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The Chubby Vegetarian

Once, again, I am giving out some blog props.  When I think of Memphis food bloggers, one name comes to the top of the list – The Chubby Vegetarian.  While I am no vegetarian, I rely on Justin Fox Burks and his wife for inspiration in using vegetables more often in my cooking.  Justin was even tapped by the Food Network to judge the vegetarian food produced by the food trucks competing in Memphis for the Great Food Truck Race.

Cheese-Stuffed Anaheim Chili Pepper

photo credit: The Chubby Vegetarian

I also visit the blog for photography inspiration.  Justin is such a talented photographer, so each post gives me more insight into composition, light, plating and styling.  In 2010, I was lucky enough to be photographed by him for the Memphis Flyer’s Top 20 Under 30 spread, and I have always loved how he flexes both into food photography and portraits.  Am I gushing?  Maybe a little.

So I asked Justin 5 questions about the blog, photography and a little book coming out next year. Enjoy!

ME: When did you launch your food blog and why?

JFB: My wife and I started the blog in 2008. The original idea was simply to post photos of the food we were making in our kitchen. It was supposed to be a food photography blog. Soon after we started posting, people started asking us for the recipes. There was only one problem…there were no recipes. So we got to work jotting down recipes as we cooked. It really fun to see someone far away or right next door make our food and tell us they loved it.

Blueberry Cream Snow Cones

photo credit: The Chubby Vegetarian

ME:  Have you always been vegetarian?

JFB: I am and have been since I was 12 years old. I was an idealistic kid, and that particular idea stuck with me. I haven’t eaten meat in about 24 years. To me, it just seems like good way to eat. I’m no activist. We just want folks to eat their vegetables. My wife mainly eats vegetarian food but is not as strict.

ME:  What do you think the biggest challenge is for vegetarian cooks?

JFB: I think it’s difficult to get people to look at vegetables not only as a side dish but as the star of the plate. There’s so much variety when it comes to color, texture, and flavor there that we don’t see ourselves running out of ideas anytime soon. We treat vegetables with the same care and attention that other cooks treat meat. We will switch out the shrimp in a dish for grilled artichoke hearts or thinly sliced portobellos in the place of roast beef. Once you get in this mindset, it’s easy to make your favorite recipes into delicious vegetarian recipes that you’ll want to make all the time.

ME: I’m a huge fan of your photography, what are the most important things you’ve learned about shooting food?  What makes shooting food different from portraits of people?

JFB: In so many ways, it’s no different. Each photo is a puzzle. It you have a good-looking plate of food, it becomes about the lighting and the composition, but mainly the lighting. I have a series of custom-made light modifiers I use when shooting food. I can’t reveal too much more…it’s a secret.

Spicy Quinoa + Black Lentil Salad with Avocado Vinaigrette

photo credit: The Chubby Vegetarian

ME: I’ve heard that you have a cookbook coming out.  How did that come about, and was is that experience like?  And when and where will it be available?

JFB: We’re very excited. I was photographing the food for a cookbook called Simply Grilling (out now through Thomas Nelson) by my friend Jennifer Chandler, and she told me her editor was looking to do a Southern vegetarian cookbook, and…here we are. We worked so much on it. We had to tighten up our recipes, test them with the help of a lot of our readers, and spend every weekend working and cooking. The good thing is that we had more than 600 recipes to narrow down to about 120 of our favorites, the things that work so well that we make them all the time. Toward the end of the process, we edited for two weeks straight and are really happy with how the draft came together. It’ll be out in 2013.