Part I: Linda Riebel
Linda Riebel, is a psychologist and environmental educator. At Saybrook University in San Francisco, where she has been on the faculty since 1993, she helped create the sustainability program. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as of many environmental organizations. At SaveNature.org, she is program director of Edible EdVentures, which brings the message of earth-friendly food to classrooms around the Bay Area.
Linda was assisted by Ken Jacobsen, a researcher and planner for high-tech corporations, who has also catered, taught cooking, and written a cookbook. Their original edition of the book was Eating to Save the Earth: Food Choices for a Healthy Planet (2002).
The Green Foodprint draws from a variety of sources: books, government reports, scientific studies, newsletters and websites of environmental organizations, and personal communications with numerous experts. Newspapers, including the New York Times, were valuable in showcasing good news (such as growing food on rooftops), and keeping us up to date on unfolding stories, such as ocean depletion.
Part II: Roberto Martin
When Roberto Martin began working for Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, he was not a vegan chef. He quickly discovered that the flavors that worked in his best non-vegan dishes – the dishes he loved and that were adored by his many celebrity clients — worked in vegan dishes as well. He learned how to make delicious, easy substitutions of animal-based products with plant-based protein to create perfect, familiar and comforting food that also happens to be easy-to-make, healthy and vegan!
In VEGAN COOKING FOR CARNIVORES, Roberto shares over 125 satisfying, meat-free recipes, such as Banana and Oatmeal Pancakes, Whole Wheat Waffles with Maple-Berry Syrup, Chick’n Pot Pie, Mac’N Cheese, Fajita Quesadillas, Avocado Reuben, Red Beans and Rice, Chocolate Cheesecake, Mexican Wedding Cookies and Chocolate Chip Magic Bars. The recipes are easy for the home cook to make with ingredients available at any supermarket. With Roberto’s goal in mind of encouraging Americans to eat at least one vegan meal per week, the cookbook will appeal to both die-hard carnivores and vegans alike.
Roberto Martin attended the Culinary Institute of America, became a private chef, and honed his knowledge of nutrition and health customizing meals to meet the dietary needs of his celebrity clients. Now, Roberto cooks exclusively vegan meals for the DeGeneres household, and appears frequently on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you are listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me for another week where I get to talk for an hour about my favorite subject, food and all the things that are related to the food that we eat: our planet Earth, our health and animals. So, today I want to talk about food and food choices and how they affect the health of people and the health of the planet and I’m going to be doing that specifically with my new guest Linda Riebel, who wrote a book called The Green Foodprint.
Let me tell you a little bit about her. She’s a psychologist and environmental educator. At Saybrook University in San Francisco, where she has been on the faculty since 1993, she helped create the sustainability program. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, as well as many environmental organizations. At SaveNature.org, she is program director of Edible EdVentures, which brings the message of earth-friendly food to classrooms around the Bay Area. The Green Foodprint draws from a variety of sources: books, government reports, scientific studies, newsletters and websites of environmental organizations, personal communications with numerous experts. Newspapers, including the New York Times, were valuable in showcasing good news (such as growing food on rooftops), and keeping us up to date on unfolding stories, such as ocean depletion. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about this book from Linda. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Linda Riebel: Thank you, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, how are you today?
Linda Riebel: Well, I’m very excited to be speaking to your listeners and really supporting the movement toward food that’s healthy for person and planet.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen. So, we all need to be doing our part, and you certainly have done a good piece in writing this book, which sums up a lot of very important information.
Linda Riebel: Thank you. Yeah, my goal was, as you said, to sum up a lot of information, because there’s so much information out there and so many kinds of decisions to make that I wanted to boil it down to make it easy to remember and also for people to have kind of a mental template for dealing with so much conflicting new information.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so worth using.
Linda Riebel: For varying new types of ideas.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so, so confusing. I love the internet, and there’s so much information there, but you have to know what’s good and what isn’t good. What’s real and what isn’t real.
Linda Riebel: Exactly, and you need to be able to tell which website or speaker is simply fronting for big agribusiness.
Caryn Hartglass: The title ‘Foodprint,’ that’s kind of clever. Where did that come from, and what are you trying to say with that?
Linda Riebel: Ok, well, it actually started out as a typo. My first book on food and the environment was called Eating to Save the Earth and came out ten years ago, and I was just typing up folders of letters to people and that kept cropping up. As people began to talk about their carbon footprint, I thought well, gee, this makes sense. If we can reduce our food footprint on the earth, it’s incredibly important because the agriculture portion of our economy, and by that I mean including packaging, transportation, etc., produces something like 20 percent of greenhouse gases. So, anything we can do individually to cut that down is important, and actually even the big corporations are paying attention. I’m just reading the most recent news, which I’m sure you’ve been on top of as well, that General Mills has found a way to put more Cheerios into their big Cheerio boxes, and they figure that this one change alone will save 1,000 trees a year.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, because there is always so much extra space in those cereal boxes!
