Craig Cochran has has been a tour-de-force in the NYC restaurant scene with over a decade of opening and running pioneering restaurants. In 2010, he co-founded Terri, the first plant-based fast food restaurant in NYC. Terri now has three locations. Craig is the co-founder of P.S. Kitchen, a new, gourmet restaurant which donates 100% of the profits to charity. Craig is also the co-founder of Blackbird Seitan. Craig co-founded and co-owns the newest business Plates By Terri, a full-service catering company.
Since 2009, It’s All About Food, has been bringing you the best in up-to-date news regarding food and our food system. Hosted by Caryn Hartglass, a vegan since 1988, the program includes in-depth interviews with medical doctors; nutritionists; dietitians; cook book authors; athletes; environmental, animals and health activists; farmers; food manufacturers; lawyers; food scientists and more. Learn about how we can solve many of the world’s problems today and do it deliciously, here on It’s All About Food.
File Name: IAFF-26sept2017-craig-cochran
Caryn Hartglass: I really do hope you check out the film Prosperity, especially when it’s free, right? You can’t beat that. But in this day and age of gloom and doom and all of the seemingly wrong decisions that are being made left and right, up and down, here and afar, you will be inspired and kind of encouraged to see what you can do in your own life once you see what others are doing to make pretty good change, and like Pedram talked about, in some ways it’s about making things simpler, not more complicated. I hope you enjoy that film. Okay, I’m waiting for my guest to arrive and I’m not surprised that he isn’t here yet because he happens to be running restaurants and it can be a crazy time there. But he’ll be here soon and I’m looking forward to that.
But meanwhile, let’s just talk about food and my experiences with food over the week. You know, I’ve said from time to time that when I visited friends in hospitals or medical facilities, some things have improved in some places, but not most. And not where I was this week. So, I’ve been talking about taking my parents around and my dad has been requiring some medical attention. He is 89 years old and he was having a treatment this, actually it was last Friday. And it was a two, two and a half hour procedure, whatever, and they served treats. So, while you’re being treated to boost your immune system with the immunotherapy to fight cancer, they feed you treats and those treats that they serve are the kinds of things that are known to do what? Promote cancer. Is it what we were talking about earlier, that people really mean well and they just have been manipulated and don’t know what they’re really doing? I don’t know. I don’t know. All I know is that they had some nice little energy bars that were filled with all kinds of sugary sweeteners and while the sugar that’s found in whole fruits is fine and good for us, the sugar that is processed is not and does not react the same in the body when it’s not being digested with fiber. And it can do a lot of damage and it can also grow that cancer. And there were pretzels and chips and where were the- where was the fresh fruit? Where was the broccoli? Where were the mushrooms? Who wants to snack on those? I do. But part of it, I keep thinking, is they want to keep their customers coming back. The hospitals anyway, the medical facilities. Keep them well enough so that they can buy all of these crazy products but not that well because you want them to keep coming back. And there’s not a whole lot I can do about it once I’m there. But what I want to do is scream but I don’t think that would get me very far, if I started screaming, right? Okay.
I had a chance recently to create a new dish and actually, I’m going to bringing on my guest soon when he shows up, which is Craig Cochran, who is the co-owner of a very new restaurant, PS Kitchen, we mentioned that new restaurant on the show before. I think it opened in August and I was there, mid-August. And the dish that I chose was a ginger congee. Have you ever had congee? Congee is like a rice soup where you cook rice, typically white rice, and you cook it for hours, two, three, four hours so that the rice just totally falls apart and it’s creamy and you can season it typically with mushrooms and ginger. I love when it’s just loaded with ginger. I made one but I didn’t use white rice because we like to use whole foods, we like to use minimally processed foods, we like to eat the whole grains with their exteriors that are filled with all kinds of important nutrients, rather than the polished version of rice that takes all the good stuff off before you eat it. And I made a congee. It didn’t get as creamy as the white would. And I only cooked it for about three hours. Maybe if I cooked it for six it would’ve gotten creamier, but it’s fantastic. I used black rice and red rice and brown rice and tons of ginger. And some shiitake and porcini mushrooms, and just cooked it. And it didn’t, and it wasn’t complicated, just throw it in a pot and stir occasionally and just add water if it keeps drying up. But, I love congee and I’m so glad that I was able to make it at home.
