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3 questions with Julia Simon, chef 

Born a visual artist, Julia Simon found that she could paint not only with a paintbrush but with truffle oil, vibrant vegetables and a multitude of fragrant ingredients. She casually refers to herself as a "food pornographer," but uses the title "food nerd" in mixed company. Professionally, Simon is a painter and personal chef — preparing vegan, vegetarian and glutton-free meals for families in either her own kitchen or her clients' home. Personally, Simon is a wife and die-hard foodie who contributes multiple times a week to her food blog No Face Plate (http://nofaceplate.blogspot.com) — "the name in itself depicts the content — recipes that are free from animals and thus their cute faces," says Simon.

Creative Loafing: When creating some of the mushroom recipes on your blog, did you go through a period when you had legal mushroom cravings?

Julia Simon: Oh man. Mushrooms are one of my favorite foods, rivaled only by very stinky cheese. I even go mushroom foraging regularly since moving to Charlotte. In vegetarian cuisine, it can be difficult to find earthy, deeply flavored protein sources, and mushrooms fit the bill perfectly. There are so many varieties, all different, all delicious, and the fresher the 'shroom, the more delicious it is. Luckily, there are several mushroom farms near the Queen City.

A large portion of the food you cook for your clients and feature on your blog is vegan/vegetarian. Are you a vegan yourself?

I'm an ovo-lacto vegetarian, meaning I eat dairy and eggs, but no meat. I also do my best to stay away from leather and other products that require the death of an animal to produce. I've eaten this way since I was 13 and plan on doing so for the rest of my life. I occasionally eat a vegan diet as a way to cleanse my system but always come shamefully crawling back to cheese. I'm almost as obsessed with the cheesatorial arts as I am with mushrooms and occasionally make fresh cheeses at home — I'd love to transition into aged cheeses this year and have designs on building a cheese cave from an old freezer. We brew beer at the house as well, so it would work as a Lager too!

In your blog, you describe yourself as a "post-art school culture vulture ..." Can you expand on what attributes paint you as a "culture vulture"?

I totally stole that phrase from [the sitcom] The Young Ones, but yeah — foodies, music nerds, movie buffs, literature snobs, all of us culture vultures have the collector gene. It manifests differently for everyone, and often there's cross-vulturing. But for me, it's about being the girl people hit up for restaurant recommendations — knowing where to get preserved grape leaves at the drop of a hat, being able to trace the etymology of a dish while tasting it, having a conversation about Red Curry and where the best bowl in town is and what makes it superlative. It's about building a collection of food knowledge that surpasses the average Joe's and then some.

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