Linda Riebel: Right, and I’m not a big cereal eater, but a lot of people are, and if that one change can save a thousand trees, just imagine all of the other changes.
Caryn Hartglass: There are so many things that we can do just by thinking, and most people aren’t. Most people are kind of sleepwalking or not focused on what’s really important, but absolutely, there are so many ways that we can save little bits here and there, and those little bits do add up. It’s just like the little drops that are necessary to fill a bucket.
Linda Riebel: I’m remembering a talk that Howard Lyman gave some years ago. Howard Lyman, I’m sure you know and maybe your listeners need to know, is the author of Mad Cowboy, in which he tells the story of growing up as a cattle rancher and then having an epiphany and then turning out and becoming an organic, vegan activist. In this talk he said, “We don’t have to reach everybody.” If we reach enough people, and I don’t know if he said 20 percent or what figure, then the rest will follow. When I get discouraged, I remember that and say: we’ve got to reach the key people and we are.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, you wrote a book ten years ago about saving the earth and now you’ve written this one. What have you seen change in those ten years?
Linda Riebel: Oh, well first of all, it’s wonderful. There are so many… there is so much more awareness. The organic niche of the food market has been growing hugely every year, and that’s because people are buying it. They are willing to the price, premium. And every bit of news that comes out about GMO and pesticides, it just drives people more and more to awaken. Another thing is, that I’ve seen in the last ten years, is the number of organizations involved. [Caryn: Mm-hm.] Do you know Paul Hawken’s group Wiser Earth? It’s a website, wiser.org, and it’s kind of a clearinghouse of groups all around the planet that are working for sustainability, and I just checked it out today. If you put in “sustainable food,” there are over 5,000 non-profit organizations working on sustainable food, and if you put in “healthy food,” there are 900. If you put in “organic food” in this wiser.org website, you get over 8,000 organizations. So, the positive news is that people are getting together, and of course there is your organization. You have a 501(c)(3).
Caryn Hartglass: I do. ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com
Linda Riebel: Yes, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s what it’s all about: healthy food.
Linda Riebel: Yes, your name. I love your name, and I love the acronym, so I’m so happy that you are inviting me to be on the show here.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Linda Riebel: We’re really on the same page.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Well, I always like… I like talking to people that I agree with. [Laughs] But you know what? Occasionally, I talk to people that I don’t entirely agree with, and I’m kind of on a campaign right now to align with people about what we do agree on. Many of us, even though we don’t agree on some of the details, we do agree on ending factory farming, making food organic, getting most of our food from local sources, ending genetically modified food and making food accessible and affordable. I think everybody in the alternative food movement can agree on those issues.
Linda Riebel: Exactly. Well, you know as a psychologist, I have some thoughts to offer on how to talk to people who are different from yourself. In fact, I even want to create a course on this for Saybrook, where I teach. But for the moment, let me just mention some thoughts. Some of these may be pretty obvious, that your readers, I mean your listeners will say oh, yes, yes I know that one. The first is to emphasize the positive. Now, those of us who are deeply engaged in the alternative food movement have got to understand the negative. We have to read all the bad news, but when we are talking to naïve people, that is, people who are busy with their lives and have kids to raise, or whatever, and we’re not blaming them that they just… they’re newbies, right?
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.
Linda Riebel: So, we emphasize the positive, so instead of saying: Oh my god, this pesticide’s everywhere, we could say: Isn’t it wonderful that there’s so much organic food? And the second tip I would give is to emphasize options. There are so many choices, and, in fact, that was one of the main drivers of my book The Green Foodprint is to say whatever your lifestyle, if you want… even if you don’t have a lot of money, there is a little bit you can do for organic.
Caryn Hartglass: We can always do better.
Linda Riebel: Right. Even if you eat meat, which I don’t, and I would love it if our meat industry gradually fades away, because it’s the most damaging aspect of our whole food system.
Linda Riebel: But even if you do eat meat, you can do A, B and C to reduce your meat impact and slowly make your way towards sustainability. I think a third point is to set an example. Whenever I go to potlucks, I take the tastiest vegetarian dish that I can and invite people to try that out.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep, we have to be the best we possibly can. Just be the best model and then people want to know what it is you are doing.
Linda Riebel: Right and I don’t think we need to be perfect. In fact, I think that probably would backfire…
Caryn Hartglass: That’s my problem. [laughs] I’m kidding.
