A Yummy Thing Happened On The Way To Law School
It started with a food blog. Just a hobby, really, when Valerie Azinge was a law clerk, and she wanted to try to get healthy and inspire others. Now, she has a desserts catering company, she’s the author of 30-Minute Low-Carb Dinners, and Gordon Ramsay (yes, that guy!) follows her on Instagram. And she survived a tragic motorcycle accident. Her goal now? “To fulfill my purpose in life and to inspire others to strive to accomplish their goals despite what life throws at them!”
The plan for Valerie Azinge was simply to follow in the footsteps of her family, who all work in the legal field. She herself was working at a law firm, studying for her LSATs actually, when she started a food blog on the side.
Instagram was still pretty new, but she jumped on it, posting photos of healthy meals like salmon and vegetables or protein pancakes. One thing led to another. She created a blog, My Digital Kitchen. She started to realize this was her passion. She started to get questions, asking if she catered any of her food, particularly her healthier desserts. And so she decided to use the blog to inspire a catering business. “Most people would think the story is, ‘Oh, you quit your job to pursue your passion,’ but I actually ended up getting fired, so that really pushed me,” she laughs.
Perhaps she was really fuelled by her personal story. Growing up she’d struggled with high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, her weight, and other genetic factors, like diabetes, which runs in her family. She wanted to do what she could to become the best version of herself. But once she started getting in shape, she just wanted quick results with weight loss. “I became obsessed, and that toxic obsession drove me into taking drastic measures, such as experimenting with multiple diet pills, the salad diet, thoughts of liposuction and even starvation,” she writes on My Digital Kitchen. There must be a better way, she thought, and started researching. And she found one. “You can still eat your sugars, you can still eat your carbs and your protein, as long as you’re moderating your portions and making healthy substitutions,” she says.
Her business started to thrive about four years ago, and things were looking up for Azinge. She had her business trademarked, she had a few pop-up shows, and she even went to Thailand for a vacation. But brutal things happen, and, in September 2018 she was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident. She’d never been on a motorcycle before, but her friend offered to take her home from his daughter’s birthday celebration. They were hit by a drunk driver. Tragically, her friend died on impact. Azinge broke many bones in her body, had five surgeries, and sustained a pelvic fracture, which she is still dealing with today.
It was a hard time, as Azinge spent months in the hospital for rehab. But one day, she received a letter from a publishing house. They had come across her Instagram. Would she like to do a cookbook? they asked. “I never told them I was in the hospital when I said yes,” she says. “But I thought to myself, This is definitely a light for me.”
When she returned home she was in a wheelchair and undergoing hand therapy, as she had almost lost her arm. She had started gaining weight from the food she was eating in the hospital and was unable to exercise, so she started eating her way back to good health. “Basically, I ate my way back to health with a low-carb diet,” she says. As for creating the cookbook, 30-Minute Low-Carb Dinners, Azinge’s mom came to the rescue, coming from her home in Nigeria to help her daughter, taste-testing all the recipes and making suggestions, subbing as a food-and-props stylist and cleaning the dishes.
The cookbook itself is packed with low-carb meals that are ready in half an hour. Azinge is adept at creating succulent dishes using creative ways to cut carbs, like substituting cauliflower mash for potatoes and zucchini noodles for regular ones and using ingredients, like low-cal coconut aminos to add loads of flavour. She herself is a pescatarian and a wine aficionado, so one of her favourite recipes is Wine Butter Trout with Asparagus and Tomato. “It’s delicious and works for an alfresco dinner in the summertime or even date night in the winter,” she adds.
For Azinge, food is more than just sustenance. “Food is also a language for people that I care about and people I love. That’s how I express it,” she says. “So it’s really something that just makes me happy, and I want others to feel the joy that I feel regardless of how difficult life is.”
WINE BUTTER TROUT WITH ASPARAGUS AND TOMATO
This is arguably fine dining at its best, and it comes together in less than 30 minutes in your kitchen. My low-carb rendition blends all the flavours of butter and wine with a sprinkle of herbs, giving the trout a light and flaky texture and a gorgeous aroma. Using dry white wine in this dish enhances the flavour profile, while making your cooking experience more fun. Weeknight dinner never looked so good.
INGREDIENTS – Serves 4
1/4. cup (57 g) unsalted grass-fed butter, divided
2 lb (907 g) rainbow trout
2 tbsp (30 ml) white wine
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
3/4 cup (112 g) cherry tomatoes on the vine
20 asparagus stalks, ends chopped
2 tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C, or gas mark 6). Lightly butter a large rectangular 12-inch (30 cm) cast-iron skillet with about 2 tablespoons (28 g) of butter, or two separate round skillets with 1 tablespoon (14 g) of butter each. This will allow the skin of the trout to crisp when it goes in the oven. Add the trout to the skillet.
In a small bowl, melt the remaining butter, then combine the butter, wine, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parsley and thyme. Brush the mixture on the trout until all areas are coated.
Add the tomatoes and asparagus to the skillet. Brush the tomatoes and asparagus with oil: about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) for the asparagus and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) for the cherry tomatoes.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
INTERVIEW BY ESTELLE ZENTIL