Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
4 minute read
17 Aug 2021
4:02 pm

‘Food was the enemy’: How a former model changed her outlook on food

Sandisiwe Mbhele

From anti-food to 'Food That Loves You Back': how a food stylist changed her unhealthy relationship with food to a healthy one.

Cookbook author Amerae Vercueil changes her own narrative on food. Picture: Supplied

Having a good relationship with food is essential for not only your body but your mind too. An author has written a cookbook about her transition from anti-food to “food that loves you back”.

Food stylist Amerae Vercueil, author of Food That Loves You Back, says her relationship with food has not always been a good one, particularly during her time as a model.

From when she was 14 years old, her modelling career was about how to remain super skinny.

“I would also be that model that would be more interested in food and trying to keep my weight off. Rather than all my friends who were just skinny and didn’t care or know much about food.”

She was always in the kitchen trying to make healthy choices while still being “able to enjoy the food I ate”, she says.

Food that loves you back

Vercueil decided to transition from modelling to culinary school, the decision coming after realising that the industry wasn’t going to sustain her.

ALSO READ: ‘I haven’t been to a doctor in five years’. How a plant-based diet can change lives

During her time at chef school, she noticed how anti-food she was during her years as a model.

“I couldn’t keep the weight of being super skinny, and food was the enemy. I couldn’t be a model and love food.”

This is how her cookbook began at the start of lockdown. The author reframed her mind towards food and dishes that made her feel good from the inside out.

Amerae Vercueil, author of ‘Food That Loves You Back’. Picture: Supplied

Vercueil says it took her a few years to rebuild her relationship with food. She wants the cookbook to change or influence people’s perception of vegetables.

“It [the cookbook] is a celebration of seasonal ingredients that are accessible, easy and all the fundamentals of vegetables and building confidence in cooking them.”

Vercuelia also created her cookbook for working people, those pressed for time but want to make delicious and wholesome food. After a long or stressful day, the food stylist has simple solutions to avoid fast foods.

Recipes and meal prep

Meal prepping has become the go-to thing for fitness bunnies and working families but Vercueil doesn’t make your ordinary salads or just veggies and rice.

“I stay away from iceberg lettuce that becomes sloppy. I use baby spinach, a great ingredient because you fry it and it becomes a crispy nice leaf.”

The recipe salads are largely veggie-based, intended to keep for longer with other recipes ready in about 30 to 40 minutes.

Meat eaters aren’t left behind. You can add your chicken, beef or preferred protein in some of the recipes.

The focus of the book “is to fall in love with vegetables”.

Food that loves you back -lentil chickpea. Picture: Supplied

“I still eat meat even if it is 2% out of the year. It is good to have a balanced lifestyle,” she says, adding she doesn’t agree with the messaging that people need to fall under vegans or vegetarians.

“Eat more vegetables and a little bit less meat.”

The book also celebrates South African dishes such as pumpkin fritters, pumpkin tarts but much healthier.

ALSO READ: Vegan burgers are here to stay

Even your traditional comforting meals such as a traditional beef wellington are given a veggie twist. Wellingtons are wrapped in buttery, flaky puff pastry, however, Vercueil’s homemade pastry is made out of olive oil.

It doesn’t make you feel heavy after eating, she says. It’s made with wholewheat flour with zero preservatives and no “cheap ingredients”.

Food that loves you back. Butternut and beetroot. Picture: Supplied

She looks up to popular food chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, who is very vegetable-based, and Jamie Oliver – who has recently been more plant-based with his style of cooking.

Some ingredients, such as olive oil and apple cider vinegar, are sourced by her own product business under the same name as the book.

Food that loves you back– chocolate chip cookie. Picture: Supplied

Vercueil’s must-have pantry ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Apple cider vinegar- balsamic vinegar alternative
  • Tahini (sesame paste)
  • Zimbabwean peanut butter – It’s slightly darker, making it naturally sweet
  • Cumin- favourite spice

Food That Loves You Back is available in bookshops nationwide such as Exclusive Books, Readers Warehouse and Takealot.