Ann Gentry, REAL Food For Everyone
Ann Gentry is a pioneer in the world of vegan cuisine. She is the creator, founder, and operating owner of Real Food Daily, one of the premier organic vegan-food establishments in the Los Angeles area that serves a 100% vegan menu using zero animal by-products and foods grown exclusively with organic farming methods. She is the author of The Real Food Daily Cookbook and lives in Los Angeles with her family.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody; I’m Caryn Hartglass; we’re back. You’re listening to It’s All About Food, and I think I’ve got my next guest right there: Ann Gentry. How’re you doing?
Ann Gentry: Howdy, Caryn, I’m doing great, out here in sunny California.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m so excited to talk to you. I’m going to gush for a minute, so bear with me. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time; my partner, Gary De Mattei, he devoured your cookbook, Real Food Daily, and we love (we live in New York), but we love visiting your restaurants in California, and I’ve got a lot of things to talk about, but I just want to say: cashew cheese. Your cashew cheese in the vegan food deli recipe, I mean, so many people have posted it, re-invigorated it, changed it, but yours was the starting point for so many people, and I’ve made it many times, and I’ve made many variations, but, I got to thank you for that.
So, my first question is, this cashew cheese recipe, did you base it on something else you had found a long time ago? How did you get started with cashew cheese?
Ann Gentry: Well, I think only, you know, in an exclusively plant based restaurant, which means, of course, a vegan cuisine, people wanted, well, we started with a very simple menu twelve years ago; it certainly evolved over the few decades, and as it evolved, people wanted to mimic textures and flavors from the typical American diet, and cheese is a big thing in the American diet. So we started looking at that, realizing that we already had the nachos, believe it or not, minus the cheese in the early days, so we knew we had to figure out how to put the cheese together and I can’t remember, it’s been so long, and it’s gone through several evolutions, how we really started the original recipe, but it’s cashew based, and the idea was to get it pourable, so that we could pour it over the nachos, and then spread it over other main entrees and put it on sandwiches and wraps, and people order up for the cashew cheese to embellish on top of the various different dishes that they ordered. And it’s pretty simple. Even though it does require doing agar-agar, which is a seaweed derivative, and not many people know what it is, they don’t know where to find it, it is a little costly, but it goes a long way, and you’ve got to have something to hold the cheese together, if you’re not using animal byproducts.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, the whole cheese, vegan cheese, technology has really gone nuts in the last few decades, and, especially most recently, when people are making real cheeses with enzymes and probiotics, and aging them, and it’s phenomenal, but for many of us, just to be able to make something that’s pretty easy and delicious, like your cashew cheese, it’s just a great, great thing.
Ann Gentry: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! Okay. And I want to talk about your new book, but, I’ve been so in love with your old book; I just wanted to bring that up, because, what’s wonderful is that there are so many cookbooks out today that are promoting plant foods so deliciously (some of them better than others), and yours has just been a staple, and a foundation of delicious, comforting, wonderful vegan food.
Another favorite of mine that I like to make at parties is your Ranch dressing, from the Real Food Daily cookbook.
Ann Gentry: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’ve leaned on your book a number of times for special celebrations like Thanksgiving, because, as I’ve just mentioned, your recipes really tend to be comforting, kind of cozy, satisfying food. So, there you have it.
Ann Gentry: Yeah, there you have it, thank you. I think what I’ve I gotten really well was to take my southern American upbringing, and those kinds of comfort foods that I ate as a child, a grain and 2-3 vegetables, and that format, and my culinary trend was learning how to cook macrobiotics which is a grain and vegetable diet, using a lot of Asian condiments, and that spoke very strongly to me, and when I came to California, I was certainly taking advantage of just the incredible amount of organic produce that we have here, growing, right in this state, and certainly locally (here in Southern California).
Yeah, I didn’t think about it consciously at the time, but I certainly now look back and realize it was those three points that came together, as I developed the cuisine that first I was cooking privately, and then eventually I took that business into opening a restaurant, and today we’re still pretty much on that path, and people still resonate very strongly with that.
Caryn Hartglass: Go on.
