Tal Ronnen, The Conscious Cook

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Chef Tal Ronnen is one of the most celebrated vegan chefs working today. In the spring of 2008, he became known nationwide as the chef who prepared vegan meals for Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day vegan cleanse. He has since catapulted to fame, catering Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding, Arianna Huffington’s party at the Democratic National Convention, and the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, Chef Tal has worked at the top vegan restaurants in the United States, including Sublime in Fort Lauderdale, Madeleine Bistro in Los Angeles, and Candle 79 in New York City. He also assisted Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders in opening her restaurant, VegiTerranean in Akron, Ohio, in 2007. Additionally, Chef Tal conducts master vegetarian workshops for students and staff at Le Cordon Bleu College campuses nationwide.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today. I get to talk for an hour about my favorite subject: food. Not just any kind of food, but plant-based food. We’re hearing a lot more, more, and more about plant-based foods. It’s actually very inspiring, very encouraging, and we’re going to talk more about that in the next sixty minutes. I have a great guest, and he’ll be on in a little bit. The very celebrated, wonderful, lovely Chef Tal Ronnen. You’ll be hearing more about him, but maybe you remember hearing about Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day vegan cleanse. Well, Tal Ronnen was the chef who prepared all of her vegan meals during that period, and he’s done a lot more. So stay tuned, and we’ll be hearing from him in a little bit.

Caryn: So I wanted to talk about some of the really positive things that are going on right now. There are more and more people that are talking about the importance of fruits and vegetables. At any time during the show you’re welcome to call in at 1-888-873-4643, and I also make it easy for you; you can always send an email at info@realmeals.org, info@realmeals.org. So what’s happening is I’m seeing more and more on the Internet and in the media about the importance of whole foods and fruits and vegetables. I wanted to talk about some examples. There’s a lot of inspiration coming right out of the White House, which is really exciting. There’s A White House Garden Cookbook, and there’s actually a lot of healthy vegetarian recipes in the book. Michelle Obama is giving a lot of encouragement to the importance of good nutrition and fruits and vegetables. I always say that movements happen at the grassroots level. It’s really up to us, the individuals, to make change, to make a difference. But boy, it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got people in the White House that are promoting good things. We’ll move a lot faster if the message is coming from the top as well as from the bottom. I’m not going to say who’s on top and who’s on bottom, but from more places it’s definitely good to get this message out about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. We’ll be in a lot better place. I personally promote a healthy plant-based diet of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds. But if everyone just added more plant foods in their diet—and there’s so many different ways to do it. You’ve got The New York Times’ food critic Mark Bittman who talks about [VB6: Eat] Vegan Before 6:00 PM, where he encourages people to eat a vegan diet before 6 PM, and after 6 PM you can do whatever you like. That’s one great recommendation, and if everyone in this country did this we’d be in a lot better place for our health, for the health of the planet, for the environment, and we’d also be causing a lot less pain and suffering for those animals out in the factory farms. But there are other ways to do it. There are these movements for Meatless Mondays. I had mentioned a while back that San Francisco recently passed a resolution to encourage people to eat a vegetarian diet—eat vegetarian plant foods—on Mondays and to encourage more restaurants to serve vegan options if at the very least on Monday, if not the entire whole week. We have more and more chefs actually talking about the importance of plant foods, and this is really exciting because for a long time… I know when I was a vegetarian twenty years ago, it was a little frustrating because I wanted to be able to go out and celebrate from time to time and get a lovely meal in a nice atmosphere, and yet it was really difficult in restaurants. Fortunately I live in New York, and in Manhattan we have so many, many wonderful vegetarian and vegan restaurants. But more and more restaurants are offering lots of great vegan dishes from appetizer, entrée, to dessert, even if it’s not a vegetarian restaurant. This is really a wonderful thing and it’s just showing where we’re going. We’re moving in the right direction. There was recently an event—the James Beard Foundation, they had their awards earlier in New York this month. The reporters asked many of the nation’s best chefs, “What’s going to be the next big cooking trend?” If you’ve been up on this, a lot of the restaurants have been pushing a lot of dishes with bacon, unfortunately. But now, the next big cooking trend? There’s a resounding response with many, many chefs, and the trend is going to be on vegetables. Yes, that’s true. I mentioned a while back about Jose Andres, who was on 60 Minutes. He said, I believe, “The future is vegetables and fruit. They are so much more sexier than a piece of chicken.” Celebrity chef Mario Batali, he announced that fourteen of his restaurants would begin observing Meatless Mondays with vegetables and grains taking on larger roles through the rest of the week. For those of you who watch television, you’ve caught Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and although I don’t agree with all the food that he is promoting, he definitely wants people to learn how to make food from scratch, have the people in the cafeteria start preparing food from a more whole start rather than from highly processed, nutrient-poor packaged food. This is all really, really exciting. But at the same time, we’ve got a lot of very confusing information. I really welcome anyone who reads something from time to time in the news or hears something on the radio or television that’s confusing about health, about certain foods, about certain things you can do. If you heard something that contradicts that, please send me an email at info@realmeals.org. If I don’t have the answer, I’m certainly willing to try and find it for you because that’s part of what’s really confusing out there. All these sound bites that we hear on television and the radio that tell you one thing is good or something else is good, and it really gets confusing. Nutrition shouldn’t be that confusing. Whole, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Most of your foods should come from the produce section, farmers markets, where all the colors are, all the great flavors.