Another thing, as I deal with my parents aging and going through some of the things that they’re going through, I’m committed more than ever, and I’ve always been committed, maybe I should be more committed, to eating as healthy as I can because, you know a lot of us say, we don’t want to become our parents. I don’t want what’s happening to them, to happen to me. Maybe it’s selfish. And I will be talking to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, I think it’s next week, next week. He has a new book out called Fast Food, something rather, it’s about fast food. And the book is coming out, I think October 17. And we’ll be talking about it next week. And I’ll tell you, one of the questions I want to ask him, maybe you know the answer, we often talk about what unhealthy lifestyles can do. We know that processed foods, lots of animal products, increase the risk of cancer and heart disease and diabetes, all those chronic diseases, immune diseases, and make the body age faster and make it feel not as good as it should be, not as energetic as it should, the pain and the aches increase with poor lifestyle, poor diet. And then we talk about how the risk of just dying comes earlier, if we’re not taking care of ourselves. But if we do take care of ourselves, and do everything known to us that we can to keep our body fit and in shape and well nourished, what is death supposed to look like? And that’s what I want to know. Do you know? Is it just that we live and maybe slow down a little bit and then fall asleep? That would be nice. But do people do that? Do people that are living really healthy lifestyles and are fit and well nourished, is that what happens? Because I don’t hear that happening very often. I’m kind of curious about it. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
So I’m waiting for my guest, and he’s not here and he’s supposed to be on his way and Craig Cochran is quite an ambitious person and he has put together a number of fast food vegan restaurants here in Manhattan as well as this very new high end PS Kitchen, and I’m looking forward to hearing the stories about that. One of the things that I learned from eating in the restaurant, PS Kitchen, when they serve bottles of water, they have fresh mint in the water and try it at home! This is something you can do at home. Just put a sprig of mint in your water. It’s fantastic. It feels really fresh and okay, come on in Craig. Come on in. Thank you so much. Yes, have a seat. Put your headset on, and welcome to It’s All About Food.
Craig Cochran: Thanks for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: I can’t imagine what your schedule is like.
Craig Cochran: It’s interesting.
Caryn Hartglass: Something we did at the top of the show was something that I tell my audience I do for a living, and that’s breathing. And I want to give you a moment to just take a breath.
Craig Cochran: No, I’m good, I’m good.
Caryn Hartglass: He’s good. That’s great.
Craig Cochran: I’m good. I’m a professional.
Caryn Hartglass: I was just talking about when we visited PS Kitchen, the water was served with fresh sprigs of mint. Are you still doing that?
Craig Cochran: Yes, we’re still doing that.
Caryn Hartglass: I want to tell you, I did it at home.
Craig Cochran: It’s pretty good, right?
Caryn Hartglass: It’s fantastic. I’m very particular about my water. So we have an under the sink water filter and then I distill the water so like it’s double cleaned and then adding the mint to it is just spectacular.
Craig Cochran: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Well welcome.
Craig Cochran: Thank you, thanks for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: So I’ve read a little bit about you. Oh, maybe I should, do I even have your bio here? I should pull it up and tell us who you are. You founded a number of vegan restaurants and I was following your story and I want to start at the, somewhat in the beginning. The beginning of your story, what I want to say, is not necessarily unique for vegetarians. So you were a teenager and you went to college and I think a professor got you interested in vegetarianism.
Craig Cochran: He asked why do we eat pigs and love dogs and we had a whole discussion about that. What’s the difference between a pig and a dog and who has dogs and how would you feel if someone ate them and all those things. So, it just got me, certainly got me thinking. The light went on. I never thought really before that, he challenged us to try it for a week and that seemed very reasonable and I tried it for a week and now it’s been twenty years.
Caryn Hartglass: Good for you. What class was that?
Craig Cochran: Philosophy. Yes, good old philosophy.
Caryn Hartglass: There you go, philosophy. I love the vegan philosophers.
Craig Cochran: You know, to this day, I don’t even know if he’s vegan or vegetarian. I just think he was the kind of person that liked to push buttons and push the envelope and challenge people, really, and I’m happy he did.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m happy he did too, for us because we all get to benefit deliciously. Okay, what I want to say about you is it’s not that unusual for people who become vegetarian, especially at a young age, to start figuring out how to make their meals interesting and tasty and kind of like what we were used to eating, and then we think, oh I have to open a restaurant. And everybody says it but very few do it. And even fewer succeed. And I’m looking at you. A success story.
Craig Cochran: Thank you. Yes, it’s pretty crazy. I mean, I was an activist as a kid. You know, when I made the conversion, I wanted everybody to eat that way. I thought it was so much better for everybody. And I thought I made the best arguments in the world, but when the easiest argument for a meal is when I put a good plate in front of someone, it just, it melted all their cares away. And I said, this is, that’s when the other light bulb went off. I just need to, I need to make this food more accessible, and the food that was available to me in Buffalo, anyway, was not the type of food that I was used to and that I wanted or craved. The idea was I was actually going to move to New York to learn how to do it and go back to Buffalo and open a spot, but I fell in love with New York and so here I am.
Caryn Hartglass: I love New York.
Craig Cochran: I love it here.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s all about access. Accessibility. You named your fast food restaurants after your mom, Terri, and what is she? Is she following your path?
