Part II – Brian Patton
Brian Patton is author of The Sexy Vegan’s Happy Hour at Home and The Sexy Vegan Cookbook. He is also executive chef for Vegin’ Out, a vegan food delivery service in Los Angeles. As the quintessential “regular dude” vegan chef, he started posting instructional cooking videos on YouTube as his witty, ukulele playing alter-ego The Sexy Vegan and quickly gained a large following. Visit him online at http://www.thesexyvegan.com.
Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. And here we are. It’s already part two of today’s program for August 13th, 2013. Gosh, time really flies when I’m talking about my favorite subject: food. It just goes like that. It’s almost as good as eating it. And I’m going to bring on my next guest: Brian Patton, the Sexy Vegan. He’s the author of The Sexy Vegan’s Happy Hour at Home and The Sexy Vegan Cookbook. He’s also the executive chef for Vegin’ Out, a vegan food delivery service in Los Angeles. As the quintessential “regular dude” vegan chef, he started posting instructional cooking videos on YouTube as his witty, ukulele-playing alter ego, the Sexy Vegan, and quickly gained a large following. Visit him online at thesexyvegan.com. But before you go there, let’s listen to him right now because I’m going to bring Brian on.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, how are you doing, Brian? Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Brian Patton: Here I am. Hi Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi. Well, I think we’re on a very similar mission, which is to make plant-based food fun and delicious.
Brian Patton: I would agree. That is my mission, indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, so I was happy to discover you. There was a time in my life…I’ve been vegan over 25 years…and there was a time when I thought I knew all the vegans out there. And now it seems I’m learning about a gazillion of them every day, which is really…
Brian Patton: They’re multiplying exponentially.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and I’m not procreating so it’s not like I’m making any but somehow they are multiplying.
Brian Patton: Yes they are.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s a beautiful, beautiful, delicious thing.
Brian Patton: I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright. So shall we talk to Brian or shall we talk to your alter ego, the Sexy Vegan?
Brian Patton: Well, your choice. It’s mostly the same guy. One is a little bit more exaggerated and annoying.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Let’s hold off on the annoying part and let’s just jump right in. Nah, before we jump right in, I was trying to learn a little bit more about you and I wanted to know about your past because I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Brian Patton: I’m very mysterious that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Brian Patton: I try to keep things very under wraps.
Caryn Hartglass: I know you’re from Pennsylvania, right?
Brian Patton: Yes, I am from Pennsylvania. I’m from the Pocono area in Northeastern PA. Kind of rural. Kind of not a place where a vegan would really live very well at this time probably. I grew up sort of eating just pizza and more pizza and stromboli and pierogies and whatever else was the local fare. I come from…my part of town was very Irish and Italian mostly so there was a lot of that type of food. So grew up having these huge Sunday dinners over at my grandparents’ house: homemade pasta, meatballs, homemade bread. I don’t know what time they woke up in the morning to make this but it was pretty insane that they fed like 16 people by noon with this everything-made-from-scratch meal.
Caryn Hartglass: Amen to that.
Brian Patton: That was quite great to have that as part of my childhood for sure. So that’s where maybe I got my spark for cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, I’m from New York and I’ve lived all around the world and I did go to college in Pennsylvania at Bucknell University.
Brian Patton: I went to Susquehanna University right down the road.
Caryn Hartglass: I had a feeling.
Brian Patton: Rivals.
Caryn Hartglass: It was the stromboli page in your book that kind of got me curious because when I was going to Bucknell I had a rock band and my senior year my band was at Penn State and there was some amazing stromboli in State College, Pennsylvania where Penn State University was. Amazing.
Brian Patton: Yes. There’s a place right downtown at Penn State College. I think it’s called Highway Pizza. I’m not sure if it’s still there or not but I think that’s what it’s called and that’s the go-to place.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I have to admit that I have kind of been stromboli-free for the last quarter century just because it’s not an easy thing to come by vegan-wise.