Caryn: We’re going to get back to more of this in a little bit. But right now I want to introduce our guest. This is Chef Tal Ronnen. As mentioned before, he’s one of the most celebrated vegan chefs working today. You may recognize his name. He was the chef who prepared meals for Oprah Winfrey’s 21-day vegan cleanse. He has catered Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s vegan wedding, Arianna Huffington’s party at the Democratic National Convention, and made the first vegan dinner at the U.S. Senate. He is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute and he’s worked at top vegan restaurants in the United States, including Sublime in Fort Lauderdale—which I personally know is sublime—Madeleine Bistro in Los Angeles, and Candle 79 here in New York City. He also assisted Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders in opening her restaurant, VegiTerranean, in Akron, Ohio, in 2007. And he conducts master vegetarian workshops for students and staff at Le Cordon Bleu college campuses nationwide. Please welcome Tal Ronnen.

Tal Ronnen: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Caryn: Oh gosh. It’s me that’s really grateful. I love everything that you’re doing, and I’m really excited just to have a few minutes to talk with you about your work because what you’re doing is so, so important, so wonderful, so incredible. So thank you again.

Tal: Thank you, that’s kind of you to say. Nice to be with you.

Caryn: Yeah, I’m actually getting a little emotional thinking about it because we need so many people doing this work, and what I like about your cookbook, what I like about your dishes is not only are they healthy and good for the planet, but there’s really an art. There’s really a beauty in them. I appreciate that because I think everyone should put their best in what they do, and I think you are doing just that.

Tal: Thank you. That’s really sweet of you to say.

Caryn: Well, you know… I just see a lot of schlocky work out there—if you excuse my Yiddish—but it’s just that a lot of people just do things to either make a quick buck or just to get something done and move on. But I really think we’re on this planet to do more than that.

Tal: Definitely, definitely.

Caryn: So let’s just start from the beginning. I read in your book that you had two vegetarian sisters and then at some point you became a vegetarian. What was that “aha” moment?

Tal: For me it was a combination of things. In my family we had heart disease, I had lost a sister to cancer…

Caryn: I’m sorry to hear that.

Tal: It was also definitely about the environment and how animals are raised for food, so a real combination of things.

Caryn: Your cookbook is really lovely, and one of the things that I like about it is it has a very personal touch. You use the first person a lot—“I like this” and “I like that”—and I think it really makes a connection. That’s really important to me, to make a connection. That’s one of the things I think we’re here on this planet: to connect with all life on earth. So I appreciate you making that connection. I put a lot of little strips of paper in here to remember all the things I wanted to talk about. The whole book is filled with yellow strips of paper.

Tal: That’s great.

Caryn: The first thing is meat cashew cream.

Tal: Yes. I don’t have a great taste for soymilk. I think it has a beany kind of flavor, and it doesn’t have fat so I really don’t see it as a replacement for cream or heavy cream in sauces. The book is really based on the foods that I miss growing up eating in a very foodie family. A lot of it is really based on French culinary techniques. Cashew cream is one of those things that really took me a long way as far as making recipes like béarnaise sauces and creamy sauces that you really can’t do with soymilk because it doesn’t have fat. One of the reasons that I think the book is so different than most vegetarian cookbooks have been written by the home cook and they focus on low-fat or no-fat, and I take a very different approach. I think fat does equal flavor and healthy fats are essential, especially when you’re trying to cook for someone who’s used to eating meat or is coming off of really heavy diets and trying to work in more vegetarian foods into their lives. You’re going to be a lot more successful if you can create dishes that really satisfy them. So cashew cream is used throughout the book for soups, sauces, desserts; it’s just a really great substitute for milk or heavy cream.

