience things fully. And so I I’m always looking like, is there a line to something then I know it’s good. Like is the line full of locals then I know it’s good.  We do a lot of meandering and not planning. So we’ll just kind of see what looks good. What smells good.

Karthika: Okay.

Sylvia: I don’t really seek out comfort food when we’re traveling.

Karthika: For me, and there are people who agree to this and people who don’t, but for me, not necessarily like food, but just experiencing everything about a place is what traveling is all about. Right. And of course food is a big part of that and going to choose going somewhere and then going back to McDonald’s or, you know, having a pizza. And it’s not like the cultural thing there just for me defeats the purpose.

Sylvia: I agree. And the other thing I really love about when we’re visiting a place that has a really different food is actually talking to the people that are making the food, talking to the people that live there and asking them what their favorite food is. And we just kind of go down these rabbit holes where we never thought we’d end up just based on what people locals have told us. It’s so fun and people, no matter who they are, how different they are, they, everybody loves talking about food. It’s like, that’s the one common thing you can ask someone that you think you have nothing in common to talk about and you ask them, what did you grow up eating? Or what was your favorite thing to make? And it’s amazing to me and beautiful how people just open up and with such with such a love really.

Karthika: Yes. It’s like there’s no barrier then. It’s kind of neutral ground. You’re meeting somebody on neutral ground and giving them an opportunity to talk about themselves, as opposed to hearing about you talk about you. And everybody wants to share their story. Everybody wants to share their life. And this is a great way to kind of connect in terms of food because everybody needs to eat.

Sylvia: And everybody has really strong opinions about it, you know? And I love hearing that. I get the most interesting ideas from people that talk about what they make, what they eat.

Karthika: Yeah. So talk to me a little bit about,  maybe when you were traveling or maybe when you tried something for the first time,  just what your experience has been, what has been your favorite sort of discovery, if you will,  in terms of food and this, like I said, this can be when you were traveling or when you kind of brought those experiences back into your own kitchen,

Sylvia: I’ll tell you a couple of my favorite food memories while traveling.  one was, we were in Paris and we had been fine dining for all. You know, I don’t know how long it was like a week or so, just eating like the best food. And then we went to a falafel stand and it was incredible. It was like the best thing we had. It just it’s a little hole in the wall in Paris. And there was a line and we waited and we got it. And it was, so it was like the best falafel sandwich I’d ever had. And we ended up going back the next day. I think we went twice the next day. It was that good. It was just so surprising.  cause it was so different than the food that then we had been having. And then the other, the other favorite thing, that just kind of blew me away was we were in Vietnam in this little town called Hawaiian and I just,  we found this bond, me stand and we ordered like is bond me sandwiches. They cost like 75 cents. It was incredible. Like the flavors were just so different and vivid and bright. And again, we ended up going back to that Stan like several times. And I just, I was just like, I wanted to remember it forever. It was just lotion of flavor. I love things like that that are just kind of, surprises.

Karthika: Yes Unexpected. Right? Cause you remember that so much more than, you know, if you were like fine dining in Paris, that’s such a given thing. Right. I’m sure you remember it. Your falafels story sounds pretty amazing.

Sylvia: I know. And looking back, I can’t remember one of those nice restaurants we went to. I just remember that falafel stand

Karthika: Now talking about restaurants. This can be, maybe narrow it down to Spokane or, you know, kind of when you were traveling or however you want to can address this, but what is your favorite restaurant if you have one and why?

Sylvia: That’s a hard question? I feel like if something’s good, that’s my favorite restaurant at that time. I had a wonderful experience. My husband and I went to this place called Willows and it’s on an island here in the Pacific Northwest. It was this 20 course dinner. And just the way that it was presented, it was so beautiful. Like everything was sourced from the island and was really fresh. I loved every bite of that.

Karthika: Okay. Now if you could cook, this is probably a weird question for somebody like you, but if you could cook one dish for the rest of your life, what would that be?

Sylvia: I can’t do it.

Karthika: Maybe I should reserve this question for people like me who hate to cook.

Sylvia: What would you cook?

Karthika: I think for me it’s changed. I would cook adai just because now it’s one of my new favorites, but f I didn’t have that experience, I would just make the best cup of masala chai, because for me it is in every fiber of my being, not just because I’m Indian, but because I have so many memories associated with it and so many good memories and just my whole childhood, that was the one constant. So for me, although it’s on a dish, I can drink cups and cups of it all day long, but yeah, I would like masala, chai would be.

Sylvia: I love that.

Karthika: Yeah. But food wise, it’s always a hit or miss for me. Okay. So this is sort of a fun question.  if you can invite some people that you admire the most to a dinner party at home, who would they be? And it doesn’t have to be famous. People, just people who mean something to you, or, you know, people who you look up to, however you want to kind of get your dinner party together. So who would they be and what would you cook for them?

Sylvia: You know, I honestly love just cooking for my friends, my close friends and my family. Maybe family that’s no longer here.  if I had to invite somebody like famous,  I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t pick one person.

Karthika: Okay. So what would you make?

Sylvia: I would just cook something rustic and wholesome, not too fancy. One of my favorite things to make is eggplant, moussaka, which is the Greek dish and just the salad and bread and just kind of simple rustic comfort food.

Karthika: All right. So I’m coming over Sylvia. I want a whole lot of slew of dishes to try.

Sylvia: Oh, I would love to cook for you.

Karthika: So talk to me a little bit about Feasting at home your food blog. You said you started that when you were catering, but now it’s kind of your business and something you do full-time how do you see that sort of evolving or is it where you want it to be and you just want to keep going with it or are you going to kind of morph it into something else and if you’re willing to share with us?

Sylvia: Sure.  you know, I really love the place that it’s at right now. I have work, but it’s not too much work.  the blog allows me just at the pace that I’m going right now allows me to have a life. So I just work a few hours every morning. The really fun thing is my friend Tanya, who started the restaurant with me 20 years ago, she has come on board and she’s working with me, full-time now and she’s developing recipes and photographing. So we’re working together again, which is really fun and she’s kind of taken some of my workload off. People always ask, you know, am I going to do a cookbook or, you know, what’s next. And, and I think that would be next, but if I do that, then I’m just going to have to work really hard again. I’m trying to avoid that. I just, I’ve worked hard my whole life. I like this gentle kind of easy pace that I’ve got going right now. And I’m trying not to fill it up too much. I have no big plans, just kind of steady couple of recipes a week.  I put them out there and I love it.

Karthika: You know, so often we kind of get someplace and we are already looking at what’s next and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Having goals and having future a future vision is good. But sometimes just taking a step back and saying, I’m happy here. This is good. I can see myself doing this or being in this time and space for as long as I need to is not too many of us do this. So I love that. You said that this is where I am and I’m happy to be here and maybe I’ll get somewhere else later, but I’m in no rush.

Sylvia: I feel pretty lucky to be in this place. I know it won’t always be that way, but right now I’m just letting it soak in.

Karthika: Yup. Well, on that note, thank you so very much, Sylvia, this was amazing as always. It is an absolute pleasure to talk to you and in our case we are video recording to actually see you.

Sylvia: I really enjoyed being here Karthika.

Karthika: Yes, of course. Thank you for coming on the show.


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