Linda Riebel: My 25 years in therapy practice working with people who had eating disorders – they knew what the right thing to do was. They know where they wanted to get, and the perfectionism of ‘I’m going to lose ten pounds tomorrow’ or some impossible goal was part of the problem. I think the last persuasion point I would make is to take questions and criticism as an opportunity to educate. In other words, if somebody says, as you and I always hear, “Well where do you get your protein?” Instead of rolling our eyes and saying, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you don’t know that” say, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Did you know…” and then we’re off on our little stump speech.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. I met someone recently who said he and his wife had been vegan, but they started eating fish because they were low on protein. It was not… I wasn’t in a place where I could really continue a conversation, but afterwards I was thinking: Okay, how did he know he was low on protein?
Linda Riebel: Right!
Caryn Hartglass: Did he have a test, or did he just assume because they were feeling fatigued, a little run down, and then you just start to say you need more protein? And most people say that and they don’t know what they are talking about.
Linda Riebel: Yeah, or they just got worn down by all their friends telling them they were low on protein.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, sure. I’m kind of curious, because you have a great background in psychology and so many people, most of their food issues are related to personal, emotional problems. So, right now in the United States we have about a third of the adult population who are overweight, obese. We can put all this great information out in front of them, but there’s a bigger problem there.
Linda Riebel: Yes, I’m glad you brought that up. I think we’re in the middle of a huge cultural shift. Now, it’s easy for me to say because I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and apart from the fact that every third person is a therapist, every fourth person is a healthy food advocate. So, you know. And you’re in New York where there is lots going on. Nevertheless, I think the cultural shift is happening. For example, I’m sure you saw this in the news: Disney recently announced, like yesterday, they’re not going to put junk food advertising on their television shows, radio and website.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, that’s big.
Linda Riebel: That’s huge. Michelle Obama said, “Man, this is a game changer.” So, it really is happening, and I’m just really sad for the children that are obese now because it’s going to be an uphill battle for them to regain their health. But anyway, back to the culture change, the idea that vegetarianism is not an aberration. It’s just a choice. You can go into most restaurants and find at least one vegetarian option, or the chef will fix something for you. I don’t want to forget your question, the emotional causes of overeating.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, because it’s so prevalent today. It’s so prevalent. I talk about the importance of green juicing all the time, because, for lots of reasons. A lot of people I talk to ask me about juicers, and they buy a juicer, and they use it for a week, and then it goes up in their cupboard, and they don’t use it, and then they start putting on weight…
Linda Riebel: Oh, I have to plead guilty to that one.
Caryn Hartglass: [Laughs] How do we turn that around? As a psychologist, there are a lot of people who have emotional issues, and as a result it’s affecting their health, and it’s affecting all of us. [Linda: Right.] It’s a big question.
Linda Riebel: Yes, I know. Of course, as a retired therapist, I believe in the profession of learning about yourself and discovering your inner emotional life. I think most people could benefit, at one time or another, from a venture into psychotherapy, even if they don’t have overt symptoms, so that’s one thing. Culture change, in terms of turning people on to organizations in their local community, because a lot of people eat from loneliness. So if they could hook up… it could be anything. It could be a dog rescue organization. It could be a little league team. Whatever it is that gets them out of the house and connecting with people. The research shows that longevity is partly impacted by how big your social network is, quite apart from any other thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s a really challenging problem, because, with myself and my nonprofit, I’m always trying to think how can I help to get people healthier, and basically what we’re doing at Responsible Eating And Living is providing all kinds of information for those who want it, but I’m always looking for some secret angle to help those that are really, really challenged. I don’t know what that is. I think when individuals want to make change, and they recognize that there are some issues, I think we all have the capacity to go within and figure out what our challenges are and decide if we are going to work on them or not. There are just some that don’t want to.
Linda Riebel: Right. It’s like what they say in the 12-step group, you have to want to be there.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hm. But then I think it’s sort of like a catch-22 where some of the diets that so many people are on today kind of enforce this lethargy and this kind of blasé attitude in not wanting to make change. It’s kind of hard to get out of it when you are eating the foods that you’re eating that aren’t giving you energy and keeping your brain clear.
Linda Riebel: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a challenge. It’s very challenging.
Linda Riebel: Yeah. I think that… well, let me just share with you one tidbit from my eating disorders practice. There is one thought that I can put into one sentence that is the cause, and I’m going to make up a number here, of 80 percent of the overweight in this country. Ok, that’s a ridiculously ambitious statement, but I wanted to get your listeners’ attention. Here’s the thought: Well, it’s 10 o’clock, and I’ve already blown it for today. I might as well go all out. So, it’s the black and white thinking, and I’ve had people tell me, “Well, all my overeating comes after I think that thought.” So, one thing that people can do who are seriously challenged is to really not believe that thought, because that just digs you deeper.