Caryn: You mention using healthy fats, and healthy fats are so important in our diet. People don’t realize we need the three macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—and at one point or another they’ve all gotten some bad press. We need carbohydrates, we need whole carbohydrates.

Tal: Yeah, I heard you talking about that before I came on. I was glad you brought that up because every week there is a different study that says you should eat this or you shouldn’t eat that, and it is hard for consumers to know what to eat. A lot of times you have to look at where that paper was published, who funded the study, if there was a special interest group behind the study. I visited a festival a couple weeks ago and it was primarily a vegan festival and people were talking about eating no oils and no fat. I was just really disappointed because I think it’s a really bad way to bring people onboard with vegetarian eating. The more restrictive you make it for people, the less people you’re gonna bring onboard. I can certainly understand recommending low-fat, no-fat for someone who is sick and needs that type of diet. But if you’re really talking about bringing vegetarian food into the mainstream it’s gotta taste good, and that’s definitely my first priority when I think about creating recipes.

Caryn: Well, yes. I say a resounding yes. I just want to reiterate some of the things you just said. There’s a great book by Caldwell Esselstyn, who’s a retired cardiologist from the Cleveland Cardiology Institute, and he wrote a great book. What he talks about is really, really next to no-fat, low-fat for people with very serious cardiac disease and he’s turned a lot of people around and that’s great. But then there have been—

Tal: It’s great for people that are sick—

Caryn: That are really sick.

Tal: —but if we’re talking about that to the general public I think that can be a little bit dangerous too, ‘cause I think you can really alienate people when you talk to them about having to go to a restaurant and asking them to sauté your veggies without any fat or juice. I think it sends also the wrong message to a restaurant that being a vegan is impossible. That’s certainly something we don’t wanna do.

Caryn: But then there are studies that come out that say that in order to get the nutrition we need like in dark leafy green vegetables, which are on the top of my list as the most important food to eat, we can’t absorb those fat-soluble nutrients without fat.

Tal: Exactly. Yep.

Caryn: So here’s to cashew cream.

Tal: I think it’s a good balance. If you look at how traditional cultures eat and you try and stick to that, I think it’s really important. Protein is another big reason I think that a lot of Americans have not been into eating vegetarian or vegan because when they go out to eat, they are usually served at a restaurant a bunch of side dishes that don’t have a protein component. A lot of people in the vegetarian community and doctors in the vegetarian community talk about how we get way too much protein in America, and that’s probably true. But for someone who’s used to eating a lot of protein, not to have a protein component in a meal is not gonna be very satisfying; if they’re served a plate of vegetables, they’re not going to continue eating that way. In the book The Conscious Cook, every entrée has at center of the plate protein. There’s a chapter about plant-based proteins and how the rest of the world really does get their protein from plant-based sources, whether it’s beans from Mexico or whole grains from South America or soy from Asia, lentils from India—not that all those cultures are vegetarian, but the bulk of their protein intake is plant-based. Meat is often just an accent on the plate, never at the center of the plate like it is in an American diet where we’re eating animal-based protein for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven times a week, three times a day. It’s why we lead the world in heart disease, cancer, and stroke. That’s what people are used to eating. So to bring them along to a vegetarian diet, I think it’s very important to have a protein component when you’re serving a vegetarian meal to a non-vegetarian.

Caryn: Okay, here’s what I really love about all of this. Why shouldn’t a chef not only be slim, fit, and attractive, but know something about nutrition in addition to making tasty food? And that’s you. I mean, shouldn’t that be expected?

Tal: I think for most chefs, their focus is to create really tasty, exciting, visually appealing food. We eat with our eyes first, so when a plate comes to the table, a chef really focuses on the presentation and then how it smells, how it tastes, the different textures to a dish. I think that’s primarily their focus. For me there is definitely a health component to it, but I really want to focus also on creating meals that are just as appealing to a vegetarian as they are to someone who does eat meat. That’s why I think the book is very different than most vegetarian cookbooks that are out there now.

