Sunday, July 29, 2007

Spotlight on Tofu

If there's any one thing that has inspired me to eat and prepare vegan meals, it is the amazing vegan blog, What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?

Vegan food never looked so good!

Tofu, our vegan chef, is artful and creative in his approach to vegan cuisine and its presentation. His blog also features "Raw Wednesdays", where he explores raw food recipes that would inspire anyone to give raw a go! If anyone asks me about raw food or veganism, I send them a link to What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?

If you think of vegan food as mucky rice and bean dishes, you'll definitely want to check this blog out.

Tofu was kind enough to answer my questions and provided the beautiful and mouthwatering photographs for this piece.

Q: You were a vegetarian for 8 years before going vegan: what motivated your change?

A: By that point we were 90% vegan anyway, with only the odd piece of cheese sneaking in, it seemed silly not to just go vegan.

Q: What were the greatest challenges in switching?

A: The only hazard was having to read every label on every piece of packaged food, twice. It's amazing how many times you think the ingredients are vegan and then they slip something in at the last second.

Q: What were the greatest rewards?

A: I finally learned how to cook. The days of eating out (most nights) ended, and it seemed like it might be a good time to learn. ;)

Q: What do you miss most (if anything) from switching to veganism?

A: Nothing really -- we've eaten an even greater variety of foods than our vegetarian days. Like the Sea Beans the other night... who knew? We're always looking for new things to try.

Q: What is your food training background?

A: We both took classes at Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, OH. There were no vegan options available, so we'd observe most of time, and then adapt techniques. They were very accommodating when we'd bring in substitute ingredients for something like bread classes. However, the best "teacher" has been cooking every day for the last ten years...

Q: Your presentation of vegan food is unusually sophisticated. How much does the presentation inspire a recipe?

A: The food inspires the presentation every time, never the other way around. Our sense of plating has evolved over the years as another product of cooking every day. You start to look at the food components as colors, shapes, layers and textures. From there, it's just a matter of mentally re-arranging the blocks while cooking. For example, we're still in our "molded rice" and "tofu cut into funny shapes" phases, but that'll pass soon... ;)

Q: What has been most helpful to you in learning how to present vegan/raw food in an appealing way?

A: Hunger is the strongest motivating factor on the plating. It's done on the fly, because... well, we want to sit down and eat. No one wants to wait around while I'm fussing with the food for pictures -- meanwhile the food gets cold. The photography has also benefited from that -- get in, take the pictures and let's eat!

Q: Any advice for others?

A: The only advice we'd give on plating is to just try it out -- if it doesn't work there's always next time... The pictures we take are a bit like watching back game films -- it gives us an idea of what's working, or where it might have gone in a different direction or when it looks like dog food. ;)

Our kitchen gets a lot of natural light, plus the lighting inside gives good coverage. That's a big factor in letting the food shine. It allows you to get in close on the plate so you can see the details.

Q: What inspired you to try raw food?

A: We saw Juliano on TV, and bought his book ("Raw: An Uncook Book") and started playing around with it. That led to the Charlie Trotter & Roxanne Klein "Raw" book, which expanded our raw universe. That led to the idea of Raw Food Wednesdays. It's been a great deal of fun and we always look forward to trying something new each week.

Q: What do you feel are the benefits of eating raw?

A: The energy boost... and the dewy-soft skin ;)

Q: What are the biggest challenges/rewards associated with raw food?

A: The biggest challenge was the initial learning curve. It took a good six months before the raw food we prepared tasted consistently good. The reward has been a new culinary door that's been opened. Now we can't imagine Wednesdays without raw food.

Q: What are your favorite 3 ingredients?

A: Anything from the allium family (onion, garlic, leeks, chives), smoked paprika (heat & smoke), tofu

Q: What's the most important /useful ingredient you have discovered in the last year?

A: nutritional yeast -- better than all those parmesan cheese substitutes out there.

Q: What are your most inspirational cook books?

A: Of course, "Vegan with a Vengeance" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World" are genius -- is that check in the mail yet Isa? -- but few of the cookbooks we own are purely vegan.