Ann Gentry: Well, that’s what you see in both of my cookbooks: my first cookbook you speak about, The Real Food Daily cookbook, that is definitely the recipes from the restaurant, put into whole meals, and my second cookbook, which was originally titled: Vegan Family Meals, we’ve just brought out this week into a paperback format, so it costs a little less; it has a beautiful picture on the cover, but it’s definitely the same content inside, and it’s also a lot of the favorites from the restaurant, and in fact it has the cheese in it as well. I know that I do : we made a couple of tweaks to make it a little more accessible for the home cook, and it’s a beautiful book, it drives the principles of what the fun is about; it really talks to people about how it is accessible, and possible, no matter where they live, to do this in their own home (and no matter what level cook they are), and this, you know, I’d like to debunk the myth that this is a hard cuisine to cook. Not really, it’s just you have to learn how to work with it, so that you can bring flavor and texture to every dish that you make, otherwise people do get bored pretty quickly, if they think it’s just cooking from vegetables, and cooking a pot of brown rice And you can see in the cookbook for everyone that we go way past that!
Caryn Hartglass: I’ll say “Amen” to that. There are some wonderful pictures in this book, the kind where you want to lick the pages, and, like you have a lovely tofu wrap, and there’s just so many interesting looking, delicious looking things inside it, that give so much flavor.
How long have the Real Food Daily restaurants been around? When did you open the first one?
Ann Gentry: Well, we’re definitely a pioneer here in southern California; the first opened in Santa Monica, a beach community here in Los Angeles in 1993, and we’ve gotten on, we’re into 21st year of business, we’re still in the same location, we’ve expanded over the years, spacewise; we have the second location in an area called West Hollywood, west LA and Beverly Hills converged, and then we’re in a community called Pasadena, California, which is sort of north-east of down-town LA, and then a year ago we opened at LAX Los Angeles International Airport with just a small offshoot , more grab and go quick service in a food court, American Airlines.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I want to fly there, just for that! I’ve been to all of your restaurants, except the one in the airport! That’s terrific. That’s really exciting; I’ll have to – whenever I’m flying different places, make that a stopover…
Ann Gentry: Yeah, thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: …just for eating. Okay. It’s been two decades: has the food changed at all, in your life, and in the restaurant’s life?
Ann Gentry: Well, we’ve become more sophisticated, of course. When I started, I started with a one page menu definitely more leaning toward my culinary experience of grains and vegetables, plant proteins from high quality soy products, and beans and legumes, and, you know, that had evolved as the years went by, and great people came in, and worked in the restaurant with me, culinary people, to contribute; they contributed to the menu, and cost, and demand, and desires from our customer base, and we still have people eating with me twenty one years later, that are completely committed to this lifestyle, this way of eating, and so, you know, the menu has gone from one little single page to a much bigger production, and from soups and more appetizers, lots of incredible veggie burger, house meat veggie burger that we make, spicy little burger, and our seasonal specials, and we’ve always had specials from day one, we used to do a different special every day, now with three restaurants we honed that down to really working a couple of different specials each season, which is great, because it’s going back to all roots of knowing what’s growing seasonally, and locally, and putting that to a customer base, and educating people along the way about what that really means , because, you know, we do live in America, we can get anything at any time, and people sort of lose contact with what that really means to do seasonal and local, as well as organic. And I’ve sort of watched the trends come and go, of what seems to be the theme, when I opened up 20 years ago, it was all about the fat-free craze, and we know that didn’t work out for most people; then the high protein, came around back then, it was the Zone Diet amd Atkins, back around now with the Paleo. So I’ve watched things go up and down, and round and round, but in the end people come back to the fact that they need simply eat as much plant-based as they can – you know, I get it, many, many people aren’t going to switch in their life time. But, people are moving more toward it, more often in their life; they do know that it is better for their health, better for the environment; people are completely aware of how we inhumanely treat animals: that was not a big deal twenty years ago. Nobody was really aware about that at all. I think John Robbins came out with it in his first book Diet for a New America, where about awareness started to come around, in the early nineties, when we opened, and his book came out. And now, people talk about that constantly, and there’s much more awareness. People are moved by it, moved by it enough to go: “I’ll become a vegan, because this moves me so deeply.”
Personally, I got into this more for health reasons: I just feel better, and look better. This makes sense, but it evolved for people, and what you needed at one time in your life isn’t necessarily what you need at another time in your life. I would say it had brought me on a food journey, and it’s how you go through that journey, with grace, and openness, and surrender to what’s right for you at this moment. It might not have been right five years ago, and it may not be what you need one down the road. But coming back to vegetables, you know: your mother was right, your grandmother was right, eat your vegetables, and the more vegetables you can eat, the better.
Caryn Hartglass: Speaking of mother was right, you have children, young children?
Ann Gentry: I do.
Caryn Hartglass: How old are they now?
Ann Gentry: Sixteen and almost twelve, so they’re not young any more, bossing around, telling me what to do.
Caryn Hartglass: But, you’ve been feeding them for a long time: how did they respond to your food and are there some special foods for them, or things that are especially kid-friendly?