Caryn: I’m talking with Chef Tal Ronnen, and we’re talking about his wonderful cookbook The Conscious Cook. It’s got some really beautiful pictures in here, a lot of them by my friend Linda Long, making them really appetizing.

Tal: Yes, great photographer.

Caryn: Yeah.

Tal: We had quite a fun time doing that. We shot the photos at Vegiterranean, which is the restaurant I helped Chrissie Hynde open in Ohio, and Linda came out for that. We did two weeks’ worth of shooting. There is a loft above the restaurant, so we were able to turn it into a studio and then use the kitchen downstairs at the restaurant, bring the plated pictures up, and Linda shot them and it was great. We did all the plating on our own; we didn’t have a stylist. I think a lot of books, you see ten full-color photos in the middle of the book and they’re highly styled with gels and glassware that really detracts from the food. I really wanted to shoot on white and let the food really stand out and Linda did a great job of capturing that.

Caryn: Well as a reader I’m always frustrated when the pictures are somewhere else. I wanna see the picture right next to the recipe.

Tal: I was very lucky to have HarperCollins agree to that. It’s very rare that a cookbook has a full-color photo accompanying every dish. I think they felt that was important since this was a new style of book.

Caryn: Right. Another great thing is you mention some of the people that you’ve worked with, their stories, and give them a lot of credit. It’s really very interesting reading.

Tal: Yeah, I wanted it to be more than just a cookbook. Kind of more of my journey from becoming a vegetarian to becoming a chef and the people who have influenced me, chefs from the traditional side to the other vegan chefs like Eric Tucker and David Anderson from Madeleine Bistro, he’s just been a really great friend and mentor of mine. People from the industry like Yves Potvin, who developed Gardein, which is a product I just fell in love with four years ago and now work with him on creating new flavors and formats. Bob Goldberg from Follow Your Heart, who has an all solar-powered factory in Canoga Park near Los Angeles where he actually produces all the energy he needs from these solar panels and actually sells electricity back to the city of Los Angeles. Really, people who are innovating and influencing how we make food.

Caryn: People need to hear these stories. On the news we’re always hearing about all the horror that’s going on and yet there’s wonderful things happening to make healthy products in a healthy way so we can have our cake and eat it too.

Tal: Yeah, it’s true. I think there is a lot of negative focus around the vegetarian moment. Certainly there is the horrors of factory farming and all of that, but if you don’t give people an easy and accessible way to change their diet, showing them all of that isn’t gonna make a difference. It’ll make a difference maybe the night they watch it, and if they see a movie like Food, Inc. or The Cove, any of these wonderful documentaries that have been coming out. But if they don’t have an easy way to transition to a better diet, they’re not gonna do it. That’s certainly been my focus for ten years now, is to help people do that. Do that with culinary schools across the U.S. with Le Cordon Blue at fourteen campuses in the U.S. now that I work with and through food products like Gardein and through restaurants. It’s really important to give people very easy ways to eat this way, otherwise they’re just not going to come along.

Caryn: Now I was very fortunate to attend the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine gala in Los Angeles in April. We had some of your food there. We had the Gardein Piccata, was it?

Tal: We did chanterelle-dusted Gardein with a…

Caryn: Oh, right. With a tomato bisque, we had that too.

Tal: We had a tomato bisque soup. What was the sauce we did with the Gardein…I think it was a port reduction. But yeah, that was a great event and I think it showed people that eating vegetarian food can not only taste good but can look really visually appealing and gourmet and all of that.

Caryn: Well what I was amazed at is the food tasted really fresh and really delicious. Usually when you’re at an event like this and there’s meals being made for so many people, you lose something in the quality and the freshness and the taste, and this was probably—

Tal: You do, and that’s because most banquets over two hundred or four hundred are prepped so far ahead of time. I do this for a lot of different charities ranging from two to seven hundred people. I work with these hotels, and often the food as to sit in what’s called a warmer—a hot box, a transit box—for two hours before the event, and that’s where you really lose texture and flavor and color. It’s interesting that you picked that up because at that gala we were really fortunate to work with the caterer who has the contract, Gary at Global Gourmet on that lot where we were at, where he actually brought in thirty-seven chefs to plate that dinner. It was just like an orchestra; I think we plated over 450 meals in eighteen minutes. It was just a record for me. Really great working with Gary and his crew, and was a really fun night.

Caryn: Well you could taste it. Absolutely. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to the food that I eat and it was really outstanding, so thank you for that.

