The vegan community owes a lot to Chloe Coscarelli for her victory on Food Network's Cupcake Wars in 2010. A graduate of The Natural Gourmet Institute, UC Berkeley, and Cornell University’s Plant-Based Nutrition Program, the creative, animal-loving, and adorable Chef Chloe had already entered the culinary world at the time of the competition with positions at Bay Area veggie hot spots Millennium and Herbivore as well as Counter in New York. But it was her victory on Cupcake Wars—the first victory by a vegan on a Food Network competition—that finally gave permission to vegans all over the country to shout from the rooftops: "Ha! Our desserts are not only just as good as all the others! They can even be better!" So influential was Chloe's win, that not only have more vegan bakers competed on the show since her, but tomorrow, Food Network is even airing a Cupcake Wars all-vegan showdown.
Since that win, Chloe's approachable take on veganism has blown up in the media, with spreads in The New York Times, Woman's World, and on CNN. In January she appeared on The Doctors with a recipe for a decadent vegan chocolate cake.
Chloe's Kitchen has recipes ranging from the very simple, like "Classic Roasted Vegetables" and "Avocado Toast" all the way to the more intricate, like "Seitan Scallopini" and "Tarte Tatin with Coconut Whipped Cream." And of course it features her famous desserts, including her award-winning cupcakes, plus (in true vegan form) a recipe for "Peanut Butter Dog Treats." It serves as a great intro to those new to veganism or interested in trying it out, with helpful tips on everything from how to stock a vegan pantry to how to make soy-free soy sauce. In addition to an intro from Chloe on how she came to be a vegan and how she approaches cooking, there is also a forward by Dr. Neal D. Barnard, Founder and President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine addressing common concerns about veganism, like the ever-present question of "Will I get enough protein?"
I can go on and on about Chloe and the yummy recipes in her book, but let's talk to the chef herself. Chloe was kind enough to answer some questions for Bay Area Bites about her approach to veganism, her favorite recipe, her take on the Bay Area vegan food scene, and even about her beloved animal friends. Read on, then scroll down for a recipe from her book, as well information on book signing events in the Bay Area in the coming weeks.
The vegan community is very excited for your new cookbook! What was the motivating spirit behind Chloe's Kitchen and what impact do you hope it will have in the culinary world?
Since going vegan 8 years ago, I've had so many people ask me "How do you do it? I could NEVER be vegan!" There are lots of myths out there that vegan food is bland, boring, expensive, and difficult to prepare. Wrong! My motivation behind Chloe's Kitchen is to show people that vegan food can actually be extremely flavorful, exciting, and easy to prepare. I hope that Chloe's Kitchen will prove to the mainstream that vegan cooking is fun and accessible and convince people to try it in their homes on a regular basis.
Chloe's Kitchen is dedicated to your mom, and you mentioned that she and the rest of your family was very supportive when you went vegan as a kid. What were your reasons for going vegan, and do you have advice for anyone else--child or adult--who is the sole vegan in their family?
Going vegan in a family of carnivores can seem daunting, but if I could do it as a child, anyone can! My advice would be to stay positive. Your family might be overwhelmed if you focus on what you can't eat. Instead focus on what you can eat! Take your family to a local vegan restaurant or try cooking something delicious from Chloe's Kitchen once a week (I'd recommend "Penne alla Vodka with the Best Garlic Bread in the World" or "Mongolian BBQ Seitan"). Your family will be thrilled and open up to the idea.
I dedicated Chloe's Kitchen to my mom because she has been with me on this journey every step of the way. She was the first person to support my dietary choices and even cooked me a separate feast on my first vegan Thanksgiving! She always has a "can do" attitude and tells me everyday that anything is possible. Without her optimism, I would have never taken a chance on going to culinary school and writing this book.
I love the range of difficulty that your recipes offer. A novice can take their time moving from something simple like Easy Peasy Pasta Salad, all the way to Moroccan Bastilla. But tell us: What is YOUR favorite go-to dish from your collection?
I love that you noticed that! For the most part, the recipes in Chloe's Kitchen are simple and straight forward, but I did throw in a couple fun ones for the more adventurous chefs. My favorite go-to weeknight meal would have to be "Fettuccine Alfredo" or "Falafel Sliders with Avocado Hummus." For dessert, definitely my "Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies." I even make them for breakfast sometimes.
You mention in your book that your love for cooking started during college at UC Berkeley, after which you jetted off to New York to attend The Natural Gourmet Institute. Did you specifically study vegan culinary arts or did you have to adapt your studies to your ethical stance?