Caryn Hartglass: Keep that in mind. Even if you made a mistake, don’t knock yourself for it. Just pick yourself up and get back to where you want to be.
Linda Riebel: Right, and the partner strategy to that is, when you do make a good choice pat yourself on the back. Another thing that I heard often, I would compliment somebody; they would tell me a story or something that happened, and I would say, “Wow, that’s wonderful,” and in about one nanosecond, they would say, “Oh, well, I should have known that ten years ago” or, “Everybody knows this already, what’s wrong with me?” So the follow up thought is just as important to challenge and to support your support, as it were.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I have not studied the brain. I don’t know what goes on there, but my understanding is a lot of people continue to hear these negative voices and these voices that do not encourage, and it takes a lot of work to rescript that and to have the voices telling you you’re doing a good thing and not to beat up on you all the time. That’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
Linda Riebel: Oh, exactly. Thank you for bringing that up. That’s the cognitive therapy approach, and cognitive therapy was invented to give people practical tools, and there are books, and you can practice it yourself. So, one book that is a classic is called Feeling Good by David Burns, and he walks you through how to rescript these voices. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, and sometimes people go, “Oh. I get it.” So I always try to leave room for the possibility that you might have a sudden ‘ah-ha.’ At the same time, with change, prepare yourself to take a thousand steps, but also be ready to receive a moment of ‘ah-ha.’
Caryn Hartglass: We just have a couple minutes left, so I wanted to just highlight a few things. You have five most important decisions in your book: Eat clean food, eat lower on the food chain, eat shorter on the food chain, eat wider on the food chain and ‘nude food.’ Just a few minutes, what is nude food?
Linda Riebel: Nude food refers to less packaging.
Caryn Hartglass: Mm-hm. Like, eat an apple.
Linda Riebel: Yeah, or a banana or a walnut. They come in their own packaging. The amount of natural resources wasted in packaging is just breathtaking. Petroleum to make the plastic and then we just throw them away after one use. So, one thing people could do is support the ban on plastic bags in their community, if they want to get politically active, as some people do. So, nude food refers to anything that reduces packaging.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just something to think about. Pay attention everywhere that you’re buying food, because so many foods come wrapped and then wrapped and then wrapped. It’s just so over-wrapped.
Linda Riebel: Yes, or in tiny packages. Now, I understand that parents of school-age children, it must be incredibly tempting to buy juice in those little boxes.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, and it looks like everyone else’s, and it’s convenient. But there are ways. You can buy those containers that look about the same size and fill them up with juice from a larger container. There’s all kinds of solutions.
Linda Riebel: Yes, so that would be something else that people could do about packaging. Obviously, recycle religiously.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there’s a lot of tips, and they’re all in your book, The Green Foodprint. It’s time to go. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and you have a website, thegreenfoodprint.com.
Linda Riebel: That’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: All one word, thegreenfoodprint.com. Lots of great tips up there. Thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Linda Riebel: Oh, Caryn, thank you, and thank all your listeners.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Thank you everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, and we’re going to take a short break and come right back, because I’ll be talking with chef Roberto Martin, the personal chef of Ellen DeGeneres. While you’re waiting, go visit responsibleeatingandliving.com, my nonprofit website with lots of other wonderful information. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Maggie Rasnake, 3/8/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m so excited about what’s going on these days with this explosion in vegan cuisine we’re hearing about the vegan diet all over the place and so many wonderful people are coming on over to the vegan side and for myself doing this for over 25 years it has been so wonderful to see all of this happening. And we only benefit the more people that do it the more availability vegan products are around in stores and restaurants and I find everything just becomes more and more delicious but some people may think that this vegan thing is fad and it’s not a fad, in fact, people who refuse animal products for ethical reasons all animal products, meat and diary, everything, have are referred to pythagoreans. The thing started over 2000 years ago, pythagoreanism, it’s kind of a mouthful but people have been doing it for a really long time. It wasn’t until 1944 that the word vegan was coined I think it’s easier to say and easier to spell and it helps us move into the 20th century with this concept. People have been doing it for a long time. What people have not doing for a long time is eating the quantities of meat and dairy and refined foods we’ve been doing in the last 50 years. So I think in some ways we’re kind of getting back to where we belong and today I’ve got someone to talk to who’s really helping making that happen with some wonderful delicious recipes. I want to welcome Roberto Martin who is the author of a new cookbook Vegan Cooking For Carnivores. He has been working for Ellen DeGeneres and Portia Di Rossi. He was not a vegan chef to begin with, he quickly discovered that the flavors worked in his best non-vegan dishes, the dishes that were loved or adored by many of his celebrity clients, worked in vegan dishes as well. He learned how to make delicious easy substitutions of animal based products with plant based protein to make perfect, familiar and contorting foods that also happens to be easy to make, healthy, and vegan. Roberto Martin attended the Culinary Institute of America, became a private chef, and honed his knowledge of nutrition and health, customizing meals to meet the dietary needs of his celebrity clients. Now he cooks exclusively vegan meals for DeGeneres households and appears frequently on the Ellen DeGeneres show. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Roberto Martin: Hi, how you doing, you Pythagorean?