Brian Patton: No. Well, not in Los Angeles for sure. When I moved here ten years ago I got all of these pizza menus dropped off on my doorstep and I was like, “Oh, I’ll order a stromboli.” And there were no strombolis so I called and asked them and they said they didn’t know what that was. I find that weird because there are so many…I had to figure that there is at least one person who moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and opened a pizza place and put a stromboli on the menu but I have yet to find that in ten years of living here.
Caryn Hartglass: And how hard is it? A stromboli’s just like a rolled up pizza.
Brian Patton: It’s a tube of pizza. It’s very easy. A very simple concept. Maybe they feel like people living in California would be scared of that but I don’t know. I don’t know because the West Coast…the East Coast is used to tubes. They’re used to subways and things enclosed and things and we don’t have that out here so maybe that’s the reason. I’m just guessing.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t know. But we’ve got the burrito that’s quite popular.
Brian Patton: That’s a good point.
Caryn Hartglass: And I’ve seen some pretty giant burritos that are almost as big as a stromboli. Not quite but almost.
Brian Patton: You are correct. I have seen that too.
Caryn Hartglass: Maybe the strombolis…
Brian Patton: I think you just shot down my whole tube argument.
Caryn Hartglass: There you go. Crass on the tube. Anyway, so the holy stromboli is the first entry in your Happy Hour at Home book.
Brian Patton: That’s correct.
Caryn Hartglass: Why don’t you just back up a little bit now that I’ve already jumped into the book? What is this Happy Hour at Home book?
Brian Patton: OK. Happy Hour basically started as sort of a whim. I came home…it was like Friday night and my pantry and my fridge were basically barren because it’s the end of the week and I do my shopping and stuff on Saturdays. I didn’t have much to deal with. The girlfriend was coming home—who has since become the wife—and I usually do all of the cooking and I didn’t have anything to make a major meal so I just took a can of beans and whatever was left in the crisper and some grains and just kind of put together these small plates. It didn’t really make sense all that much at the time but they were just these little, small plates and we just sat out on the balcony and drank some adult beverages and that was sort of how it began. I thought that this is kind of nice. We have these small plates somewhat like tapas but we don’t have to go out to a bar and get crappy food and pay for drinks and deal with a bunch of people. We just get to do it in the comfort of our own home. So I thought, “Let me do this every week.” So every Friday I started doing the same thing. I would just grab random things and put them together and sometimes things were good and sometimes things weren’t good but I was just shooting from the hip basically. That was sort of fun. What happened then is that my wife started bragging to her friends about this thing that we were doing and they were wondering where their invitation was so…
Caryn Hartglass: Because they certainly weren’t going to cook at home.
Brian Patton: So this romantic, nice thing for just her and I became more of a job for me now because now I have to feed more people and I have to plan it out a little bit more because these people are coming over this Friday and these people are coming over next Friday so that’s where the happy hour idea came from. So that’s what’s in the book: just different menus and the menus kind of…the holy stromboli, for example, it has some stromboli and some quick jardenaira, which is kind of a quick pickled vegetable dish and these little cannoli cups as sort of a dessert. That would be an example of a happy hour menu that I would do before this book came to be.
Caryn Hartglass: Do people invite you over and make food for you?
Brian Patton: No, never.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we talk about that a little bit?
Brian Patton: Everybody comes here. I’m always doing the work. Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Why is that? You know, we cook a lot here and we love cooking and we’re real creative about it. We love having parties and having people over and yet, is it because…well, I can think of a number of things. I think because most people don’t know where their kitchen is.
Brian Patton: This is true. This is very true.
Caryn Hartglass: They don’t know what to make and if they’re not vegan, it just scares them. “What are we going to make? They’re vegan.”
