Food may come as an afterthought when you are modelling but for Charlotte Collard it was another story.
A former model turned digital entrepreneur, she has lived in cities like New York, Los Angeles and London to mention a few before returning back to her roots in Belgium where she lived for 18 years before leaving to New York to pursue her modelling career.
She has today established herself as a TV presenter and also set up a digital food business as well as a big presence on Instagram.
“I’ve always loved cooking. My grandfather lived in Canada when I was young and he had a very big house with a lot of land and all the vegetables and fruits would come from the garden. He would smoke trout from the pond, he would hunt, he taught us how to bake bread waking us up at 5am. Everything was homemade so I learned to cook when I was very young.”
Charlotte created a digital food business three years ago. “When I moved to Zurich in 2009 after leaving New York I decided to create a cooking blog because I could not find a job. I would cook at home for friends and people would ask me for recipes. Instead of sending them emails, I decided to create a blog and it was also good for me because when I was travelling I also had my cooking book online. I left it there and people continued to ask me about recipes even when I came back to Belgium.”
At the time she had already experimented with technology. In 2009 she launched an e-commerce site selling fashion items.
One day she took a picture and decided to post it on Instagram. It was of a Delvaux bag (a Belgian brand) which she shot together with a cocunut and bananas. “I thought it was simple but beautiful. I posted the picture on Instagram and used hashtags like #banana #coconut #luxury and #bag. I realised that when you click on banana there was no picture of a bag and when you click on bag there were no pictures of bananas. Those two words are about taste. I thought there was something that could be done by bringing the two worlds together. When I posted the picture I realised that I could bring both worlds and competitive brands together through quality content. I immediately saw the potential,” she told Food and Wine Gazette.
Today Charlotte has managed to combine fashion with food and has become a digital entrepreneur and TV presenter using Instagram as her vehicle for Charlotte Collard and also a catering company called Charlotte Collard Catering.
She has a TV programme on Belgian TV where she visits chefs of Michelin starred restaurants and gets them to cook an authentic recipe in their home kitchen. “I realised that the more I delved into the food business, the more I needed to learn. I did not have time so I started to work in a restaurant from 12 till midnight but got sick every day as it was too intense. So instead, I wrecked my brain and since I always believed that learning from the best is the best way to go, I came up with this idea, discussed it with the TV channel and here we are today.” she said.
Charlotte said that the programme started in Belgium but she has now signed a deal with L’Officiel in Paris and will do the same thing with French chefs.
“Being an entrepreneur is not something that you decide to be from one day to another. At least for me, I always had this independent streak from a young age. I had a vision of success from a young age. As a model, I was an entrepreneur because while I had an amazing agency, they don’t deal with your career, you are the one to have to manage it and also decide what you are going to do after your career is over. Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood and I will always be one,” she said,
Being an entrepreneur means working crazy hours and not having any limits. “There are positive and negative sides to it. As long as my body keeps up I keep on working. It could be seen as negative as some may say I have no life but in reality you can do it because you are happy with what you do which is great. Being an entrepreneur is risky and can be scary but I’ve never felt that way because I’ve never taken big risks.”
Charlotte’s philosophy is to build things slowly and it is for this reason that she has not welcomed any investors who would have forced her to seek a return on investment. “I use Instagram as a marketing tool and I am seeking to build a larger audience. I know what the next steps will be but I will wait till I get the right audience.”
As a mother of three she also needs to be very flexible. “When the kids come from school, I can stop for a few hours and then continue working when they are asleep. I love it. For some people it might seem scary but this is my life. I have been fighting for it since I was 16,” she said.
When Charlotte was a model it was not easy. “When you are at university you need to study, when you are a model you need to stay skinny. You are always on the go. You train and try to eat well but in reality I was eating apples for lunch and steamed spinach in the evening. I wonder how I managed looking back. I’ve tried all types of diets and nothing worked. I don’t believe in diets but believe in trusting yourself, finding a balance and accepting yourself.