Tal: That’s great.

Caryn: Most people, when we talk about a vegan diet, the thing they cry about the most is cheese. You’ve got two wonderful recipes for a cashew cheese and a macadamia cheese in your book.

Tal: Those are from my friend Chad Sarno who opened up a restaurant in London called Saf a few years ago. It was the first time I was really exposed to raw food that I’d liked. I never really took it seriously until I met Chad, who Woody Harrelson calls the Michael Jordan of raw food. I went to London to work with him on the opening of the restaurant and was just blown away by what he was doing with raw food. I’d look at a raw food recipe that said, “Dehydrate for nine hours,” and when I’d get to that part of the recipe I’d just throw it in a deep fryer and get the same results, right? Chad really showed me the benefits and really beautiful techniques that go hand-in-hand with creating raw food. The two cheeses, the cashew cheese and the macadamia nut cheese, are recipes that he developed and I’ve used in different ways. He’s just a great guy; he’s now working with Whole Foods on a new healthy initiative eating program that they’re launching in every Whole Foods store across the U.S., so he’s got a very important job now.

Caryn: That’s very exciting. Well what I love about the cheese is it uses probiotics, which are healthy enzymes to help us digest the food. You have to soak the cashews or the macadamias, whatever you’re using, which also helps in breaking down some of the enzymes that are difficult to digest. So it’s like a win-win: you’re making something that’s healthy, easy to digest, and tastes great, whereas a milk cheese isn’t.

Tal: Yeah, exactly. The process is very similar to making real cheese by using the probiotics, and definitely gives you that tangy flavor that you don’t get with soy cheese and other processed cheese products. There’s really not too many on the market that I would eat, so it’s been fun making my own cheeses. Next weekend I’m having a little get-together and I’m gonna do a fondue and it’s also gonna be cashew-based. It’s fun. It’s like creating things that haven’t been done before. So exciting. I feel that a lot of chefs are kind of stuck in the same rut of learning how to cook traditional French techniques and then carrying those on in their restaurants or hotels. I feel like there’s a lot of uncharted territories when it comes to vegan food.

Caryn: Right. Do you think people will be making these vegan cheeses for sale?

Tal: I think eventually, yeah. Anything that needs to be aged is obviously more expensive than processed cheese, and in the U.S. that’s really the bulk of what people eat is processed cheese. So I think somebody has to take the time and invest because it’s not a quick turnaround like processed cheese. You can make and pack the same day and sell it, whereas an aging process is a bit of an investment in the future product. So I think eventually someone will do it.

Caryn: Okay. I just wanna know a few more things.

Tal: Sure.

Caryn: You are really a celebrity yourself today, at least one of the most celebrated vegan chefs that we have and you’ve— I’m not quite sure how it happened, but you prepared those twenty-one days’ worth of meals for Oprah during her cleanse and you catered Ellen DeGeneres’ wedding and Arianna Huffington’s event. How did all of that happen?

Tal: A lot of it is thanks to my good friend Kathy Freston. I’ve been fortunate to work on two projects with her. She wrote a book called Quantum Wellness, which I wrote the recipes for, and then the Quantum Wellness Cleanse, which I wrote the recipe for. She has just really brought veganism to a new level and brought it to the mainstream where it hadn’t been taken to before. Her book Quantum Wellness, along with Kathy, was featured on Oprah. Oprah was very interested in the cleanse and I was with Chad in London helping him open Saf when I got the call from Kathy that Oprah wanted to try the cleanse, and would I come out to Chicago and cook for her for three weeks? Believe it or not, at first I was very hesitant because I was so excited about what we were doing in London: the first gourmet vegan restaurant in London. I didn’t know—I knew who Oprah was, but it wasn’t until I met her and saw the caliber of the show and just what a great person that she is—generous, kind—the caliber of guests that she has on the show and what an impact that show has in peoples’ lives that I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe I was even thinking of not coming here.”

Caryn: Absolutely.

Tal: But it was also very, very nerve-wracking. Three weeks of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, her blogging about each meal—it’s certainly something I never expected, being in the limelight, and being on TV’s not something that I’m comfortable with or wanna do. So it was tough but it was certainly worthwhile.

Caryn: Well it was incredible, and all the vegans were blogging about it all over the place and we were all very excited. Oprah’s great about the way she can promote certain things; she certainly has a lot of power that way. But here is somebody who can really do anything and have wonderful chefs to prepare wonderful food for her all the time, so the question is why didn’t she continue?

