Series IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS
In collaboration with PORCELAIN
Words + Photography KARMAN TSE
and it would be served with LOVE and
BALANCE and a handful of FIGS.
Outfits LOVE, BONITO
Make-up + Hair ZANN THIANG
Location THE FLORAL ATELIER
WHO IS SHE? Nutritionist, presenter, host, sustainability advocate
IN THREE WORDS: Realistic, mediating, bubbly
Charlotte Mei de Drouas is — tada! — transformed. When she stepped out of the changing room, the straight bob she wore earlier sprang to life in waves now, like it has been switched on, caffeinated, set free. She has also swapped a denim jumpsuit for a pair of jeans and an asymmetrical black top so that her right shoulder and arm are cocooned in an oversized puff of a sleeve, and her left was left unencumbered, revealing a honey-hued skin, aglow in the warmth of her personality, her youth, her positive energy.
The 27-year-old nutritionist and host of The Charlotte Mei series on YouTube had chosen the fashionably off-balanced outfit from a selection presented to her the week before our photo shoot. Interestingly, in many areas of her life, “balance” is very much on. The word, in fact, came up frequently in our chat. Balance is what she strives for in her food. Balance is written in her star sign, Libra, and it’s in her blood — half French, half Chinese. “Balance is the essence of life!” she exclaims.
I can’t help but relish the sweet, sweet irony.
The title of this series is It’s What’s Inside That Counts. Very little is what it seems these days. Hence, the importance of discernment and being mindful — slowing down, pressing pause, and taking a moment to ask questions rather than react, to look deeper — past the glossy
facades, read between the lines, reflect and focus on what truly matters. What are you buying? What are you feeding your body, mind and soul? Who do you surround yourself with — and why? Why do post that photo on Instagram? What are you putting on your skin? What deserves your energy, time and money? Who do you want to become?
That’s what this series is all about: To have meaningful conversations with women who care and dare to embrace and show what they’re made of. And we made a conscious decision to interview food experts and wellness advocates for the series so that we can all benefit from the recipes they create exclusively for us that are nutritious, easy to whip up and easy on the eyes.
For her recipe — the “You’re Magni-fig” open-faced sandwich — Charlotte has chosen the fig as the star ingredient. “It’s my favourite fruit,” she explains. Of course, it’s also timely for the holiday season. Try this at home or enjoy it at the Porcelain Origins Café after a self-caring facial treatment, that’s up to you.
In the mean time, chew on my conversation with the lovely Charlotte Mei, who went from a tot with a distaste for food who refused to be fed, to a passionate, professional nutritionist (she has a degree in it) who feeds people. And just like that, balance finds itself exactly where it needs to be: Restored, dans la vie de Charlotte.
Let’s start from the beginning. How and when did you discover your love of food?
Charlotte: I never liked food growing up! Mealtimes were a chore, and I didn’t know how to appreciate food. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, my mum cancelled cable TV, and I was left with the local channels, Discovery Travel & Living (DTL), and National Geographic. I was drawn to DTL because of all the travel shows, but when they weren’t on, I would watch the cooking shows. Bit my bit, my interest in food grew, and that interest really blossomed when I left Singapore at 15 and got more involved in the kitchen and started making my own food.
What was your first memory of food?
Charlotte: Sitting on the high chair and throwing my food on the floor because I didn’t want to be fed.
How did you go from that to becoming a foodie and nutritionist?
Charlotte: When I was deciding what to study at university, I penned down all the different questions I had in my head about my everyday life. I thought that would be the most straightforward way to understand what I really cared about and what I’d like to know more about. That was when I realised that a lot of questions had to do with food, health, et cetera. Back then, whenever I read about food or diet online or in magazines, every piece of information was conflicting. I didn’t like not being able to discern fact from fad, so I decided once and for all to learn the science behind it all, so I can understand it myself and be able to help those around me, too.
What has been the best thing about being a nutritionist?
Charlotte: I love empowering my clients to see that it’s never too late to adopt healthy habits, and that a healthy lifestyle can be both attainable and sustainable regardless of the circumstances they are under. Just a small change in one’s diet can improve one’s health by a mile! Most of the impact I’ve made in people’s lives is in their perception of what a healthy diet is. A healthy meal doesn’t need to include kale or avocados or a special oil — it could simply mean making more conscious choices at your local cai fan/nasi padang stall.
“I didn’t like not being able to discern fact from fad, so I decided once and for all to learn the science behind it all, so I can understand it myself and be able to help those around me, too.”
“I am thankful that my parents raised me in a household where self-worth was spoken about in terms of thought, action and behaviour, rather than in terms of how one looks. This is a very important foundation on which to build a healthy relationship with oneself.”
What is your diet like, and how mindful are you about what you eat? Do you sometimes indulge in a little in “happy food” that may not be healthy food?
Charlotte: I try to keep my diet balanced. I’ve been through the whole rollercoaster ride of cutting out certain foods, being extremely strict, avoiding carbs, et cetera, in the past. It’s all too stressful — life is too short! Now I try to make sure I eat a balanced meal as much as I can. This means half my plate will be filled with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with complex carbohydrates. There are no “banned” foods in my diet, but I generally don’t eat deep-fried food because I just don’t enjoy the mouthfeel. There is ABSOLUTELY room for happy food! I always say that we eat to feed our tummies, but more importantly, we need to eat to feed our souls, too. I eat by the 80:20 principle, meaning I eat fresh, unprocessed foods 80% of the time, and the other 20% of the time, I enjoy food which is a little more indulgent.
So what are your
Charlotte: I am a sucker for milk and cookies, and pound cake (Sara Lee, anyone?). I have a sweet tooth, but I don’t like anything that is too heavy or rich either. I enjoy my cakes simple, without cream or frosting. Marble/pound/butter cakes for me, please.