It might sound like a paradox but she said that she was always interested in good food even during the time she was a model. “I have never been interested in bad food, my mother was always into healthy eating, I became a model at 16 but never was into bad food,” she said.
With over 67,000 followers on Instagram you could call Charlotte an influencer. “It is not a word I like. I don’t like it because I am not here to influence people but rather to share what I love hoping that it will help some people around me. The intention with what I am doing is sharing something that I do and love.”
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🌟 t h e b r e a k f a s t b a g 🌟 #breakfast ⚡️🍌 #thebreakfastbag #heelsandspaghettiKitchenMode #fruitsforbreakfast #vitaminesbag @delvaux #delvaux #goodmorning #healthy #eatgood #bananas #coconut #grapefruit #fruitssalad 🍌🍐🍎🍏🍋🍴#mypictures #pictureofthday #food #eatgood #love #fashionfoodbycc
She is of the view that there is a lot that can be done when it comes to food. “We are trying to play tough with mother nature but nature is showing us that it is much stronger than us. Instead we try to take as much as we can from nature and this is not a good thing,” she said.
Recently she has set up Charlotte Collard Catering together with Jean-Michel Loriers. “When I started I had two ideas. One was cooking with chefs, the other was a catering business. The latter was the next normal step of this digital programme as I do a lot of collaboration with brands and I was sure that one day they would ask me to bring it to reality by organising their catering. Brands are doing more and more events because business is becoming digital. I think brands are realising that we need to bring people back together. They are organising a lot of events and as a caterer, I have a media channel which others don’t have. It is therefore interesting for those who collaborate with me because I can give them visibility on Instagram through the Charlotte Collard account, the Charlotte Collard Catering account and the account of my business parter. They therefore get visibility from what we are doing,” she said.
Doing all this is not easy. “It has been going faster and faster. With three girls and three jobs it can get really intense. I am really good at organising myself and am also very fast when it coming to thinking, doing and linking things. It takes a lot of physical and psychological effort. Social life ends up suffering because there is not always time to see friends, to go for lunch, to have tea,” she said.
You’ve lived around the world. Why settle in Brussels?
I was born in Belgium but left for New York when I was 18. I never imagined that one day I would be back. However, I followed my French husband who brought me back here after living in Zurich for five years. We were back when our first daughter was born. When I returned, I was a bit desperate because everything I had built had been in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris and I was a bit stressed with my vision of success and what I wanted to build. I did not know where to start. I am still building my business so I still have to see where it takes me but Brussels has really been a good to me and I have never imagined going on TV, having a success on Instagram. It was not easy, I worked hard but I am quite happy as Brussels is a great base with children and it is quite comfortable compared to Paris and London. Travelling is also very easy and working in digital means you can work from virtually anywhere.
What do you think of the Brussels food scene?
Food in Brussels is actually really good. What I really like in Belgium and Brussels is that it is really low key. You can go to a beer bar, sit on old wooden tables, nothing modern but you could enjoy a really nice beer and great quality food. There are many hidden places to discover with amazing chefs. It is impressive, we have a lot of talents in Belgium.
What is the most important thing you have in your kitchen?
My Kitchen Aid robot, my Vitamix blender and the Mauviel copper pans, they are so beautiful.
Your best ever meal?
It is impossible to answer.
One of the latest by Alain Ducasse. Sometimes chef’s recipes are not complicated. There are lots of processes and plating is difficult but the recipes are sometimes easy. I read a lot of books about psychology and these have helped me go through life. It is from them that I get most of my ideas.
Favourite places to eat in Brussels?
There are so many good places. One of my favourite places is Osteria Romana. The chef is amazing and the place is beautiful and low key. You can have the best pasta carbonara here. I also like Le Vieux Saint Martin and their other restaurants. They are famous for their ‘Americain’ (tartare).
Is there something you don’t eat?
I don’t like oysters.
What is your go to comfort food?
Pasta though not at night. Pasta is something I cannot live without.