Caryn Hartglass: You know we had to come up with a new word because it’s impossible to spell and say.
Roberto Martin: Yeah, it sounds like a mathematical theory.
Caryn Hartglass: but the point is people have been thinking about this and doing this a long time and I was reading that even the lacto-ovo vegetarian concept which is more popular today than the vegan diet, that wasn’t the “norm” thousands of years ago either. People that decided not to eat animal foods didn’t eat any.
Roberto Martin: It makes a lot of sense. Sometimes I get like this, “Hey, can you just do vegetarian instead?” and I’m like man, dairy is one of the worst things. I’d rather somebody like just you know eat fish once in a while than like eat milk and dairy. The way we get it to our table these days too.
Caryn Hartglass: The first thing I want to talk about is what Portia wrote in the foreword, because I’ve been thinking about this concept: “Instead of making vegan food, he made food vegan.” This is really and important distinction. When we think about like these people that say to you can you make it vegetarian not vegan, it’s sort of some sort of perception that vegan isn’t fun, it isn’t delicious and all you need to do is take classic dishes and weed out a few of the bad ingredients, put in some good ones and voila!
Roberto Martin: First just hearing that just makes me smile, such a sweet thing you know to say. But it is my approach and it seems like it works for everyone. People are so, they cling to being carnivores because they have these memories, these childhood and holidays and all these things, and I get that, it’s just you know I appreciate it myself, the food, you know so I get that. But what I want to do is not abandon those flavor combinations and those memories, just sort of reinvent them.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s fun actually, whenever i hear about something that somebody misses or something they want to make and they can’t imagine it being vegan, I love taking on that challenge. Oh I can make that, I can do it!
Roberto Martin: That’s the way I feel too. I’ll admit that if this opportunity came to me earlier in my career I would have had the same enthusiasm or the same excitement about it but I’ve been doing it for about 10 years, I’ve been a personal cook for about 10 years and it came at just the right time when I felt like maybe spinning my wheels a little bit and you know when I took this interview I didn’t even necessarily want this job, I don’t have a passion for vegan food but once I accept the challenge I completely reinvented my creativity and my desire, trying everything and I think that that could happen for the average American as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Now is there a reason why they were looking for a chef and not specifically a vegan chef? Ellen and Portia?
Roberto Martin: No the concept hadn’t necessarily clicked for them, but they were open to anyone who could fulfill the position. They had encountered on some interviews like, well this person’s a vegan chef but also a life coach or also a yogi or something like that and they’re like yeah, I just want some food, you know? They’re vegan because they love animals and stuff but they get that on their own, they don’t need, you know, everything else. If they want to do yoga they can have an instructor come not or do it themselves. They just wanted a chef. So that’s what my approach is and I think that that other approach has turned off the average carnivore.
Caryn Hartglass: Eating vegan food as compared to making food vegan.
Roberto Martin: Yeah because what happens is vegans taste something and they like it because they’ve been vegan for a long time and what I see in my mind is, I’m competing, I’m trying to feed a guy who just had Carl’s Jr. yesterday. That’s what I always keep in my mind, like is this food going to be satisfying for him or her if [that’s all that it says for me].
Caryn Hartglass: I was in the south of France for four years and I was a vegan and I ate vegan and what was interesting was, all of the chefs I think, when I would go to a restaurant and tell them what I did eat and what I didn’t eat, were kind of amused and then enjoyed the idea of taking on the challenge. The only problem I ever had was in Paris and Leon but everywhere else they really enjoyed the opportunity to do something different and they often did some lovely, lovely things.
Roberto Martin: Sometimes that’s the case, I think that for the most part, that’s not quite the case yet in restaurants and I think that when you are vegan and, I identify myself as 95% vegan, and anytime I think when you go to a regular restaurant that’s not a particularly vegan restaurant, the odds of you getting some butter or some chicken stock or something in your meal are really high. You need to either just accept that or not eat out. I don’t think that’s fair, I don’t think it’s right but that’ just something you need to sort of put in the back of your mind.
