NOTES FROM A VEGAN CHEF
5 questions with Forest Ragar, executive chef of WaterCourse Foods
By Kristen Kuchar
How is cooking vegan food different from cooking meat?
“It’s not different at all. It requires technique. You’re taking the best ingredients you can and making them exciting, delicious and fun. We do everything from ‘chicken-fried steak’ to ‘pulled pork.’ We try to give people who don’t even know we’re vegan an opportunity to enjoy the food. It’s really special when people who are not vegan tell me how good it was. It means the world to me, and it shows me there is so much possibility out there.”
How does it feel to be part of the vegan movement?
“It’s crazy. I’m proud to be a part of it. What we’re doing at WaterCourse is doable at so many restaurants. We all have to be responsible members of society. I’d love to help transition restaurants to be more sustainable and more locally sourced.”
What is WaterCourse like?
“It’s such a positive environment, and it allows me to be creative, loud, assertive and energetic. We’ve tried to really make it an iconic restaurant, and we’ve had customers from far away, like Kentucky, come in. That makes me want to push my creative boundaries.”
What are your favorite dishes?
“The barbecue sandwich, mushroom risotto, spinach and artichoke dip, French toast, curry. The orange teriyaki bowl was there when I started, but we revamped it by adding more veggies.”
What’s it like being a vegan in Denver?
“It’s amazing. There’s so much to choose from. The other day I was at Blue Sushi, and they offer eight vegan rolls that are really cool, with a smoked tomato rice paper for one. They’re doing different concepts, different tofus and different sauces. The demand for vegan food is rising in Denver. There are a lot of options, but there are still a lot of opportunities. At the Civic Center food trucks, the vegan options are the first items to sell out. Veganism is at the forefront of both health and environment. We have to lead the way, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
READ ‘EM AND EAT
5 Great Vegan Cookbooks
VEGAN 101, by Heather Bell and Jenny Engel / For the cook starting to try cutting back on meat comes this second cookbook from the two kitchen wizards behind Spork Foods in Los Angeles. $15, Sonoma Press
BUT I COULD NEVER GO VEGAN!, by Kristy Turner / This cookbook has 125 recipes that keep it simple and avoid manufactured foods, from a former die-hard cheese nerd and current “Keepin’ It Kind” blogger. $24, The Experiment
THE HOMEMADE VEGAN PANTRY, by Miyoko Schinner / Beautifully photographed, this cookbook offers recipes for all the basics, from mayonnaise and yogurt to bacon, dressings and (yes!) cookies. $23, Ten Speed Press
THUG KITCHEN 101: THE OFFICIAL COOKBOOK, by Thug Kitchen / A bit foul-mouthed, this take-no-prisoners cookbook nonetheless tries to teach folks how to elevate their game in the kitchen. $26, Rodale
THE OH SHE GLOWS COOKBOOK, by Angela Liddon / If the 100 imaginative plant-based recipes and mouthwatering photography in this cookbook don’t help you go vegan, we don’t know what will. $25, Penguin
HOW TO GO VEGAN
Thinking of becoming a vegan but not quite sure how? It’s not as difficult as it seems. We asked a few experts how to get started.
By Katie Berohn
EDUCATE YOURSELF. “Read books such as ‘Vegan for Life,’ ‘Eating Animals’ and ‘Main Street Vegan,’” advises Victoria Moran, author of “Main Street Vegan.” “Check out the website nutritionfacts.org, where Dr. Michael Greger brings the latest findings on nutrition in engaging minute-long daily videos. And watch documentaries: ‘Forks Over Knives,’ ‘What the Health?,’ ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘Vegucated.’ ”
START SMALL. “It is best to start with small changes dear to your heart,” says Julie Chavez of Vegan Cuts, a vegan subscription service offering snack, makeup and beauty boxes. “For example, if you are coming to veganism from an animal welfare standpoint, cut out all animal products used in your home kitchen at first.” From there, you can start cutting out other things, like animal-tested beauty products or clothing. These incremental changes can make all the difference.”
DON’T FORGET NUTRITION. Moran recommends “supplementing the vitamin B12 in your diet; it’s the one nutrient we need from food that is not reliably found in the plant kingdom.” And Chris Hopkins, general manager of Boulder’s Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, suggests “eating the rainbow” every day. “As long as one eats a variety of plants and vegetables that encompass the colors of the rainbow, they should be nutritionally sound.”
ADAPT VEGANISM TO YOUR TASTES. “Be your own kind of vegan,” Moran says. For example, swap out ingredients in foods you like for vegan-friendly options (like bean burritos for beef burritos or vegan cheese on pizza). Don’t think that because you’re going vegan, you can no longer eat your favorite foods.
DON’T WORRY IF YOU SLIP UP. Mistakes can and do happen when people go vegan, Vanessa Gochnour of NOOCH says. The whole lifestyle is a learning process, and it’s normal to get overwhelmed by the many hidden animal products in food. “Over time, it will get easier to read labels and familiarize yourself with all the vegan products out there,” she says.
THINK OF VEGANISM AS AN ADVENTURE. “See your transition as a grand adventure, because it is,” Moran says. “Know that when you open the invisible door marked ‘vegan’ for the first time, there’s a whole world to discover: new foods, ways to veganize traditional favorites, a way to contribute to climate healing, fabulous vegan fashions, new friends and a heartfelt respect for other animals.”