by Tanya Cleary
Celebrity chefs have been with us a long time, but now, a new breed of vegan chef is rising from the crowd and helping reshape the public perception of a vegan lifestyle. They write books, host shows, and open restaurants. They do it all, and the public is beating down their doors for more. These noted vegan chefs, many of whom started as cookbook authors, now have blockbuster restaurants and popular blogs, YouTube channels, and TV shows…. They’re busy spreading the plant-based message and legions of hungry diners are eating it up!
Rich Landau grew up in Philadelphia in a family with high culinary standards. Discussions of food were common, and he loved to challenge himself in the kitchen, even at an early age. But, upon learning where meat came from, and the horrors of factory farming, his focus shifted to trying to create ever more appetizing meatless meals.
“I loved the taste of meat but couldn’t comprehend how anyone would want to eat it knowing what was happening to the animals,” he says.
In 2011, he and his wife, Kate Jacoby, a pastry chef and certified sommelier, opened Vedge, the acclaimed downtown Philly restaurant. In 2013, he won the Food Network’s competitive cooking show Chopped. Following the success of Vedge, the couple opened V-Street, and are now branching out with a new fast casual concept called Wiz Kids.
“I love being a chef in Philly because people here have really embraced vegetable cooking and vegan restaurants more than you can imagine. It’s so dated to say that we’re a cheesesteak town — we’re a top-notch food town, period (that just happens to have cheesesteaks in our repertoire)”
In addition to their restaurants, Chef Landau and Ms. Jacoby have recently released a cookbook inspired by their exotic travels. “V-Street – 100 Globe Trotting Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking” offers creative vegan riffs of street food around the world.
When asked to describe his favorite dining experiences when traveling, Landau says, “We’ve had so many wonderful food memories – some that defined the whole trip. We had a 16 course in Seoul Korea that was mind blowing and so eye opening as to just how light and beautiful Korean food can be. We dined in a lovely Riad in Marrakesh, where we had an enchanting meal of vegetable tagine, couscous, assorted salads and harira (a lentil soup) in a setting that felt like we were in an Indiana Jones movie. There were other meals that opened our eyes up and changed what we thought we knew about a certain cuisine, like on the Thai island of Phuket where we had the most extraordinary spread of vegetable stir fries, soups, and curries so beautifully layered with aromatics that we knew we would never be able to order Thai takeout again at home.”
Chef Landau also sees the mainstream culinary world changing for the better. “Mainstream chefs are putting more and more vegetables on the center of the plate,” he says. “That’s the biggest sign of the times that I’ve seen. It’s a beautiful thing when the mainstream starts to embrace something previously thought of as niche”.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the author of “Isa Does It” and “Vegan With a Vengeance,” opened her original Modern Love restaurant in Omaha in 2014 and a new location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in early 2016.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, it was a natural progression to bring her culinary talents back home. Her friends, Sara and Erica, who own the vegan shoe store Moo Shoes, offered her a space in their building, and she decided the time was right.
Modern Love specializes in vegan comfort food, with dishes like “Mac and Shews” and Shepherd’s Pie. “There’s always a Jewish grandmother feel to everything I do, even if it’s curry,” she says.
Chef Moskowitz became a vegan in her teens, simply because she liked animals. “As soon as I realized, oh, I can cook without meat, it just worked,” she says. Joined by her mother and sister, she began perfecting her plant-based skills in the kitchen.
“It was kind of the reverse of what a lot of people experience,” Moskowitz recalls. “You go vegetarian; your family disowns you; you can’t eat together. My mom came home with a stack of cookbooks and said, okay, let’s do this, and we all just started cooking together.”
Chef Moskowitz has authored at least 10 cookbooks, with recipes for brunch, holidays, as well as vegan cupcakes, pies and sweets. Her cookbooks are full of quips and an “anyone can do this” approach that helps make vegan cooking easy and accessible to non-vegans.
Between her restaurants and cookbooks, Isa Chandra Moskowitz is showing the world that vegan cooking can be delicious, comforting, easy, and fun.
Tal Ronnen is the chef of Crossroads on Melrose Ave in LA., and author of a New York Times bestselling cookbook “The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes that Will Change the Way You Eat”. He was responsible for the food at Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s wedding, consulted with Oprah on her 21 day vegan cleanse, and also prepared the U.S. Senate their first full vegan meal.
Crossroads, at the corner of Melrose and Sweetzer, is described as “an intersection where vegans, flexitarians, omnivores and meat eaters can cross paths to share a delicious meal and a good time.” Menu favorites include such tantalizing dishes as “Porcini Crusted Eggplant” and “Oven Roasted Truffled Potatoes.”
Chef Ronnen’s cooking is elegant and sophisticated, often applying traditional French culinary techniques to meatless cuisine, which reflects his belief that healthy eating should be the main course, not an afterthought.