I love Sara Lee. It was my childhood tea-time snack. So, this series is called “It’s
What’s Inside That Counts”, let’s dig a bit deeper into the insides of things and people. First, what are some qualities that you value and that make you, you?
Charlotte: I’ve been raised by the most amazing parents. They taught me how to care — for the people around me and my environment. This is why standing up and providing for the underprivileged is important to me. It’s also why I am so passionate about living an earth-friendly, low-impact lifestyle.
What qualities about a person do you most admire?
Charlotte: Compassion and patience.
What are your favourite ingredients — to use in your cooking and to eat?
Charlotte: Good extra-virgin olive oil, cinnamon (my favourite spice — so much so that I chose to do a literature review on it while in the university), and basil. Unfortunately, I can’t make a meal out of those three ingredients.
What do you look for in a meal?
Charlotte: Balance and love. Balance in terms of flavour and nutrients. I try to have protein, complex carbohydrates, fibre and some fat in every meal. The combination helps keep me fuller for longer.
Speaking of balance and love in a meal, I’d like to segue into the topic of body image. Our relationship with food has a lot do with our relationship with our bodies, our selves — and this affects more young girls and women than we realise or talk about. Can you share with us what you’ve discovered from your journey of nurturing a more positive and healthier relationship with your body? What advice would you give those who are struggling to find balance and love in this regard?
Charlotte: I had a lot of insecurities about my body when I was growing up. That was the reason why I got into reading articles on food, diets, biology (to understand how food is processed in our body), micro-managed what I ate, and so on. I got so obsessed with the topic, yet I was lost in the maze of conflicting information out there in the media. That was how I decided that, once and for all, I was going to study nutrition and be properly informed to help myself and those around me.
“Tune into your body and trust it. It is constantly telling you messages, and the more you listen to it, the more it will work for you… Value your body in terms of what it can do, instead of how it looks.”
I am thankful that my parents raised me in a household where self-worth was spoken about in terms of thought, action and behaviour, rather than in terms of how one looks. I feel that this is a very important foundation on which to build a healthy relationship with oneself. So, although I had thoughts about trying ridiculous diets I had read about on the internet, I never really did it because I knew it would not be truly healthy for me (mentally and physically) in the long run, regardless of my body shape.
I believe in eating intuitively — when your body tells you it is hungry or it’s craving for something in particular, listen to what it’s trying to tell you. Tune into your body and trust it. It is constantly telling you messages, and the more you listen to it, the more it will work for you. We have far too many things to think about in a day, so start by freeing yourself from food and body worries. Value your body in terms of what it can do, instead of how it looks. ❤️
“Moisturising is the core tenet of my skincare routine… Also, age-old advice: Never go to bed with make-up on!”
*Fig extract, derived from the fruit of the fig tree is moisturising and nourishing. Figs are used in skincare for their high Vitamin A and C properties that promote exfoliation and elimination of surface skin cells, which helps refresh and renew your skin.
Other than what we put in our body, there’s also an increasing awareness and mindfulness about what we put on us. Those ingredients matter, too. Are you particular when it comes to your skincare and beauty products? What do you look out for and avoid?
Charlotte: In the last two years, I’ve become increasingly aware of the products I use on my face and body. I try to go for products that are made with natural ingredients and without fragrance.
What are your morning and night-time skincare routine like?
Charlotte: I like to keep it simple. In the morning: Moisturiser and sun cream. In the evening: Cleanser, serum (on some days) and moisturiser.
What is one skincare product you can’t live without?
Charlotte: Moisturiser! Moisturising is the core tenet of my skincare routine.
Do you have a personal skincare tip to share?
Charlotte: Pat on your moisturiser. Don’t slap it on, don’t smear it over your face, gently pat it in with your fingertips. It takes more time, but your older self with thank you for it. Also, age-old advice: Never go to bed with make-up on!
“My go-to equation in a moment of tension and stress is to have a sip of warm water, take deep breaths, and keep a light smile on my face. If I have some lavender oil on hand, I’d take a whiff of that, too.”
Happiness, I believe, is an inside job. So self-care and taking care of our mental health are topics that are very close to my. Can you tell me what happiness means to you?
Charlotte: Happiness means freedom and clarity in my heart and mind. It also means going to bed feeling excited about waking up to the following day.
What do you do to manage stress and tough days?
Charlotte: A lot of me-time. I am patient with myself to process my thoughts and emotions because I believe it’s important to acknowledge what you’re feeling. When I find that I am too much in my own head, I reach out to one of my close friends to talk things out. My go-to equation in a moment of tension and stress is to have a sip of warm water, take deep breaths, and keep a light smile on my face. If I have some lavender oil on hand, I’d take a whiff of that, too.
Complete the sentence: All I want for Christmas is…
Charlotte: My loved ones beside me (and not having to cook this year, haha!). Also, Sara Lee pound cake!
1 slice sourdough
3 tbsp cottage cheese
2 dried figs, sliced
Handful of rocket leaves
1 tsp balsamic glaze
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, black pepper
On a lightly toasted slice of bread, spread the cottage cheese and sprinkle some salt over. Lay the slices of dried figs, rocket leaves, and drizzle with balsamic glaze and olive oil. Finish with some cracked black pepper.
“Figs are my favourite fruit — they’re sweet, soft yet crunchy at the same time, and full of fibre. I’m using dried figs in this recipe due to seasonality, but fresh figs are just the best thing ever! Cottage cheese and toast are my favourite combination for a quick snack or breakfast. I like cottage cheese for its subtle flavour and creamy texture, and it’s a great source of protein.”