"In eighth grade math class, I sat behind Lisa D’Angelo," says writer, director and photographer Brian Belefant. "She had a way of doing her hair that I thought made her look––at least from the back––like a 14-year-old Venetian contessa."
"Instead of calculating the angle of the line where it intersected the curve like I was supposed to, I spent most of class composing notes to Lisa," says Brian.
"I realized pretty quickly that as infatuated as I was with Lisa, what I really loved was writing those notes. Expounding on her beauty. Creating fantasy scenarios where we’d ride our bikes to the pier and share a can of Coke while the sun set over the water."
Brian says he never passed those notes to Lisa. He says he didn't need to.
Ten year later, Brian realized that all that note writing had prepared him for a career in advertising.
He moved to New York and became a copywriter.
"I did some lovely work for national and international brands––one week expounding on the beauty of Doritos. The next creating fantasy scenarios where, say, two Swedish speed skaters would smear Skippy Peanut butter on their skates, thinking it would enable them to skate as fast as Bonnie Blair," says Brian. "I’d write the love notes; the media department would place them on TV and in magazines."
There was only one problem. Brian says that he increasingly found himself being asked to wax poetic about things he had no great love for. "I felt like a gigolo," he says.
"The straw that broke this particular camel’s back, was an assignment I got to write a TV commercial for Pizza Hut, announcing that they were opening a restaurant in Parma" says Brian. "As in Italy. As in the land that not only invented pizza, but deifies it. Pizza Hut. The global brand headquartered in Wichita, Kansas."
Brian couldn’t do it.
He quit his job and vowed that if he was going to write, it was either going to be for himself or for something he truly believed in.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
When I’m preparing a menu (Like I actually prepare a menu!) I usually start with a cuisine. Do I feel like Mexican? Italian? Chinese? Once I’ve narrowed that down, I’ll figure out what I have and what I can make with it. Chicken and rice can become arroz con pollo, chicken piccata, or kung pao chicken.
Do you ever travel for food?
I've realized that how something tastes is a product of where you are when you taste it. It’s like the concept of terroir, but kind of inside out.
Before I was born, my dad lived and worked in Morocco. And every once in a while he’d share his experience by taking over the kitchen for a night and making couscous for dinner. I hated it. Years later, when I was making commercials for some very high-profile food accounts, I had an opportunity to work in Morocco myself. Naturally, I had couscous. And I loved it. The weird part? It tasted exactly the same as the couscous my father made. I’d be lying if I said I started traveling exclusively for food, but really, what else is there to do or see in places like Italy, Turkey, France, Austria, Spain, Croatia, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, and Greece? All over the world, I’ve tasted amazing stuff. I’ve also eaten some pretty ordinary stuff, which, by the way, tastes amazing when you’re surrounded by old shit.
Do you ever grow your own food?
I eat a lot of pizza. I make my own dough, using my own sourdough starter. That counts, right? I mean, I’m growing it in the fridge…
Do you ever catch your own food?
Sometimes when I have an afternoon to kill, I’ll head to one of the nearby rivers or streams with Milo (Best Puppy Ever™) and fish. Or, more accurately, to sit on the bank and wave a stick. I haven’t caught a single thing, but Milo likes to wander into the water and say hi to the ducks and I get a chance to relax.
Do you create budget-friendly meals?
I don’t think about budget when it comes to making food. It’s always quality first. The downside is that my kids will only eat Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio. That Kraft stuff in the green cylinder? No way.
Do you focus on healthy food?
Nah. I figure quality ingredients are inherently healthy. Don’t tell me I’m wrong. I don’t want to hear it.
Do you make it a point to support local food efforts?
Yeah, but not because I’m militant about local. I’m militant about delicious and fresh. Most of the time, that means local.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
I think it’s the other way around. Appreciating food makes me a better writer. A better writer of adjectives, anyway. I mean, it’s one thing to think a peanut tastes good. It’s a totally other thing to think of it as assertive on the tongue, with hints of strawberry and currant and a silky mouthfeel.
Do you have any favorite food books/cookbooks?
I geek out on books about the history of a particular food or ingredient. I have a whole shelf of books about nutmeg, champagne, cod, tea, bananas, salt… stuff like that.
Any favorite kitchen products you adore?
My son went through this phase when he was about a year old. If he was awake, he was screaming. I could only get him to stop one of two ways. One was to “toss” him up in the air (not really letting go, in case you’re my ex-wife’s lawyer and you’re still looking for ammo). The other was to drive him around in the car. One Sunday morning he was up and screaming at 4:00 am. And my shoulders were killing me. So I put him in the car and we toured Portland. After about three hours, we came across a garage sale. And at that garage sale, I found a La Pavoni Europiccola espresso machine. It was a good 50 years old and an ugly brown color and I fell in love. They sold it to me for $20, probably just so I’d take my screaming child away from their yard. Almost every single morning for ten years, that machine and I would make a cappuccino. Sometimes it was sublime. Other times it was crap. Over the past year, the cappuccinos have been crap more often than sublime. And some mornings no amount of cajoling and fiddling can get the machine going. It breaks my heart, but it’s time to retire the poor, old, exhausted machine. I’ve been casting about for a suitable replacement and I finally settled on one. It’s supposed to arrive tomorrow. I’m sure it’ll make better, more consistent espresso than the La Pavoni. But I’m also sure I’ll never love it the same.
Favorite food writers, chefs, or food-related TV shows/movies?
Have you ever read Harold McGee? Oh my god! He breaks things down into such detail that you really understand what happens to a protein at 130 degrees.
Any favorite restaurants or food travel destinations?
There’s an ice cream parlor in Havana called Coppelia. It’s this huge, modernist building. And no, it’s not the best ice cream you’ll ever have. But there’s something about waiting for 45 minutes in the 95-degree heat, only to find out that they only have one flavor and it’s pineapple.
How/What do you eat/snack when on deadline?
I like Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon. Shut up. That’s a snack.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I write about stuff I love, and while I love food, I love my kids more. So a lot a lot a lot of what I write is about, or for, my kids. I use Facebook to keep an ongoing record of the brilliant/amazing/nutty things my kids say and do (#WhyImNotDead). I also love working stuff out, and as I do, I compile the lessons for myself and anybody else who might be interested. Most recently, I wrote a book that breaks down how dating is just like real estate (Spouse Hunting: Using The Rules Of Real Estate To Find The Love Of Your Life).
I also just finished the first draft of a novel I've been writing and rewriting over the last few months.