Caryn Hartglass: Any time you eat in a restaurant it’s a leap of faith.
Roberto Martin: Well that’s true, exactly right.
Caryn Hartglass: No matter how many regulations they put in place, you don’t know what’s going on back there.
Roberto Martin: You never really do.
Caryn Hartglass: You grew up with 14 other siblings?
Roberto Martin: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Caryn Hartglass: And every mealtime was like a catered event. That’s incredible, that’s a lot of food.
Roberto Martin: Yeah it’s funny when I went to culinary school, a lot of my colleagues were, they come from this family restaurant background and I don’t but I had similar stories and memories which was really funny because every day we had a service, you know. My mom started cooking at 12 noon with these big pots and my dad being real big disciplinarian, none of the kids were allowed to go over into other people’s homes but we have an open door policy. My brothers and sisters could bring anyone to our house. So for like a good five or six years with my brothers in football and my sisters were cheerleaders, they would just bring all kinds of people over so every night it was always 20, 25 people for dinner. There was this big, loud excitement and it was also kind of like a restaurant. It was silent for awhile, like three to four and then it would get louder and louder and louder and then it would die down again and then there would be a clean up and it was like, not I until worked in a restaurant did I realize: you’ve been doing this for awhile.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely, yeah. You got your culinary training, using all kinds of animal foods and is this like frustrating at all for you? My partner who became vegan six years ago comes from a culinary background and in the beginning he would say that he learned how to do all of these different things that he doesn’t use anymore but now he’s getting kind of clever and thinking about how he can apply them to the gazillion fruits and vegetables that are out there.
Roberto Martin: I don’t know that the best approach would be to not use animal products because it’s so rich in tradition and theory. I think that that’s what made me a better vegan chef was knowing the flavor combinations and the textures and the [desires] that people are looking for.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve worked with Tal Ronnen and we love Tal Ronnen and he is just a creative genius and a no ego, lovely, lovely person. I’m glad to see that you worked with him. He also has a gorgeous cookbook.
Roberto Martin: Yes, the Conscientious Chef, the Conscious Chef rather and he is one of the coolest, coolest guys too.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah he’s just good and I don’t want to make broad generalizations but when you’re in this business of creating food, that is relatively cruelty free, I think it attracts a certain kind of person and whether you were that kind of person or not to begin with it just opens the door to who you are and your place in the world and makes you a nicer person.
Roberto Martin: I really couldn’t agree more.
Caryn Hartglass: You sound like a nice guy.
Roberto Martin: Thank you. As I compliment myself. Could you imagine some snobby, arrogant, vegan chef? It doesn’t work.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know any, we’re all about love.
Roberto Martin: Exactly it just doesn’t work and it’s a really pretty thing, it really is. Something that happened to me, I’ll tell my little story here because it was weird. I started working for Ellen and Portia late in January and the year before I was at a restaurant with my wife and there was foie gras on the menu. And it was like, you know, I don’t think I am going to cook foie gras anymore. It was like I don’t need that, you know, we don’t need that. Then like a month later I felt a different way about veal and I think what it did was it opened up a tiny little door in me and it opened up like a tiny little window that said you’re still a good chef even if you don’t work with these types of meat, you know. It’s okay to make decisions based on your conscience rather than decadence.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s more than okay!
Roberto Martin: Yeah, exactly and then when I took this job, that’s when everything just like the worm turned for me, as they say.
Caryn Hartglass: And your family, are they being this way too?
Roberto Martin: Mostly, mostly. My son definitely.
Caryn Hartglass: He’s adorable and he looks like he’s a great ravioli maker.
Roberto Martin: Yes they are and he’s quick to tell everybody, oh I’m dairy free, you know because he can identify everything else, but he tries to make sure there’s no cheese on his [food or his soup].
Caryn Hartglass: The thing that’s made vegan food or should I say food that can be made vegan so much easier and varied and delicious is that we now have access to a staple of prepared products. That we didn’t have 20, 30 years ago. So you can get your transition meat, I don’t even want to call it transition meat anymore but Gardein is out there which is a brilliant gluten based food that can be used in recipes instead of meat. We have vegan mayonnaise, we have vegan butters. There’s this long list of condiments and things that are now vegan that make everything so much easier and you use a lot of them in your cookbook.