We're definitely from the adapt/re-imagine school of recipes. Here's a desert island selection:

  • Auguste Escoffier -- "Le Guide Culinare" -- The original old-skool French cookbook, and we have a lot of fun re-inventing the wheel with these recipes.
  • Miyoko Nishimoto -- "Now and Zen Epicure" -- An elegant cookbook, and one of the first that showed veganism could be more than a brown rice casserole.
  • Julia Child -- "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Vol. 1" -- While it may seem quaint these day, it introduced French classics to America, and we still steal ideas from this book.
  • "Compassionate Cook" -- easy, accessible recipes that omnivores can also love -- as long as you don't mention it's from PETA ;)
  • James Peterson's "Vegetables" and "Sauces" -- Two books that we run to whenever faced with an unfamiliar veg, or need a refresher on the basics of sauce building.
  • Jean-George Vongerichten -- "Cooking at Home with a Four-star Chef" -- We love the spice combinations and the fusion of French and Asian cooking -- highly adaptable.
  • Susur Lee -- "Susur: A Culinary Life" -- Lots of plating ideas and food combinations that we're still wrapping our heads around.

Q: What's the best vegan meal you've prepared?

A: Seitan and Porcini Bourguignon in Phyllo, Roast Potatoes, Braised Leeks -- for a group of 30 non-vegans at a wine-pairing dinner. Their perspective was: it was a great dinner, period. It wasn't about herbivore vs. omnivore, it was about people coming together, sharing and enjoying a great meal.

Q: What's the best vegan meal that someone else has prepared for you?

A: If that ever happens, we'll let you know ;) The truth is that last year we ate at home 360/365 days -- we just don't eat out very often, so the opportunity doesn't present itself.

Q: Favorite restaurant meals?

A: Any meal we've eaten at Dragonfly in Columbus, OH. We wish we lived closer...

Q: OK, so you go by tofu, what's the most important thing about tofu?

A: Versatility -- it has the unique ability to step into any role (sauce, dessert, main course) with distinction.

Q: You are also a musician. Any philosophical/artistic/inspirational approaches that are common to both your music and cooking?

A: It's very similar -- the ability to improvise, adapt and create on the fly -- like taking a standard (song/dish) and making it your own.


Many thanks to Tofu for sharing here. If you ever make it out to the San Francisco Bay Area, I promise I'll organize a veganfest for you!


Blogger Anh said...

One thing i can say - you have done tofu proud! I love tofu, but don't know how to cook it well enough. You have truly inspired me!

5:22 PM  
Blogger bazu said...

I just love Tofu's blog- it's the most consistently gorgeous food blog out there! Thanks for this interview, and giving us something to aspire to.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Thanks for your comments. I'm thinking of doing a month of vegan food on the blog. What do you think?

9:11 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Thanks for the interview! I support the month of vegan blogs. You never know, you might just never go back!

11:44 PM  
Blogger Heidi and Justin said...

This is a fantastic interview. So many questions I have always wanted to ask the man behind the camera. Raw Food Wednesdays has inspired many foodies out there to try the bold fresh flavors of raw food. Thanks for sharing this interview with all of us on the WWW!

~ Heidi & Justin
Raw Food, Right Now!

12:59 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Mel and heidi and justine,

Thanks for commenting as now I've found your blogs. If you write a vegan blog and you're not on my sidebar, leave a comment here or let me know via email. I'd love to have a solid list.

8:00 PM  
Blogger rubyvroom said...

I have been following Tofu for some time now...everything I have tried to recreate has been marvelous. Tofu's pics are grand because I am so visual, I need to see what it is supposed to look like. Kudos for helping us get to know our vegan brother better!

6:52 AM  
Blogger winedeb said...

What a very interesting article. I will check out his blog right now. Super photos also.
As you know, the tomato crop in the US is going crazy right now. My kitchen counters are full of green and ripe tomatoes of all sorts. Any good recipes using fresh tomatoes, besides pairing them with basil, etc. ????

10:07 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Hi winedeb,

Tomato ideas - Bruschetta (tomatoes chopped with garlic and olive oil, s&p on toasted baguette), gaspacho, frittata, slice thick tomatoes and roast in the oven with thick slabs of onion, eggplant all coated with olive oil and balsamic and create a stacked vegetable napolean with polenta(vegetable towers

8:04 PM  
Blogger winedeb said...

Thanks Catherine! This should get my creative "tomatoes" going!!!

10:06 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

so any of you locals know where I can find the sea beans?

Oh, and winedeb, check out I'm Mad and I eat for the tomato drinks!

7:56 PM  
Blogger A Few Reservations said...

What a great site. Thanks for the tip.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Thanks Catherine and Tofu!
I'm such a fan of WtHDaVEA... I often check it for inspiration and have threatened on occasion to drop by Casa Tofu when driving through Ohio and beg and plead for dinner.

Vegan month would be fun - I bet it would really get your creative juices flowing.

What about joining in a Raw Wednesday or two? I'd be game...

8:08 AM  

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