In my senior year of college at UC Berkeley, I toured a bunch of culinary schools with my mom before making a choice. It became clear that Natural Gourmet was the obvious choice. Not only does Natural Gourmet have a focus on health, nutrition, and alternative medicine, but they are also very supportive of each student's moral beliefs. You do not have to touch or taste anything you don't want to. Natural Gourmet's plant-based focus truly puts them on the cutting edge of culinary education.
You have some strong Bay Area roots. How do you feel the Bay Area is evolving from a vegan perspective?
The Bay Area holds a very dear place in my heart. I have had so many amazing experiences there, from going to college at UC Berkeley, to getting my first restaurant job at Herbivore, to experiencing my first vegetarian festival in San Francisco, to working at the world's greatest vegan restaurant, Millennium! The Bay Area is definitely one of the fastest-evolving veg cities in the world. I mean, come on, what other city has an all-vegan cinnamon roll bakery (Cinnaholic) or an all-vegan sushi house (Cha-ya)?
What are your favorite Bay Area culinary destinations?
I could probably write a whole book on this topic because I am totally obsessed with the food in the Bay! There is nothing like a bag of salty air-baked garlic fries at Smart Alecs, or a platter of the oyster mushroom calamari at Millennium Restaurant. I could eat hundreds of pieces of tempura sushi (specifically, the Cha-Ya roll) at Cha-ya. Vegan Chinese food is also very plentiful in the Bay, my favorite place being Long Life Veggie House in Berkeley. My friends took me there every year on my birthday in college and I would always get the Broccoli Veggie Chicken-- it's to die for! And don't forget the Shawarma Wrap from Herbivore. After this question, I'm starving!
And a final question I just have to ask. One of my favorite quotes from your introduction in Chloe's Kitchen is "You name it. I've adopted it. From pit bulls and rats to frogs and lizards, I've always been a please-can-we-keep-him? kind of girl." I can totally relate, as I'm sure many vegans can. Are there any special non-human animals that have made a particularly strong impact in your life? (Feel free to share adorable photos!)
My life has been made so incredibly rich with the love of my pets! I just recently adopted 2 infant chihuahua's from the shelter. They were abandoned on the street by someone and were going to be put to sleep the day the we picked them up. We were originally asked by an animal rescue group to foster the puppies, but you know how that works... One look into their eyes and the adoption papers were signed! They are brother and sister named Buster and Winnie. All they want to do is kiss each other and me...all day long. They are the sweetest dogs who love nothing more than sleeping curled up on top of me.
Thank you, Chloe, for taking the time to talk to Bay Area Bites. We can't wait to make everything in your book, and see other creative recipes you come up with in the future!
Chef Chloe with the recently adopted Buster and Winnie (photo courtesy of the author)
Upcoming Book Signing Events:
Monday, March 12: Omnivore Books (San Francisco) – 6pm
Tuesday, March 13: Book Passage (San Francisco) – Ferry Building – 6pm
Wednesday, March 14: Books Inc. (San Francisco) – Marina location – 7pm
Photo Credit: Miki Duisterhol
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Butter
SERVES 4 TO 6
Gnocchi (pronounced NYO-kee) are soft little pillows of potato heaven that pretty much put regular
noodles to shame. I like to make the dough with sweet potatoes and pan-fry the gnocchi with a
touch of vegan butter and fresh sage leaves. You get extra points if they make it to the plate before
going into your mouth!
Uncooked gnocchi can be made in advance and kept frozen for up to 1 month or refrigerated
for 3 to 4 days until ready to boil.
2 large red-skinned sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork, place in a baking pan, and bake until fully cooked, about 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit until cool enough to handle. Using a sharp knife, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh out of each sweet potato into a medium bowl. Thoroughly mash the sweet potatoes while they are still warm, then set aside or refrigerate to cool completely. Add salt, nutmeg, and pepper to the sweet potatoes. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well with a spoon to combine. Once a soft, slightly sticky, dough has formed, divide it into six portions. Generously flour the work surface and your hands. Roll each portion of dough into ropes about 1/2 inch in diameter. Each rope will be approximately 7 to 9 inches long. Dip a sharp knife in flour and cut each rope into 1-inch long pillows. If desired, roll each pillow on fork tines to make decorative ridges.
Fill a medium saucepan with heavily salted water and bring it to a boil. In the meantime, heat margarine and sage in a large nonstick skillet until the margarine begins to bubble.
When the water is boiling, reduce heat to a gentle simmer and gently drop in the gnocchi, about 20 at a time. The gnocchi will float to the surface in about 4 minutes. Continue to cook about 30 seconds more. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the gnocchi to the skillet of butter sauce. Let cook, turning frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes. You will have to do this in several batches, until all the gnocchi are cooked. Serve immediately, topped with additional freshly ground black pepper.