29 January 2009

Spotlight on.....Kimberly Belle

I'm pleased to present this interview with the food maven herself, the lovely and talented Kimberly Belle of The Dinner Belle, a boutique catering business in NYC. Kimberly and I walked the same halls in high school but never really knew each other. I just recently rediscovered her and her fabulous food blog, Midnight Eggs, through our mutual friend and another Spotlight interviewee, Amy Luraschi.

(photo above: Kimberly Belle by Kyle Dean Reinford)

First, can you talk about how your career unfolded? How did you become a chef with your own catering business?
I just jumped in. I was working a desk job and felt uninspired. I needed a return to some sort of artistic expression, but I knew traditional paths toward the fine and performing arts weren't for me. I loved cooking. Cooked all the time, was a regular hostess to my friends, and one day one of those friends asked if I would cater an event she was throwing at the United Nations for a Live Earth awards ceremony. She had like "no budget" and needed someone to step in to do the whole thing at cost. I believed in her and the event so I accepted her invite and haven't looked back since. I later asked Erin, my best friend and seasoned cater-waiter, to join me and The Dinner Belle was born.

You have a really interesting website that mixes eating and drinking, recipes, one part fashion, travel, a dash of life in NYC, topped off with some glamorous photos, as told from your point of view as well as that of 4 of your girlfriends. How did you land on this style of writing? How did the webisodes come about? Do you think your writing will evolve into something else? A book? A cooking show?
Fingers crossed on all fronts! We're developing a television concept right now that's a sort of outside-the-box food and lifestyle TV series, and I would personally love to publish a cookbook someday. Midnight Eggs was born from this same desire to use my passion for food as a vehicle for creative expression, to bring something new to the food blogging landscape. I wanted to do something that was fresh, hip, edgy and made use of all my gorgeously talented, food-forward girlfriends. New York was a given of course, that's been true since I moved here 12 years ago.

I noticed the disclaimer at the end mentioning fact and fiction-- any comment on that?
I think the comment speaks for itself: "Midnight Eggs is an inventive interpretation of a group of real friends, presented here in a somewhat fictionalized manner." We are big fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm if that's any help.

Can you predict some flavors or ingredients that will be hot this year?
Comfort food is the new black! Luckily for The Dinner Belle, that's exactly what we do. We're sort of a fusion where gourmet meets girl-next-door. Economic realities and cold winter nights are pushing diners and chefs alike toward comfort foods that feel homey and satisfying without over-indulging pocketbooks or palettes. The same is true of hot-ticket trends like offal, vegetables, peanut butter, eggs, American wines, craft beers, farmers' markets, pickled anything, and pork belly. Consumers want food they can feel good about buying; this means buying local ingredients, organic when possible, and shopping at affordable neighborhood markets. Let's hope it doesn't also mean a return to fast food...that's my biggest foodie fear in these tough times.

How do you prepare a menu for a catering event? Is there a conceptual angle to the ingredients you pick as well as a practical angle, like what is in season....?
We custom tailor every single menu we write to suit the client, the event, the environment, the audience, the season. We rarely repeat a dish unless asked to. We started this business in an effort to find creative outlets, and we continue to tackle events that challenge us to create anew and to keep learning. Our favorite clients are those who propose the impossible, like a lingerie store we partnered with last Valentine's Day to create a black-themed menu for their customers. Black food isn't an obvious choice, but we made it work with conceptual dishes like Midnight Crackles, Black Coffee Braised Short Ribs, and Black Truffle Parmesan Tuiles.

What are you working on now?
Pitching the TV show, filming a new series of video webisodes to post on our blog, and planning a Brazilian themed Carnaval dinner party.

What is your dream event/dinner/catering gig?
My dream isn't singular. I sort of want it all. I am lucky enough to live in New York and have dining experiences of note regularly, whether they are at some village newcomer with a hot, talented chef, or dishing round my coffee table with a big bowl of pasta and my Tribe of girlfriends. I'd like to see all my creative projects take off as a cohesive brand such that I might one day be able to sit back, relax, pick fresh herbs and vegetables from my garden and cook dinner for some future husband and the future babies we've made together, maybe on a piece of land we've bought out in Northern California. That sounds dreamy to me.

What inspires you?
Cheese. Joy. Excellence. My friends and family. Love.

What books, people, mentors, or other foodies have had the greatest impact on you?
New York is fodder for all things food. The press, the markets, the chefs, I adore the whole of the Mario Batali empire, and live in walking distance of three of his restaurants and his brownstone. I'm an untrained chef who taught myself to cook by reading books and magazines (I subscribe to every rag out there) and watching PBS and The Food Network. I take my inspiration wherever I can get it.

What is your personal philosophy of food and fine living?
Feel. Touch. Hear. Smell. Taste. Use your body's sensory capacity to lead you toward excellence in food and in life. You'll never let yourself down if you follow your instincts, though you may need to find comfort in a bottle of red on occasion.

And of course, last but not least, the camera loves you! Do you have any beauty tips you'd like to share?
Know your angles! The camera loves good lighting and well lined eyes, but more importantly, it has a cunning ability to capture phony expressions. I think happiness is eternally beautiful (and easily caught on camera). The best beauty tip I could give anyone in any circumstance would be to do as our forefathers asked of us and pursue happiness.

(Above: L to R: Amanda, Erin, Kimberly Belle, Celest, Sara, photo by Amanda Rose Rowan )

Kimberly Belle resides in Manhattan and is the Owner and Executive Chef for The Dinner Belle, a boutique catering business she started alongside business partner, Erin Fritch. Chef Belle, with a little help from her friends, writes a fabulous foodie blog called Midnight Eggs: Chronicle of a Food Life where she dishes out a spicy-sweet mix of restaurant reviews, recipes, webisodes, and tales of life in the big apple.

Thanks Kimberly!