Craig Cochran: She eats close to the, closer to; I don’t want to say teach an old dog new tricks, but she’s much better. We’re German. My grandma is from Germany and the things we ate, most people would, They’d be concerned.
Caryn Hartglass: What’s fascinating about Germany, is the traditional diet is very meat focused, but they have a tremendous vegan movement there.
Craig Cochran: They do. That did not exist in 1913 when my grandma was born. Yes, but that’s the other thing, I grew up with this particular palette in Buffalo and having German grandparents and growing up in Buffalo, so that’s really inspired many of my dishes at Terri and at the new restaurant, PS.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of times I talk on this program when I talk about vegan restaurants, that there’s a difference between in them, I think, than most other restaurants because in addition to wanting to provide food and I would want to think that most restaurants want to provide good tasting food, maybe not necessarily health food, but something, an atmosphere that people would enjoy, there’s this undercurrent of love with vegan restaurant owners and this joyful wonder because there’s so much more to it than just providing healthy food.
Craig Cochran: Thank you. I think there are a lot of really talented people out there that are making an incredible foods and just in the twenty years that I’ve been vegan, it’s been a huge change in all the options. This is something I’m passionate about and there is a lot of very passionate people out there right now making lots of delicious food.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay now in addition to all the wonderful things you’re doing and the skills that you have, the timing is right. And because I’ve been vegan for almost 30 years, and watching different restaurants try and fail and some of them were good, some of them not so good, and some of them are still around but maybe not making a big splash, I don’t know if you were familiar with Zen Burger when they came out.
Craig Cochran: Yes, I was familiar with Zen Burger.
Caryn Hartglass: I think they were just before ready, but they didn’t do everything right either because I didn’t think their food tasted that good.
Craig Cochran: Well I don’t remember there being a lot of vegan options, for one, I remember going in there, I was super excited and I think there was one thing I could eat and I was a little disappointed in that, and their footprint was really big. They had a really expensive property, location in New York. And that’s something I’m very cognizant about in New York. We have a commissary in Long Island City, which produces, does a lot of the heavy lifting for the restaurants, and that’s why I’m able to keep the footprint small, which keeps the rent down and makes us able to stay around.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, Manhattan is very expensive.
Craig Cochran: It’s insane. If I threw out some numbers, you would just, I mean, never in my life would I ever think I’d be paying rents that I’m paying, coming from, I grew up in the projects in Buffalo and twenty dollars for a meal for five, that was a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: And you were able to sleep at night.
Craig Cochran: Yeah, I sleep great.
Caryn Hartglass: Good. You don’t think how am I going to make all this…
Craig Cochran: No, I have a great life.
Caryn Hartglass: Good. Good. So what’s fascinating now is how vegan cuisine has evolved and it continues to evolve and becomes more exciting and it’s not brown rice and steamed veggies anymore, although, I love brown rice and steamed veggies.
Craig Cochran: I do too, I do too.
Caryn Hartglass: And going to PS Kitchen, it’s a very unique place and very unique flavors and I don’t remember seeing a green salad on the menu.
Craig Cochran: There’s no green salad on the menu. That was somewhat purposeful. I’m not a huge fan of salad. But we felt the pressure and we might put one on. Yeah, I don’t know, to me, it’s not a food group, but we have the green smoothies. I never had kale before I moved to New York, I never had quinoa, I didn’t know what that was, there’s a lot of things, that you know, that I’m exposed to because of my diet and because the restrictions, ironically, to the diet that I’ve explored so many more things that are out there, it’s great.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It’s, when people start to get to know food and what’s in their food, it’s a wonderful thing, but it can also be a very annoying thing because all the foodies can be very demanding and very particular. New Yorkers are very demanding about their food to begin with, wanting exactly what they want and why don’t you have it when I want it.
Craig Cochran: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: And it shouldn’t have, you know, wheat or soy or whatever the trending problem food is.
Craig Cochran: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. But you’ve done very well.
Craig Cochran: Thank you. Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: So tell me more about PS Kitchen and what’s happening. You got a liquor license?
Craig Cochran: Oh yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Because when we were there, you didn’t have it. But as a result, you had some wonderful non-alcoholic mixtures.
Craig Cochran: We do, we have since fully loaded those wonderful non-alcoholic drinks. So, they are now available. Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: I had the War of the Roses.
Craig Cochran: Yeah! That’s one of my favorites.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s stunning and beautiful with the colors and flavors.
Craig Cochran: Thank you. Yeah, we’re ready for action.
Caryn Hartglass: Now does the menu change?
Craig Cochran: The menu is going to change, yes, seasonally. So we’re already working on our fall menu.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we, can you entice me a little bit? I’m starving right now.
