Smoothie bowls have developed an almost cult-like following over the past few years. There’s such thing as açaí bowls, power bowls, green bowls, and pitaya bowls, and our Instagram feeds are littered with super artsy, semi-filtered photos of these fruit-topped snacks (#yum).
Lucky for Nicole Gaffney, who caught on to bowls before they were trendy — at least in the continental United States. In 2013, the personal chef turned food blogger went on a surfing vacation in Rincon, Puerto Rico, where smoothie bowls were indeed booming. At the time, they were nowhere to be found in Gaffney’s former home of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. When her husband handed her an açaí bowl to try for the very first time, Gaffney was blown away by the texture, flavor profile, and toppings.
The following year, Gaffney appeared on season 10 of Food Network Star and was named the second runner-up, motivating her to dedicate more time and energy to developing recipes. She and her husband had just moved to Brigantine, New Jersey, and Gaffney quickly discovered that their quiet beach town offered few healthy food options. So, in 2017, she, her husband, and a partner opened Soulberri Coffee & Smoothies, a local smoothie bowl joint that operates out of a converted shipping container.
Now, Gaffney’s taking her devotion to smoothie bowls one step further, with her own cookbook. Released this morning, The Art of the Smoothie Bowl includes 75 smoothie bowl recipes, including ones for some signature Soulberri menu items. In light of her book release, we chatted with Gaffney about recipe development, sources of inspiration, and, of course, her love of smoothie bowls.
BWP: What made you want to write a book about smoothie bowls?
Gaffney: As a trained chef and lover of food, I always had a desire to write a cookbook. Once I started blogging, it became an even bigger goal for me. I wanted to publish an actual collection of recipes rather than an archive of blog posts. My [current] publisher reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in pitching some ideas. Of course I said yes.
I pitched smoothie bowls for two reasons. One, it seemed like a great fit for me personally, given that I co-own and run Soulberri and had that watershed moment in Puerto Rico when I tried an açaí bowl for the first time. Beyond that, I noticed how smoothies and smoothie bowls were exploding in American food culture. Everyone is familiar with them and how they’re a great way to incorporate greens and nutrients into your diet. Even my grandpa drinks a green smoothie in the morning.
To me, though, smoothies can be so boring! I get the appeal — it’s a quick meal you can take on the go. But there is something about being present with your meal that I wanted to get across. Smoothie bowls allow you to sit down and enjoy what you’re eating, to appreciate the nutrients you’re putting into your body with every bite. Plus, they’re so photogenic. In a time when people want to show off the food they’re eating, smoothie bowls are perfect for the ‘gram.
What were some of the inspirations for your recipes?
The four seasons have always been my biggest inspiration. Whether I’m cooking or making smoothie bowls, I always use fresh, seasonal ingredients. In my book, I’m very honest about when you should make specific bowls. If you want to make a bowl with melons, do it in the summer when the fruit is at its freshest. If you try to use ingredients that aren’t in season, you’re probably going to end up with a bowl that is still good but not the best it could be.
I’m also a believer in trusting my own palate. When I was thinking of what bowls to include in my book, I thought about my favorite flavor combinations and wondered how I could turn my favorite desserts into smoothie bowls. So now I have recipes for key lime pie, lemon chiffon, banana-cream pie, and cinnamon pumpkin pie bowls. It’s really neat to see how food can shape shift. As for the toppings, well, they’re my favorite part of the bowl. Including recipes for toppings at the end of the book reflects what I believe in as a chef: Make everything from scratch.
What does the process of developing a recipe look like for you?
When I develop a new recipe, I manipulate ingredients and try everything I make. Once I test out one fruit combination, I taste it and take notes to figure out what is working flavor- and texture-wise. I’m very particular. They’ve got to be a perfect combination of sweet, acidic, and fruit-forward. Plus, the texture can’t be soup-like. It’s got to be thick like sorbet or ice cream to hold up in the summer heat.
Once I’m happy with a trial recipe, I have other people try it, see what they think, and take notes. And then I make a lot of little tweaks, maybe swap out a fruit for another, and go through the process all over again. For me, creating a recipe really means I’ve tasted it, taken notes, and surveyed others.
Your recipes are super accessible for novices, so why do you think a lot of people are hesitant to make their own smoothie bowls?
I think the equipment (and price of the equipment) might be off-putting. With a smoothie, you can just use any old blender because smoothies are best in liquid form. With a smoothie bowl, you need a heavy-duty powerhouse to get the thick consistency. I use a Vitamix, but there are definitely other affordable options that do the trick. I also think our culture wants things fast and immediate. Making a thick smoothie bowl takes time. The learning curve for me was definitely there when I was first starting out, and I had to put in some patience and elbow grease to get it right. I wanted to pass on how important it is to practice the technique. Once you get the hang of it, making a good, thick smoothie bowl is actually very easy.
What’s your best piece of nutrition advice?
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a boring salad. It can actually be fun and exciting, taste great, and look super appealing. For me, sitting down with a smoothie bowl is like eating a big bowl of ice cream made of nutrient-rich superfoods.
And of course we have to ask: What’s your favorite smoothie bowl to eat?
Such a tough question! But I have to go with our Classic Açaí Bowl [a blend of organic açaí, bananas, grapes, and apples, topped with homemade granola, bananas, and raw honey]. I could eat it every day.
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