Brian Patton: “What are we going to feed these guys?” Absolutely. The few times when there is a party that I’m going to or something like that, people get really freaked out. They’re like…because of my friends, I’m like pretty much the only vegan or vegetarian of our friends, besides my wife who’s pescatarian. People like kind of freak out. They’re like, “We’ll make sure we have something for him but what could we have? Where should we get it? What should we do? What does he like?” I’m just like, “I’ll bring something. It’s easy for me to bring something but don’t stress.” People get very stressed out. And believe me, I appreciate that. It’s a very excellent, nice gesture but I do see that happening a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so the message is for those of you who want to invite us don’t stress out.
Brian Patton: Don’t stress out. Because we are professionals. We are professional vegans. After being vegan for a certain amount of time, you know how to operate in the world as a vegan. You know that if you’re going to a restaurant, you do research ahead of time. You find out what’s on the menu. Maybe you can make something like that. That’s another thing. If we’re going out to eat, someone will suggest a restaurant and they’ll say, “Ooh, I don’t know if there’s anything there for you.” I’m like, “Don’t worry. I will find something on the menu.” There’s always a vegetable side dish. There’s always a salad that I can take cheese and meat out of. So remain calm and don’t worry about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Remain calm, please. It’s also a good opportunity to open a cookbook, like Happy Hour at Home, and see if there’s something that sounds good to you and try to make it because you’ll only be a better person.
Brian Patton: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it will just open your mind a little bit if you do cook in the kitchen. If you don’t cook vegan, seeing how easy things can be, how quickly they can come together and how good they can taste without any animal products is something everybody should really experience because it’s really not that hard and that’s why I do the books that I do.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to say a few things. I can’t say them all at once so I’ll just take a deep breath and hope I remember them as we go along. I learned to cook from cookbooks and just from trial and error and looking at dishes. I lived in France for four years as a vegan and I just looked at what other people were eating and thought that whatever that is, I’m going to try and make it. You learn that way. So for people who aren’t comfortable in the kitchen and don’t know how to cook, you just have to start. You just have to try something. So what if you fail? Try again.
Brian Patton: Yup. Absolutely. You have to be aware that you will fail. You will spend an hour and a half making something and you’ll burn it, you’ll do something wrong and you’ll have to throw it away. It happens to everyone. It happens to me sometimes now. It’s just a fact of life. That will happen. So you just have to be prepared for that and not give up when that happens. I say start simply. Go find a vegetable that you’ve never eaten before or that you’ve never prepared before and use that for a week. Try different recipes. Just that simple ingredient. Like a kale or some sort of grain that you’ve never heard of before. Just try it and learn how to make that. And then next week pick something else and tackle things slowly and slowly take an interest in the food that you’re making.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. It’s so worth it. The other thing that I wanted to mention was (that) somewhere in the beginning of the book I think you talk about efficiency and managing and why some people don’t succeed in the kitchen is because they are not planning and how important that is.
Brian Patton: Yeah. That is really very important when you’re in the kitchen, especially if you’re preparing a couple different dishes like a main dish and two side dishes or something like that, you really have to use…there’s always going to be these pockets of time. You don’t have to chop up every single thing in all of the recipes at the same time because one thing you might have to chop up and put in the oven for an hour. So you do that first, put it in the oven, and then go back to chopping the other stuff. What I’ve done in the book is at the beginning of each chapter…well each of the chapter are the menus. Each menu is like three or sometimes four dishes. So at the beginning of each menu, I have this efficiency tip that tells you when to do things across the three recipes. So you might do one thing for one recipe first, then skip to the second recipe because this will take this amount of time and you utilize that pocket of time. It tells you how to make these menus most efficiently. Hopefully the idea is the reader will take that skill from just these recipes and be able to apply that to cooking out of any other cookbooks or any recipes from online.
Caryn Hartglass: OK. Now. Everybody that’s listening right now, I know you’re online. So if you go to thesexyvegan.com/gallery you’ll be able to get a sampling of what things look like that are in this book, right?
