occupation: natural foods chef; co-founder The Nutmeg Cookery
found at: Applethorne (Farmington)
How did you come to co-found The Nutmeg Cookery, a plant-based culinary company?
I always enjoyed cooking with my mom and I became a vegetarian when I was 12 for no particular reason other than I didn't like the taste of meat. When I was in college, I became a vegan at 19 for health and ethical reasons. I attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, which is the only one of its kind that doesn't use meat. They have a chef training program, which is where I met Philippa Petronis, who is vegetarian and has a gluten allergy. When we graduated we decided to establish The Nutmeg Cookery to teach and serve other people with either food allergies or who were interested in plant-based food.
What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions about vegan food?
All of our clients really with only a few exceptions are meat eaters. The biggest misconception is that you won't get enough protein. I don't know where that myth started, because of course you can find protein in beans and legumes. It's in certain vegetables. We cook with tempeh and tofu and seitan which are really protein rich. People think that vegan food doesn't taste very good and that they'll be forced to eat salads all the time.
Who is the typical The Nutmeg Cookery client?
It tends to women bored in the kitchen who are looking for inspiration. Older generations are starting to discover that vegetarianism is healthy and easier than they realized. Besides catering we also teach groups.
What are your thoughts on the current celebrity-fed fad for a vegan diet?
The nice thing about the celebrity attention is it helps us gets people interested. Once they eat the food they realize how delicious it is. Our goal is to teach people how easy and delicious it can be and that it need not be just a trend. The trend simply helps get the word out, which is great.
What is your favorite dish to prepare or ingredient with which to cook?
I love making black-bean sliders, which are my version of a veggie burger. I make mine from scratch and they are always a huge hit. You'd think it would be something bizarre, but I do absolutely adore onions, which comes from my childhood. Growing up, every time you'd come into the kitchen, no matter what dish was being prepared, it would always start with my mom cooking onions. Sautéing onions on the stove. It definitely has a lot of comfort for me.
If you're in the kitchen, what are you cooking up for the family?
A lot of pasta, I do stir-frys. Burritos. Soup. I love comfort food. It's all the recipes I grew up with as a kid, only veganized. My favorite thing to do is to take a classic recipe and veganize it and hopefully make it even better.
What's your proudest achievement in life so far?
Finding my husband Tom. He's always encouraged me to go after my passions, no matter how wild or crazy my ideas may be. He was a huge meat eater from London who became a vegetarian years after meeting me, through no prompting whatsoever on my part. I did not ask him to give up meat just because he was dating me, but one New Year's Eve he announced his resolution was to give up meat. My jaw dropped. Four months later he became a vegan. I told him it was too quick but he did it.
What's one of your favorite things about The Nutmeg Cookery?
I like the teaching the best. Philippa and I enjoy the catering but my favorite aspect is answering questions and especially people who are skeptical realizing how good the food is and seeing the looks on their faces once they try the food. I find you have to be really careful because some vegans come out guns blazing yelling about how people are eating all the wrong foods. That's offensive. I'm not trying to make people vegetarian. I'm simply trying to help people learn about a new way of cooking and incorporate it into their lifestyle.
Who do you most look up to in your life and why?
My mom. We're best friends and she has always been so supportive. She's definitely the inspiration for my cooking passions. She has always encouraged me to do what makes me happy.
What is something you have learned this past week?
I'm moving to a new apartment and I'm in the process of packing my old one, I just got a dog, I'm catering three different parties, and I also ride and train horses on the side. It's been a really crazy week. Somehow I've managed to keep my sanity.