Roberto Martin: I do. Especially since my book is really aimed at people who are trying to go vegan for the first time. I think that what they need is food that looks fairly similar to what they were eating before and thanks to things like Gardein and Field Roast they can make that possible. So it would be almost impossible to make this book without putting Gardein in it because it’s such a killer product and it’s available coast to coast.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a living product not a killer product.
Roberto Martin: You’re right! Exactly, not a killer product. That’s the other great thing is that I see Gardein at Target and that’s so awesome because I want to make sure that no matter where you live in the country, you have access to products that I suggest in the book.
Caryn Hartglass: I think I’ve got a number of things I want to say here. One thing I like to do is put delicious food in front of people, they don’t have to know it’s vegan, most people know that I’m like this nutty, crazy, passionate vegan anyway so they know that they wouldn’t get anything else from me. But if I’m in this group of strangers or whatever and I prepare something and put it in front of them I don’t want them to know that it’s vegan and they don’t have to know. They just have to know that it’s good and it looks good. I think today people are eating so many prepared foods or ready to eat foods even in restaurants and certainly in fast food where the food isn’t even food. It’s so highly processed and so highly manufactured and denatured and then other synthetic things are kind of added to it that when you give them something that’s made from whole fresh minimally processed foods, they can’t help but taste the difference. It’s crazy good.
Roberto Martin: Yeah I think that’s when nature takes over on us. If it looks like food we’re supposed to eat it tends to be more attractive. What you said is exactly how I approach it, it’s just making good food regardless of whether it’s vegan or not it’s just making good food and people react positively to it and if they inquire more and find out it is vegan, then they’re like, oh my God this is great. I had vegan food before I didn’t like it, this I like. Then it opens that little door for them the next time that they have the option they might, yeah, I’ll try that. It just sort of puts the right foot forward.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any cookbooks that were inspirations to you either vegan or not vegan?
Roberto Martin: Well I didn’t want to like if you’re writing a script, start watching particular movies, because you know you’re just going to end up copying them and that was my fear like I don’t want to… But I do have one of my teachers, one of my guys that I love.
Caryn Hartglass: Who is that?
Roberto Martin: Nobu. Speaking of that, I’ve done some fabulous sashimi meals, well you can’t really call them sashimi meals, vegan sashimi meals I guess for Ellen and Portia with sliced avocado and marinated tofu and all these wonderful things with the colors and the flavors and the appearance that you get from sushi but that’s just a side note. I love Anthony Bordain and I love [Paul Rodin’s] book. Well the China Study, anytime I needed some sort of fact or some sort of…
Caryn Hartglass: That’s loaded with information.
Roberto Martin: And Jonathan Safran Foer’s book.
Caryn Hartglass: Love that book. Eating Animals, yeah I recommend that book to so many people just because it’s so genuine and he goes back and forth with his own personal struggle with deciding to not eat animals and people need to read that and maybe they’ll come to the same conclusion he did or maybe they won’t but I just appreciated how real it was.
Roberto Martin: The guy is like super smart.
Caryn Hartglass: Super smart, yeah.
Roberto Martin: And he writes this book that is just so wonderfully approachable. He takes you on his own little journey with him throughout that book.
Caryn Hartglass: For me, one of the cookbooks that inspired me, and this was like centuries ago, was the Joy of Cooking and I had the paperback version, one of the original editions and everything was in like super tiny print but it had every recipe known to man in this book, or so I thought, and this was before vegan cookbooks existed and I was making food vegan from these recipes and I don’t know what happened to that book I think it’s just dissolved into dust by use. But now we have so many cookbooks and it’s really, really wonderful thing. You use rice paper a lot, love it.
Roberto Martin: I’ve always loved the product.
Caryn Hartglass: And I really appreciate that you have the pictures to show step by step. I was making some rolls yesterday before I looked in here and I don’t do it that often and I forget so it takes like 10 rolls before I get the hang of how to fold them.
Roberto Martin: Thank you! The pictures are really important to me because just with words you can’t really convey, am I doing this right? I think I am but I’m not really sure. So the pictures just make things click and I really encourage people to do that because it’s a lot of fun and especially if you have some kids that want to help. My son loves it because it feels like gummy bears or goofy things. Like you said, the first three might look atrocious but once you get in the groove you start rolling them just perfect.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah they just roll and you can put so many wonderful things in them. I like them because they’re not fried and they’re fresh and they just taste great but speaking of fried, the one recipe that I haven’t seen anything like anywhere and I’ve read almost every vegan cookbook there is, is the fried chicken.
Roberto Martin: Yeah, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s genius!