Tal: I think she does. I don’t ever speak about the clients I work for and their personal life or what they eat, but I can tell you she took a lot away from that and definitely eats a lot healthier than she used to.

Caryn: That’s great.

Tal: Really commend her on that.

Caryn: That’s really good to hear.

Tal: Yeah.

Caryn: Okay. So is there anything else you would like to share with us before I let you go?

Tal: No. I just want to thank you for having me on and thank your listeners for listening. It was a great discussion.

Caryn: Thank you. Thank you so much for this time and for everything that you do. Please check out The Conscious Cook by Chef Tal Ronnen. It is delicious.

Tal: Thank you so much for having me. Take care, bye-bye.

Caryn: You’re listening to It’s All About Food, and I’m your host, Caryn Hartglass. Please send me an email at info@realmeals.org any time during the show or during the week, and I’d be happy to answer your questions and comments. We’re going to take a quick break and I’ll be right back.

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Caryn: I’m Caryn Hartglass, your host of It’s All About Food. And we’re back! So I was just speaking with Chef Tal Ronnen and his luscious cookbook, The Conscious Cook. There were still a few more things I wanted to talk about in this book because it really is so incredible and incredibly yummy. He talks about a number of different people that have influenced him or he has worked with, and one of them is Bob Goldberg, and he created a product that a lot of us use today called Vegenaise. Now I have to confess that I used to call it [vee-guh-neyz], but I learned it’s [veh-juh-neyz]. What it is, is a vegan, animal product-free, delicious mayonnaise. It really opens up a whole world of different things that you can make with a mayonnaise base, which you couldn’t make before when, as a vegan, if you gave up eggs. One of them that’s really fabulous that’s in the book is a Horseradish Mayonnaise made with this vegan mayonnaise and a little sweetener like agave, pepper and salt, and a little lemon, and wow. It’s great. It’s great in sandwiches, as a spread, over a veggie burger. It really doesn’t take much to make something with a lot of flavor to just bring out the taste in everything. There are some lovely hearty foods in this book; there’s a corn chowder. Something I mentioned from time to time is your food will taste better when the quality of your ingredients is high. That’s why I always use as often as possible—so I guess always wasn’t the right word—but I use as often as I can, organic produce. Locally grown. Because the food is higher in quality, higher in nutrition, and higher in flavor. There’s nothing like a fresh, organic Yukon Gold potato, and that’s what he calls for in his corn chowder. He also uses that wonderful cashew cream we talked a lot about. There’s just a few more recipes I wanted to talk about just because they’re so yummy, and I wish you could see these pictures. The cheeses, like I mentioned before—there’s a picture here of Macadamia Caprese with Fresh Tomatoes, and oh my god. First of all, it looks so much like cheese and the taste is fabulous. And then this Gardein product that Tal mentioned, which is now available in Whole Foods and other health food stores, is a really great product. It comes in a number of different flavors, and one of them is like a chicken filet. It’s a product made from soy, wheat, and pea protein. Very easy to use, very flavor, and a great transition food if you’re looking to eliminate animal products from your diet. And so many people say, “I know. I don’t eat red meat anymore or I’m trying not to eat red meat, but I eat a lot of chicken and fish. I like to call them the feathered vegetable and the scaly vegetable.” But those foods really aren’t healthy either, and they’re certainly not healthy on the planet. There are many, many chickens today that are growing up crammed in those horrific factory farms, living in their own excrement and filth, and E. coli and Salmonella and all that other good stuff is going in and out of their flesh and then you get it and you eat it. It’s not a good picture. When we have products like Gardein, that taste great and you can use them just like chicken, it’s amazing. It’s very, very inspiring. There are a few desserts in this cookbook too. The one that I’m looking at right now that I wish I had a piece of is the Coffee Date Cake with Coconut Irish Cream Sauce. The Coconut Irish Cream Sauce, you can also use to make a vegan version of Irish cream—that whiskey that has the cream in it. So lots of wonderful, yummy-yummy things in this book. I can’t say enough about it.