Brian Patton: Yeah. It’s a full color photo gallery on the Web site. It’s the same photos plus some more that are in the book. So that’s just a quick way to go see them online. Before you buy the book, you can get some great, full color beautiful pix of what types of dishes that you’ll be finding here.
Caryn Hartglass: The one that makes me laugh the most is this, oh I don’t what you call it, but this spinach dip in the bread thing.
Brian Patton: Oh, yes, the spinach-artichoke dip in the bread bowl.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. OK, now I’m sure this is like light years ahead of in flavor and quality and nutritional value than what was served…I don’t know when the spinach dips and bread bowls came out. Was that like a 70s or 80s thing?
Brian Patton: I don’t know. I think maybe. I didn’t become alive until 1978 so I don’t remember the 70s really.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, gosh, I do. And these were quite the popular thing but this one looks just so much better. The bread looks better…
Brian Patton: It’s a re-creation of a dish that’s…there’s this place in Selinsgrove, a town that you should be familiar with…
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I bought my first car there. Selinsgrove Toyota I think it was. Anyway. Tell me more about Selinsgrove.
Brian Patton: There was this place called BJs that we used to go to and they had this bongo bongo dip and it was bubbly, cheesy spinach artichoke dip with all kinds of cheeses and it also had water chestnuts, which I hate, but I would just eat around those. So I wanted to recreate that dish because I just loved it so much and who doesn’t love a good spinach-artichoke dip? This one’s mainly cashew-based and super easy to make. You blend up some cashews and spices and spinach and artichoke and you’re good to go. And if you have a bread bowl standing by from 1972…
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. Now, I read that you became a vegan after working at Vegin’ in Los Angeles.
Brian Patton: Right. Vegin’ Out is the name of the company. I’m executive chef there now and we’re a food delivery service so we deliver a full week’s worth of fully prepared meals to people in Los Angeles and Southern California.
Caryn Hartglass: For people who don’t know where their kitchens are.
Brian Patton: Exactly. I started working there just as sort of a prep cook. I was also doing marketing but I was basically chopping vegetables, helping with the preparation of the food and I was really unhealthy. I probably weighed about 260 lbs. I had lots of bad habits, like lots of alcohol, cigarettes and all this horrible stuff. I thought, OK, I’m working for this vegan company. I’m sick of what I look like and how I feel and all the things that I’m doing so I’ll try to be vegan for a month. I’m around all this food, I’m learning about how to cook it, I have access to it so I’ll be vegan for a month and see what happens. So a month went by. I started to feel better. I lost a couple pounds and thought that wasn’t that hard, I think I can do another month. So that lead to 10 months down the road, I’m 60 pounds lighter and I just feel like I did when I was 18 again. From that point, I was like, that’s it. I am vegan now. I don’t need to consume…I don’t need to harm another being in order to survive and thrive and feel great. I made that connection.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. I love stories like that. Now let me ask you…does it extend beyond food your vegan philosophy?
Brian Patton: Oh yes, absolutely. I definitely didn’t became vegan for the ethical reasons, I just did it for the health reasons. I didn’t really make a connection with the ethical reasons until right around that 10-month to a year mark. Just by nature of being vegan and looking up vegan recipes and vegan items, you can’t help but come across the ethical videos about slaughterhouses and all this sort of information. I listened to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast a lot, Vegetarian Food for Thought, during my transition in that first year and that’s when I really sort of got hip to all that information along with doing my own research so there was a point at which I was sitting when I really realized that I was vegan for more than just health was after about a year. I was sitting on my couch and a spider was walking across and nine times out of ten—ten times out of then before that I would just stomp out the spider, stomp it out of existence and go about my day and not care about it. But for some reason, at that moment, without thinking, I got a cup and a piece of paper and I trapped it and I scooped it up and I escorted it outside. At that moment, my roommate walked into the room and he was like, “What are you doing? What did you just do?” I said, “I have no idea why I just did that but I guess I don’t kill spiders anymore.” So I sat down and I thought about why did I do that and I just realized the connection that I had with the spider and that the spider was just going about its day. It didn’t know that it was on my turf and scaring me and creeping me out. He didn’t know that. He was just being a spider. I think that in the grand scheme of the universe, us humans, we don’t know what we are. Maybe we’re just a spider that hasn’t gotten stepped on yet so I put that on the spider. OK, well, if this spider hasn’t attacked me in any way, I’m going to let him go about his day as I go about my day not attacking people.