“When I crossed over to being vegetarian, I was largely being served side dishes that came along with entrees when I went out to eat,” he says. “I wanted to take vegetarian cuisine to the next level and make it appeal to non-vegetarians. Crossroads is the realization of that desire”.
Collaborating with Executive Chef Scot Jones, Ronnen has created a warm yet stylish environment at Crossroads. “We wanted to design an environment where you don’t have to sacrifice ambiance just because you want to eat healthy,” he says.
Chef Ronnen conducts master workshops in plant-based cooking at Le Cordon Bleu College campuses nationwide. The release of his newest book, “Crossroads” has been featured in Food & Wine magazine, as well as The New York Times, and USA Today.
Nestled in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, at 185 Bleeker St, the original By Chloe has quickly become a popular spot for fast and casual vegan food, with other locations popping up throughout NYC and planned for Boston. Offering “grab and go” delights, like “peanut kale salad” or sit down service for pasta and burger dishes, By Chloe makes choosing vegan food easy and delicious.
Chef Chloe Coscarelli won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in 2010, and launched the restaurant with her partner, Samantha Wasser in July 2015.
A graduate of UC Berkeley, Chef Coscarelli has been vegetarian since childhood, and vegan the past 13 years. She honed her love of cooking by making cakes and other baked goods for friends and family. After a summer internship at Millenium, a gourmet vegan restaurant in San Francisco, she studied at The National Gourmet Institute in NY.
Chef Coscarelli has been featured in the Cooking Channel television documentary The Veg Edge and appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, CBS’s The Doctors, VH1, CNN, HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell Show, and the Fran Drescher Show. She’s also published three cookbooks: “Chloe’s Kitchen,” “Chloe’s Vegan Desserts” and “Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen,” all currently featured on Amazon’s list of “100 Best-Selling” cookbooks.
At only 29, Chloe Coscarelli is making a name for herself and taking the vegan culinary world by storm.
Katie Higgins, better known to her followers as “Chocolate Covered Katie,” dropped out of college to become a full-time blogger after realizing the demand for her healthy, vegan treats, which she began posting online, just for fun.
“Cooking has always been a huge part of my family heritage, but I really learned to cook for myself as a teenager when I became a vegan. My mom was supportive of my lifestyle change and had the whole family try a vegan meal at least once a week, but on the other days, I would make my own food,” she says.
Her blog quickly became the number one online source for healthy desserts on the Internet.
Featured on The Today Show, CNN, Time, Huffington Post, Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, and People, her recipes are all vegan and, although she has some breakfast, lunch and dinner fare, the primary focus is on sweet treats, like “No Bake Cinnamon Swirl Cheesecake”, “Black Bean Brownies,” or “Healthy Apple Pie.”
“When I started Chocolate Covered Katie, I never expected this to become my full-time job,” she says. “My high school friends were all making blogs or Myspace pages back then, and we were doing it just for fun. When a company contacted me about putting ads on the site, I thought their email was spam and came very close to deleting it. My blog was getting around 700 visitors per day, which I thought was a ton. Then suddenly, Pinterest took off and changed everything.”
Now, her site gets 6 million visitors each month. Her first cookbook, “Chocolate Covered Katie: Over 80 Delicious Recipes That Are Secretly Good for You” has been followed up with her latest release “Hello Breakfast,” featuring over 50 new breakfast recipes, such as “Peanut Butter Cup Overnight Oats” and “Sunshine Breakfast Enchiladas.”
Her love of animals prompted her to become vegan. “I often gave money to an organization called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary,” she says. “One day when I was 14 years old, they sent me something in the mail about animal testing. It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing, and I was shocked and horrified! I spent hours on the internet, looking up cruelty-free cosmetics. And it was during this research process that I learned about factory farming. I pretty much went vegetarian on the spot. My two favorite foods were cheese and ice cream, and veganism was definitely NOT a mainstream idea back then; I had absolutely no intention of going vegan, and I thought vegans were crazy.
However, a year later, my family moved to China, where they eat very little dairy. No longer could I go to Baskin & Robbins every day after school for a chocolate milkshake or Outback Steakhouse for my favorite macaroni and cheese. I was eating vegan by accident…and was feeling better than I ever had in my entire life!”
Katie has been called the “queen of healthy desserts” by Glamour Magazine. “I try to show -without preaching or turning people off — that vegan food can be delicious and easy to prepare,” she says. “I love my job and get to eat chocolate every day. Definitely worth it!”
These celebrity vegan chefs, and many more like them, are making it easier for us to enjoy convenient and satisfying vegan food, whether we’re dining out or whipping it up in our own kitchens. Yet, perhaps more importantly, they’re introducing vegan cuisine to a broader audience, who are discovering that being cruelty-free can also taste great!