Caryn: Okay. So earlier in the show I started talking about people often being confused about what they hear on television and not knowing which way to go. Sometimes you hear that meat is healthy, chicken is healthy, fish is healthy. Sometimes you may hear that they’re not. The thing that I always say is if you’re going to hear something, before you believe it you really should check the references. Certainly on television that’s a little difficult to do, but if you’re reading a book or reading a magazine article, you wanna check the references, and if there aren’t any references, beware. I just read something today that made me think of this. So there’s an article from the Winnipeg Free Press. Okay, I don’t know how popular this is, but I caught an article in it from a guy, Rod Bruinooge, who went on one of these all high-protein, low-carb diets and had diabetes and now is fine and lost a lot of weight and is promoting this sort of diet. Here’s where people can really be confused. One of the good things about this kind of diet is that it encourages not eating certain foods that aren’t healthy, which are the high-processed carbohydrate foods. People get confused, because as humans we can’t live without carbohydrates, but we need the right kind: whole food carbohydrates. Not carbohydrates from highly processed foods. What are the highly processed foods? White flour foods, candies, cookies, sugars, sodas. All those things that are really staples in many peoples’ diet today, and that’s why so many more people are coming down with diabetes, younger and younger ages, obesity, all of that stuff. And so even on a diet that I personally don’t think is healthy, which is a very high-animal protein diet like the Atkins diet, the good thing that people can take out of it is eliminating these unhealthy, highly processed carbohydrates: the junk foods. That’s a good thing. But then the bad thing is eating a lot of animal protein. And even though people may have some early results that are positive, where they’re losing weight and having more energy and feeling better, the long term is not going to be good. It’s not good for our personal health and it’s certainly not good for the planet. I’ve said numerous times that the planet cannot sustain everyone that’s living on the planet today on a high-animal product diet. Everybody on this diet cannot be eating lots of meat and dairy. Why? Because we don’t have enough space on this planet to hold all of those animals that we have to grow and feed and clean up after. So right now we’re feeling the weight of the damage animal agriculture is doing to our planet with global warming, with soil erosion because we’re growing so many plants to feed so many animals to feed people, and we wouldn’t have to grow as many plants if we were feeding them directly to people. And there wouldn’t be as many animals if we weren’t eating them. There’d be a lot greater balance on the planet. So what I try and do is tie the dots between some of these diets that some people may think are beneficial and point out all the reasons why they may not be.

Caryn: Another thing that we don’t hear enough about—we’re certainly hearing plenty about this horrible thing that’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico with the BP oil spill. It’s really frightening and disheartening because we don’t really know what’s going on, we don’t know how it’s going to be fixed, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the short term, what’s going to happen in the long term; it’s a really frightening thing and we also feel very helpless because what can we do as individuals about it? But there are lots of other things that are going on that we don’t hear about and we don’t hear enough about that we can do something about. For example, there have been lots of different kinds of spills, like manure spills, from dairy farms. We never hear anything about them. It might just be a little blip in a local paper, maybe. But these things happen all the time. There was the Marks Dairy Farm manure spill in 2005, where three million gallons of liquid cow manure was deposited in the Black River in upstate New York and killed approximately 200,000 to 250,000 fish. Okay, somebody might think that’s a drop in the bucket. But there’s a lot of these spills that go on all over the place that really don’t get any press and do a lot of damage. There was a giant lagoon—gosh, maybe fifteen years ago—that held eight acres of hog excrement and it burst, and twenty-five million gallons of hog urine and feces went into the New River in North Carolina. Ten to fourteen million fish were killed. This spill was twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, and yet how many of you remember it or know of it? Now why am I bringing these things up? Because there’s something you can do about these things, and that is reduce or eliminate the animal products in your diet. If we’re not purchasing these products, less will be produced, and so there’ll be a smaller damaging impact on our diet, on our environment. That’s something that you can do. You can do it three times a day with every meal. It’s so, so important. Even if you don’t wanna go vegetarian, that’s fine. As I was mentioning before, there’s so many different things that you can do: Vegan Before 6, Meatless Mondays. Many, many great opportunities to eat more of these fabulous plant foods. And now that’s the next hot trend in cuisine: vegetables. So get with it.