Caryn Hartglass: The power of being mindful.
Brian Patton: Exactly. And I had never made that connection until that moment. For me from then on, no more leather shoes, no more leather belts…
Caryn Hartglass: OK, I’m glad you brought that up because it looks like in your pictures that you have a little fashion sense. Where are you getting your men’s clothing?
Brian Patton: You know, there’s Alternative Outfitters is a place. That’s where I would get like my belts and shoes. Also, Moo Shoes, I think is the name of the company.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah. They’re in New York City. Right here.
Brian Patton: Yeah. So those are great places to get leather-free items and the tie…if you see I’m wearing a bow-tie. A lot of bow-ties especially are made from silk so…it’s not an all-vegan place but it’s called The Tie Bar and it’s really cheap ties, like $15 and they have a section that’s just cotton ties that aren’t made from any animal products. They’re like $15 and they have lots of colors and designs. I swear by them for the ties. It’s so easy to find clothes that are not animal-derived that there’s no point in not getting it. I mean, maybe it’s a little more expensive but maybe oftentimes it’s not. It’s worth it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, OK. One other question. Where does the ukulele fit into all of this?
Brian Patton: Oh, I’ve been playing guitar since college and I don’t even know where I saw someone playing the ukulele. No, I’m sorry. A friend of mine had a ukulele and he brought it to a party and I said, “Let me see that thing.” So I started messing around with it and I like the sound of this. So I started to learn it and I just started to write silly little goofy songs. I had a song about pizza. I had a song called, “Seriously You Shouldn’t Eat Meat.” I had a song called, “The Bacon on the Ukulele Song.” A song called, “Artichokes: You One of a Kind.” I’d write little songs about food. You can see all of those songs on my YouTube page if you just go to thesexyvegan.com you’ll see all the links to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all that stuff where you’ll find me.
Caryn Hartglass: Very good. I love it. I think it’s really important to spread the word with music. It’s something that we’re doing at my nonprofit, Responsible Eating and Living. We’ve created recently The Swinging Gourmets.
Brian Patton: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I know that.
Caryn Hartglass: So that’s all about swingin’ great music and food.
Brian Patton: Y’all sing way better than I do. I’m horrible.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you very much. Well, we try. Brian, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. I hope maybe some time you’re in New York, I’ll have you over. I’m not afraid to cook for you.
Brian Patton: Alright. I’m up for the challenge of having you cook for me.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. Well, you’ll have to let me know.
Brian Patton: Thank you so very much. I appreciate it.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food. Alright, just a minute left. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. It’s All About Food. It’s All About Food. I just wanted to let you know a number of things. My Web site is responsibleeatingandliving.com and you may remember a few years ago I interviewed Courtney Meder of Pure Water. They’ve got some great water distillers and what I love about them is they are made in the United States. Well, now, if you want to find them, you can go to responsibleeatingandliving.com and click on the Water Made Wonderful link and find out about these water distillers called AquaNui. I think they’re really great product and so I’m happy to be affiliated with them. And then, of course, the Swingin’ Gourmets will be coming out with part two of our Real American Barbeque and if you haven’t seen the first episode yet, please check it out at swingingourmets.com. There we go. That’s the end of the hour. Thank you so much for joining me. I’ve had fun. I hope you have. And remember you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, what else? Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 12/4/2013