How did you get started with vegan cooking?
When I moved to New York City, eleven years ago today, May 5th is my anniversary, I was living the standard American dream and eating total crud. I had my first corporate job —the stress of the work environment coupled with the decade or so of terrible diet, coalesced into major health problems. I had migraine headaches four days a week and was 25-30 pounds heavier then I am now. I never had weight concerns before but it happened very quickly, my body started to put on weight and I was depressed. I had no energy.
I went to a doctor and he said maybe we should consider something like Prozac. I said you know, I don't think it's a lack of Prozac in my body that is the problem, I think there is something else going on. I went to another doctor who is more holistic. He asked what I ate. I never ate a green vegetable! I ate at Mcdonald's like three or four days a week. So I really got into healthy eating and diet as a way to fix my health problems. I read everything I could get my hands on and listened to the alternative radio shows.
I had to learn how to cook all over again. Quinoa? Kale? What were these things? Then I found out I could do it for a living and went to culinary school.
How was the transition and what steps can people take to get on a path to healthier eating?
I stumbled a lot at the beginning, it probably took me a couple of months to become vegan. This was eleven years ago, it was a much different food environment, there weren't all the vegan restaurants that there are now. There wasn't Whole Foods. There were health food stores but they were smaller and I didn't understand what was going on. it was more like a political statement to walk into a health food store. I figured out how to do it but I didn't know any vegans. Now it is much easier for people to do. There are hundreds of vegan cookbooks, there are many many websites, really you just have to start replacing the negative ingredients in your diet with better ones. —drastically reducing you caffeine. This is stuff you can do whether you want to go vegan or not. Using natural sweeteners and much less of them. Using seasonal foods to up your nutrition, repairing your gut with probiotics —naturally fermented foods, maybe start making some sauerkraut at home. These are really easy things to do to boost your overall immune system.
What are your culinary influences?
I have cookbooks from hardcore French chefs, people that use a lot of cream and meat, just for inspiration, I mean all you have to do is look at a picture of food. I have this great South East Asian cookbook that has a lot of fish, but when you look at some of the other ingredients they use, and a lot of the side dishes, they're vegan. You want to learn about the spices and techniques they use, and what is seasonal in these regions? What local ingredients do they have? I love going to the Farmer's Market and I also belong to the Park Slope Food Co-op, which is one of the biggest and oldest co-ops in America. They get stuff in that you would not believe.
Do you have a favorite cookbook(s)?
I love Christina Pirello, This is actually my second copy of Cooking the Whole Foods Way, because my first copy fell apart. t was one of the first cookbooks I found when I changed my diet. The first edition wasn't vegan, it did have fish in it, now it's vegan. She's great!
Where did you learn to cook?
My parents cooked almost all of our meals from scratch. My mom had an organic gardening radio show for about fifteen years when I was a kid. We grew a lot of our own fruits and vegetables. I didn't realize that was anything special at the time but now i'm really glad for that education. i've always felt comfortable in the kitchen but I never did anything fun or fancy until about eleven years ago when I was here in the city and changed my diet. I found the Natural Gourmet Institute where I went to culinary school --that's when I started doing the baking and more fancy techniques, learning how to properly sharpen your knife, things like that.
What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
I love coconut oil. I love to bake with it. Let's say a pie recipe calls for a cup of butter. Measure out a cup of coconut oil and freeze it in a bowl. Once frozen you can chip the whole thing out and grate it on a cheese grater. Stir that into the flour and it creates those little "pebbles of fat" which make a nice crisp layered pie crust. It gets that flaky texture. You can also add a couple tablespoons of coconut milk.
What is your favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
I love Rosé.
Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
It depends on the food. you know what i've been listening to a lot is Sergio Mendez.
What is your favorite type of food (cuisine)?
Food prepared with Love and good intentions.
Most memorable meal?
They're always outside. With a lot of people. A picnic or a potluck. There's a nice tablecloth. My good friend collects linens from the 1940's so when they do their table there is always this cool look to it.
My favorite meal of all time was the blackberry cobbler that my Dad used to make in the summer. We had a huge blackberry bramble. We would make a big blackberry cobbler and home churned ice cream --it took a day to make the whole thing but it was so good!
Most memorable dinner guest?
My son. He'll tell you exactly whay he thinks of your food. When he really likes something i'm so excited. last night he finally liked artichokes. I just steamed them with some olive oil and garlic
Most irritating celebrity chef?
I don't really watch cooking shows but I'll tell you who I really love is Justin Cajun Wilson. He had show on public TV for years. He is a serious Cajun guy. I'm very distantly related to him by marriage. He would say "I guarantee this is gonna be good!" with a really thick Cajun accent. It was all meat all the time, but his personality was so great and he loved cooking.
What makes indie food better?
What doesn't make indie food better. Seriously. The quality of every single ingredient is going to be better than anything you can get in a chain. if you work for a local proprietor they're not buying a huge pallet full of stuff at a time, they're buying a small bunch at a time, or they're buying it that morning. it has to be good because their face is on it. They see their diners all the time. if it's some huge corporation they don't have to. The president of McDonald's isn't there saying I watched this from beginning to end, I made this hamburger. A local proprietor really cares about every part.
Do you know a chef who would be great for Side Dish?
Contact: Robyn Jasko, Editor, email@example.com
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