Caryn: Okay. In the last few minutes, I wanted to talk about gardening. But I wanted to remind you that you can send an email at any time to info@realmeals.org, or you can also call in at 1-888-873-4643. So here in Manhattan, the weather is great and spring is here, and we see a lot of greenery, a lot of things coming up. I have a balcony at my apartment and I’m always growing things out there, so this is really a fun, exciting time. Got a lot of different planters. What’s been exceptionally fun the last few years is that things are coming up without me doing anything at all. There’s a number of different flowers—I’ve got some really beautiful lilies—that just come up. I don’t have to plant them. They’re there, they’re beautiful. And then I’ve planted a number of herbs over the years, and the dill—which of course we call a dill weed—comes up now because it’s a weed and it just pops up. There’s nothing better than fresh herbs, and dill is great chopped up in a fresh salad. I also like it in soups and it’s also great in dips. I like particularly to make silken tofu in a blender with some fresh garlic and fresh dill. Really great. You’ve gotta add a lot of dill to make it almost green, ‘cause that’s my favorite color, but it also gives it a lot of flavor. But the thing I wanted to talk about are seeds. Seeds are really important, and unfortunately with some corporations, they’re trying to get control of our seeds. If a company controls our seeds—company or companies—they have control of our food supply. So it can really be daunting and somewhat scary. I’m not bringing this up to scare you, but. Seeds are really important. Just like I like encourage people to go into the kitchen and prepare their own food, which is something that we’re getting more and more away from with fast food and all kinds of prepared foods in the stores today, we also need to get back into the garden and get our hands dirty and plant seeds for lots of reasons. But rather than get seeds from a package, which you certainly can do, I encourage saving seeds. Saving seeds are really fun. We’ve got a collection at home of a variety of different seeds. We buy organic apples and organic pears, and we’ve been saving the seeds from the apples and the pears. We had a variety of different squashes in the wintertime, and we saved some of those seeds. When I grow my herbs and then they flower, I save some of those seeds. I buy a variety of heirloom tomatoes, or I did some time ago. This is a little more challenging, but I saved the seeds from the tomato. It’s not that hard, but I just collect the goo with the seeds from the tomato and put them in a little dish and wait for it to dry, and then I just kind of scrape it into an envelope and seal it. And then the following year, I can plant them. So that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve got a number of different varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are growing and some squash and it’s really exciting to see these seeds that we’ve saved actually growing, and growing in New York City from an apartment building. I think there’s something in our DNA actually that gets excited about growing food. Children get excited when they plant a seed and then see the little sprout grow up and are ultimately able to eat what they’ve grown. This makes a great gift too. My four-year-old niece, for my birthday, gave me a pot that she painted herself and she gave me some basil seeds. Now I’ve got basil growing on my terrace in this lovely little pot. I’m probably going to have to move it to a larger one because I need more space. But what a lovely thing. It started out as a gift, and now I’m using it, and the rest of the gift will come later, when I’m able to make some wonderful pesto. I just want to leave you with a great recipe for pesto.

Caryn: Now pesto is made from fresh basil, and it’s gotta be fresh. Basil in the jar, dried, really doesn’t work when you’re making a good pesto. Pesto: fresh garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and in a traditional version, parmesan cheese is used, but I don’t use parmesan cheese. You can make different variations on a theme, I like to say. Instead of using pine nuts, walnuts are great. Instead of using basil, arugula works very nicely. Different greens, or parsley—a parsley-walnut type of pesto. It’s so easy. You just blend these things up in a blender, and it stays a really long time in the refrigerator and it goes great on anything as a spread: on bread for a sandwich, with potatoes—of course, pesto and potatoes—on any whole grain. Really, really, really yum-my. Saving seeds is really, really fun. You know, I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the long term. But we may need people to be saving seeds. What I don’t understand, and maybe someone can explain this to me, is why we like our foods without seeds or why we’re getting more and more foods that’re grown without seeds, and why are we encouraged or why do we encourage our children to not like seeds? It’s really difficult now to find watermelon without seeds, ‘cause people somehow don’t seem to like spitting out the seeds—wasn’t that fun? Wasn’t that one of the fun parts of eating watermelon, was spitting out the seeds? Oranges, more and more, it’s really hard to find them with seeds or many seeds in them. Yet keep in mind we can’t reproduce food without seeds. They’re really important, and I would really encourage you to love the seeds in your food because we need them in the long term. Well, thanks for listening and I think it was a great show today. I loved listening and talking to Chef Tal Ronnen. He’s really a very positive person and is doing many wonderful things: providing access to yummy, yummy, delicious food in his books; or with the people that he’s worked at at the variety of restaurants; or with the product Gardein that he’s working with. Well, thanks for listening today and I’ll be back next week on It’s All About Food. Bye-bye.

Transcribed by JC, 4/17/2016

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