Ann Gentry: Well, it’s sort of like what I just said: they, too, are on a food journey, it is an evolution, when they’re babies, and they’re eating , you can totally control what they eat. They love vegetables! And then they get out there in the world, they’re wanting to listen: it’s tragic, how we are feeding our children in this world today. It’s tragic, and as a parent, I see that, I come across that every day. So at least we’ve got our nice healthy balance for our kids. They’re eating really well at home, they’re eating well at the restaurants we chose to go to, they’re vegetarian, they understand what that’s about, they’re animal activists, they’re environmentalists, and these young kids get that early on and resonates strongly for them, not just mine but millions of other kids throughout this street.
Are any that are eating a healthy, balanced diet? No, not really. When you’re out there in the world, shoving cheese pizza in your face for a snack, I grew up where cheese pizza was an occasional treat; and it’s in their lives every day, and it’s the sugar, and the consumption of poor quality…I’ve been checking, looking at something last night, and I was looking (I won’t call any brand names), but I was looking at one of these frozen yogurt places, and there it was, it’s warm out here in Los Angeles, and it’s hot, eight o’clock last night, and I looked down the menu card, and, you know, this isn’t even food! It’s not food. It’s just manufactured junk. People rile the experience and there’s something incredibly bad on some level, but there’s nothing nutritionally enhancing about any of it, which is scary for young people as well. They are chowing down wherever they go, junk food is in every store: you go to the drug store, and it’s at the checkout counter, you go to the Salvation Army, and it’s at the checkout counter, go to the Gas Station, or at the convenience store, ….everywhere where you go buying food…
Caryn Hartglass: I know… What’s a parent to do?
Ann Gentry: As a parent, you’ve got to be vigilant, and we do, and you’ve got to try and educate along the way; my kids got a big rock from me last night about the ins and outs of frozen yogurt.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s good. You mentioned yogurt, and until like, maybe in the seventies, we believed yogurt was a healthy food, and it started to grow in this country; people were eating more yogurt, thinking it’s healthy, and people still think it’s healthy, and they don’t even realize that the stuff that’s frozen yogurt isn’t what it used to be. And even if what it used to be was healthy (I’m not saying it is or it isn’t), but it’s not the same.
Ann Gentry: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. But one of the things you mentioned in Real Food for Everyone, in your introduction, is making food at home.
Ann Gentry: Yeah, it’s important.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re a restaurateur, and I know that you want people to come to your restaurant, but you also encourage people to make food, and it is important, and that’s one of the great reasons why we have your books: to know how to make some of these really comforting. I keep using the word comforting – I think that must come from your Southern background, because it really oozes out of your food.
Ann Gentry: It is important that people learn how to cook at home. Sometimes they say it’s a lost art…
Caryn Hartglass: Really?
Ann Gentry: I’m not sure that’s really true. I do see that there is a need: I got nephews, they’re in their late twenties, early thirties, and they have to cook! One’s married; he’s doing a lot of the cooking, and with his friends, when they come together, just like I did, in my twenties and thirties; you come together with your friends, you can’t always afford to eat out; you’re putting your parties, and your dinner parties, and gatherings together, and it’s about who can bring more, and that’s fantastic, so… we live in this fast paced world, and I think it’s so easy and accessible to be fed by others, and there is nothing wrong with that, but there is something comforting and special, and healing, and fulfilling to be able to cook for yourself, whether you’re that one member of your family, because you live alone as a single person, or [? 18:03] a single person and you’re it, or you know, you’ve got a family, or a family of friends, or family of co-workers, how can you get in your own kitchen, so it can be a very soothing, and very meditative experience. After a hard day at work, you can come home, shift gears, put on music, have a little wine, or beer, or carrot juice with turmeric in it or whatever you fancy, and get in the kitchen!
You don’t have to be in the kitchen for hours; again, debunking the myth that vegan food takes so long to prepare, and there’s so much stuff to it – no, and I think again back to how I grew up, you have to have a bit of protein, a couple of vegetables at almost every meal, but, you don’t, I mean a bowl of soup, and grainy bread, a couple of vegetables. You don’t always have to have a protein at meals. So you can keep it simple. It sounds fine to not spend hours, I mean, even when you do. My feeling about taking a lot of premade food from the deli counter: that takes thirty minutes, or thirty five minutes, so I really believe you can put a meal together in thirty to forty five to fifty minutes. And, it’d be, on a whole different level, a real satisfaction, and hey, you have left overs, you can eat that again the next day, or two days later, or you can take it the next day as lunch for school, so there’s a lot of creative ways to keep plain food on your table. And I think it’s important for them to go out and purchase food, go to the Farmers’ Market, go to the produce department of a grocery store. Wherever you live here in America, it is accessible. Vegetables, even if the produce areas have gotten smaller in the big supermarkets; it’s there, it’s possible, and I’m a big advocate of purchasing organically grown produce, but, if you can’t, that’s no excuse not to purchase vegetables. Then get what you can get, what you can afford, and what’s accessible to you in the area that you live. And get in your kitchen and start cooking!