Roberto Martin: Thank you so much! What happened was that Oprah was coming for dinner and she had mentioned to Ellen she would go vegan but she just didn’t want to give up fried chicken so Ellen said, “you need to make fried chicken.” I’m like ok, great. And frying up the Gardein came to mind and that was simple but for me, fried chicken was always about skin and then there’s this South Park that’s so funny because this little fat kid goes in there and he eats all the skin and just leaves and it makes you laugh because it’s the best part. So I wanted to put some kind of skin on this chicken so it would really have this flavor and texture combination that she’s used to, and I’ve been making these spring rolls for them all the time and so it was just sort of a natural thing that clicked. I’m so stoked with that. What also happened incidentally, it wasn’t on purpose, but what happened is the spring roll wrappers lock in all the juice inside the meat and it’s so juicy.
Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t made it but I will.
Roberto Martin: The reaction that I’m getting online and from all my Facebook friends from the [other book] is like, this has been crazy good and what I like about the fried chicken and the chicken pot pie and the beans and rice is that you don’t even have to tell your family that you’re doing a meatless day or whatever. You just make it, they like it, it goes into the rotation, and now they’re eating less meat.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you don’t have to tell them. All of this food is so good. Oprah hasn’t gone vegan so I guess she…
Roberto Martin: She hasn’t. She loved the food and everything.
Caryn Hartglass: She had Tal Ronnen working for her for awhile, she had all the opportunities, you know.
Roberto Martin: Yeah that’s not going to happen.
Caryn Hartglass: But I’ll tell you we are so glad that Ellen has taken this on and become vegan because it’s so important, we learn so much from celebrities on television and in the movies. We learn so much from them and many of us want to be like them and so why shouldn’t someone who is a spokesperson for all of us, take the right path, do the right thing. Help people get healthy. Help make this world a better place, do things that are good for the environment. I love her for that.
Roberto Martin: I love her for so many reasons, but you’re absolutely right. I mean if you look at her career and what she stands for, she’s not very passionate about any other cause or anything else. She doesn’t stand at the pulpit. She doesn’t even stand at the pulpit about gay rights. She chose to lead by example. When it comes to animals, I love animals and being vegan, that is her passion. Then Portia of course.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I think when someone has the means and the opportunity to do the best that they can, why shouldn’t they? I don’t understand why they wouldn’t? And so Ellen and Portia have the opportunity to have a wonderful chef and you make them wonderful meals and it sounds like they made some of their own food too which is great. We don’t need to have our own personal chefs to make this food and you make that point many times in the book, which recipes are easy and they are.
Roberto Martin: Thank you. The one thing that I think that I have as an advantage as opposed to like a restaurant chef is that I kind of feel, well of course I have a 7 year-old, but I do feel like I’m a little more in tune with the average household that has these challenges of getting kids from school to karate or baseball or whatever they do and then busting out dinner. I took that into heart when writing the book because if people need it they need it now, they need easy. I’m competing with all those ready made ads for you that people have on their go to list. I made these recipes do-able. The fried chicken is a little bit more effort, that may be like a Friday or Saturday night dinner. The red beans and rice you can make so fast.
Caryn Hartglass: Regular fried chicken isn’t quick either unless you do the shake and bake variety.
Roberto Martin: But it’s still not all that bad.
Caryn Hartglass: You have to bread it and that’s time consuming.
Roberto Martin: Exactly, but what I’m looking at is, are they being some kind of frozen thing and putting it in the oven and you’re done which is what I think a lot of people reach for. I’m also a student of people’s shopping carts because I’m in the supermarket all the time and I just stare at what people are buying and I’m like, oh sweetie, no.
Caryn Hartglass: You want to take care of yourself and family, what is that in there?
Roberto Martin: I just want to grab people by the hand and say, give me 20 minutes we’re going to help you out.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re going to need to team up with Tal and Gardein and package this fried chicken thing.
Roberto Martin: You know you’re not the first person to say that right?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah
Roberto Martin: I’m having a conversation with Yves Potvin right now. He’s the owner of Gardein and he’s a super sweet man and we’re looking to do that for people so they can pop that healthy food in the oven and feed their families.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Roberto thank you so much for talking to me today and take a moment to be on It’s All About Food and how do you pronounce your last name? Is it [Martin or Martin]?
Roberto Martin: Well it really is Martin but it spells the same way and I don’t want to get into that.
Caryn Hartglass: I like to say names they way they’re supposed to be said. Roberto Martin.
Roberto Martin: Take care, thank you so very much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much and have a very delicious week everyone, I’m Cary Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s About Food and please check out my website responsibleeatingandliving.com you get more delicious recipes there and definitely pick up this book Vegan Cooking For Carnivores its beautiful recipes are satisfying and perfect. Have a great day.
Transcribed by Mei 4/4/2013