By day, food blogger and New Orleans resident Beth Moncel is a microbiologist in a hospital laboratory. But when she’s not working, she’s a talented cook who is obsessed with numbers, and at the intersection of those interests is her website, Budget Bytes, where she creates delicious meals that are both healthy and exceptionally affordable to prepare.
Moncel created Budget Bytes almost six years ago, at a point in her life when she was financially strapped and in need of good food and a fulfilling hobby. These days, over 2.5 million visitors a month come to Budget Bytes for unique, inexpensive recipes ranging from Dragon Noodles to Maple Dijon Chicken, and in 2014, Moncel published her first cookbook, Budget Bytes – Over 100 Easy Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half.
To learn more about Moncel and her recipes, visit www.budgetbytes.com.
What was your upbringing like, and how did it shape who you are today?
I grew up in a large family, where keeping all the mouths fed was almost a full-time job. My mom instinctively knew that convenience food would be a nutritional waste of the extremely tight food budget, so she cooked at home most days. Like most of my blog readers, she learned from scratch and learned as she went along. Watching that experimentation and the creative process involved really taught me to love cooking from an early age.
When and how did you initially become interested in cooking?
When I was very young. Picking a recipe from the cookbook was my favorite rainy day activity. It was like a science experiment and art project all rolled into one.
When it comes to marketing your website, which methods have you had the most success with?
Pinterest has been phenomenal. It’s so easy for user to quickly browse and save content, so it takes very little effort to get your “product” in front of the eyes of millions. The internet is a visual media, so Pinterest is perfect.
When you’re looking for inspiration, where do you turn?
I love Buzzfeed roundups. They get my creative wheels spinning because I get to see a lot of variations on one theme. I also love to look in the freezer aisle to see what type of quick meals people gravitate towards. Whole Foods Market is also very inspiring to me because there are so many unique and ethnic flavors being used (both in packaged and prepared foods).
What was the most challenging aspect of getting your book published?
The fact that I was trying to write the book and test recipes while working a full-time job and keeping the blog active. I will never write a book “in my spare time” again. It’s a full-time job. :)
How do you think you would fare on a cooking competition show such as Chopped?
I’m sure I’d be terrible! I’ve gotten offers and invitations for auditions, but I want nothing to do with competition shows. I like to be calm and have time to think!
Michelle Obama, Anthony Bourdain and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees are coming to your house for dinner. What do you prepare for them?
OMG, I can’t even imagine the stress of that situation. I’d be awestruck by Obama, completely intimidated by Bourdain, and too embarrassed to admit to Brees that I know nothing about football. I’d definitely take them out on the town instead so we could just have a good time and not stress. This is New Orleans, there’s too much good food to be had.
Which celebrity chefs do you most admire?
Probably Alton Brown, because I love how he has exposed the cool science side to cooking, making it appealing to so many people who wouldn’t have thought twice about cooking. I really don’t know many celebrity chefs beyond their name and face, though, because I don’t watch food-related TV. After cooking, talking, and blogging about food all day, all I want when I turn on the TV is a good episode of Law & Order. :P
Aside from food, what are you most passionate about?
Science and art. I’ve studied and work in the medical science field and I find the human body fascinating. I’m also a very visual person, so I love anything related to the visual arts.
What’s the best song you’ve heard recently?
I really love Chet Faker’s cover of “No Diggity.”
What did you have for dinner last night?
Last night I reheated a bowl of leftover Moroccan Lentil & Vegetable Stew that I had in the freezer. It was so warm and full of delicious spices! Perfect for a cold night like last night.
What are you working on next?
I’m brainstorming a short e-book about how to eat healthy on a budget for beginners. I’d like it to include basic concepts about choosing the best-priced ingredients and tutorials on how to design your own simple well-rounded recipes, with some sample recipes, of course… then there’s video. The need to make videos has been looming over me for years. Maybe someday I’ll take the plunge.