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you…I’ve read your bio; I know you’re involved in lots of different projects, and they all seem like full time jobs to me, so I’m not quite sure how you pull it off, but you own a number of restaurants, you’re a mom to teenagers, and you cook at home from time to time, you have worked with the Vegetarian Times Magazine; are you still doing that?
Ann Gentry: Yes, I’m the…I’m tied up with the Vegetarian Times Magazine: basically, I’m an executive chef, and I can preview recipes and articles, and they call me for different projects they’re doing on a great group of people, they’re based out here in southern California, and it is THE culinary magazine for vegetarian and vegan food., because it’s really driven through recipes, and education and information about these unique foods that aren’t always commonplace to everybody.
What else do I do?
Caryn Hartglass: And you also have a… you have a cooking show!
Ann Gentry: I have a cooking show on something called Veria, I believe it’s changed to V Living; it runs on the Dish Network. I was just in my own local coop opportunity, in Santa Monica, about a week ago, and a gentleman, in the produce department said, “Hello, don’t I know you, don’t you have a cooking show?” I was feeling like a million bucks, and I said, “yes, I do a show”…. It’s still running, it still has a big presence online, with fifty episodes, and focusing on what I know, and, you know, vegan food, it’s called Naturally Delicious with Ann Gentry, and the recipes show up, the recipes hold up, and they have a very exciting time with a full scale production; production values were very high, the food looks beautiful, it’s a great time.
Caryn Hartglass: Good. I’m not on Dish Network, but I know I’ve seen a few clips of you online here and there, and it’s all good. And, where can…is there a way for people to find you, other than find your book; can they follow you somewhere?
Ann Gentry: Oh yeah, we have a big, we have a whole website, of course: Realfood.com, and then we are on all social media, Twitter, I’m on Twitter as Ann Gentry, we’re on it as Real Food Daily, same for Facebook, Instagram, it’s official RFD, and we have quite a following, and quite a presence, and we have a lot of fun on it, and keep people abreast of what we’re doing, at the restaurants, out at LAX, what’s happening in the world of food in this style of cuisine; we would like to keep this, sort of, educational component going, because…and we see that people are very glad to take a tour back, because people do want to understand what they eat, what that means in today’s world, where my food might come from, what’s this mean when I eat it, how does it make me feel, do I want to eat it. They’re really choosy about what they want to and what they don’t want to eat, based on what they know about the food, and where it comes from, and what they believe, you know, how it’s going to effect their health.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, thank you Ann Gentry for joining me on It’s All About Food. I’m looking forward to getting to know Real Food for Everyone as well as I’ve gotten to know the Real Food Daily cookbook, and devouring everything inside. Thanks for sticking with this for so long. You do know what you are doing. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your family!
Ann Gentry: Well, we’re going to do a Real Food Daily Valentine’s high end, four course meal, with wine pairing, people who care to get to LA, and again, every meal that we do is always encouraging people that this is possible, this is possible. So, to help everyone out there, we’ll definitely bring more vegetables and grains into their diet, make their own bodies, and own a better place to be.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s a good way to end: “this is possible”. And this is possible thanks to Ann Gentry of Real Food Daily. Thank You!
Ann Gentry: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, we’ve got a minute left, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s all About Food, and I invite you again to visit responsibleeatingandliving.com (that’s my nonprofit website). We have our brand new Webisode out, Episode 2; we were talking about the Soy Story, and we have a great Transition Kitchen food show for you, where we make vegan hollandaise. And then we have a nice little tribute to the Millennium Restaurant, I mentioned that briefly before, in the first part of the program. it’s a wonderful restaurant that’s been in San Francisco for a little over twenty years! It was the first upscale vegan restaurant I’ve ever gone to, and it’s always been amazing, and I had an opportunity to interview the chef, Eric Tucker, a few years back, and so we’ve included that interview in our recent episode of The Real Good News in Review that’s the real good news! So thanks for joining me again for another hour, and I want to wish you a really love filled Valentine’s Day, and have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Yvonne Beran, March 4, 201