Craig Cochran: Well, a lot of the idea, so we have a strawberry shortcake on the menu, it’s a summer dish. It’s one of my favorites. Just in terms of, there’s an almond cream that goes with it, which is incredible and I think that to me, it personally makes the dish. So we’re talking about something simple, pears, which I love, or apple, but I think pear would go nicely with that. But as far as the rest of the menu, I’m really leaving this up to my chefs. I throw them ideas and I tell them the things I like. We have a Buffalo Hen of the Woods dish, and there’s a German potato salad with purple sweet potatoes and that was something that I asked for, so these are just, I just threw out some ideas, there are dishes I loved as a kid, elevate them, and they did. I’m going to see what they can do with some of my fall ideas, but I haven’t seen…
Caryn Hartglass: Did you have purple sweet potatoes?
Craig Cochran: No, no we didn’t. No.
Caryn Hartglass: Because I just discovered them a few years ago. The first purple sweet potato I ever had tasted like a donut to me.
Craig Cochran: Yes, they’re very, they’re really nice. No, but no. That’s the idea. I take something that’s sort of, I don’t want to say peasant food, I take something simple that my parents and grandparents made, and I say what can you do with this? And that’s what they came up with. I was really happy with it.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Lovely. I just had a thought and it left my head but that’s okay.
Craig Cochran: It sometimes, it happens.
Caryn Hartglass: Especially when you’re running like this on all four cylinders. Are there cylinders in cars anymore?
Craig Cochran: I believe so. I believe so. Some of them.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I wasn’t going to say that you have to have salads on your menu but I just found it so unique what you were offering, you know, we go to different restaurants with different kinds of cuisine so when you visit Chinese restaurants, or an Indian restaurant, you’re not going to expect to find what you find in an Italian restaurant. Vegan cuisine is developing in such a way that there are all these different facets of it that you don’t have to expect quinoa, brown rice at every restaurant, or green salads. Although I do recommend it because, well sometimes, it’s the same thing with any restaurant where I wish more restaurants would offer vegan options because then everyone could dine together.
Craig Cochran: Yeah, well one of the things that motivates me to create dishes is I want to appeal to, I was trying to think of what my parents would want and what I would want before I was vegetarian. You know, so I’m trying to appeal to the mainstream, essentially, as you know, there are stereotypes of vegan food and I think that Terri does a good job of bucking those stereotypes so that’s what I want to continue to do with PS. I’m very cognizant about the fact that we don’t have brown rice and we don’t have quinoa and we don’t have things like that. There’s nothing wrong with that and I love those myself, personally, and not to say that it won’t happen some day, when it will happen, it’ll happen in a way that I think will be unexpected I guess.
Caryn Hartglass: The flavors and texture are all very unusual but not off-putting like what is this? But more like what is this? But I’m thinking, I mentioned it a few weeks ago, I’ve been, my parents, my dad is 89 and my mom is 84 and they’re going through some challenging times and I’ve been spending more time with them taking them to doctors and going to their restaurants, which has not been very pleasant for me. I visited every diner on Long Island and they could use your help. But then I took them to a place that I wanted to go to and then I had to review the menu and say what is on here that they’re palette would understand? They’re not big fans of cumin and curry flavors and that’s a popular flavoring in a lot of vegan food. I love it.
Craig Cochran: It is. Yeah. But I totally understand that. I remember that one of my first vegan Thanksgivings I went to there was something with cumin in it and I thought this does not belong in Thanksgiving food. I thought it was sacrilegious in some way but yeah I can relate.
Caryn Hartglass: Is PS Kitchen going to have a Thanksgiving menu?
Craig Cochran: Yeah, we will.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it going to be like Thanksgiving as we know it?
Craig Cochran: Yes, we will.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce?
Craig Cochran: Yeah. Elevated. Yeah, we’re going to do some stuff with that for sure. That’s one of my favorite meals of the year.
Caryn Hartglass: I love Thanksgiving and I love preparing Thanksgiving meals but it comes with so much stress and things when you’re inviting people that aren’t vegan and I keep saying okay we’re going out next year. We haven’t done it yet but maybe we’ll go out this year.
Craig Cochran: You should, you can ask people who are coming to the Thanksliving event at Woodstock last year, we catered that event and my, I personally think my grandma made the best stuffing in the world and we will probably have that stuffing featured in some way at our restaurant site. I think it’s delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Back to Terri. I read in your bio, which I didn’t read to everyone, that you have Plates by Terri or a catering business?
Craig Cochran: Yeah, a catering business.
Caryn Hartglass: Where do we get to find out about that or access it?
Craig Cochran: PlatesbyTerri.com. So there’s a website and we, we’ve catered several weddings, we’ve done some large events for, like Woodstock, and some other people.
Caryn Hartglass: So is the food a little more varied than it is at your restaurants?
Craig Cochran: It’s closer to PS. Yes, it’s much…
Caryn Hartglass: It’s more elevated. Yes, I’m trying to use your vocabulary.
Craig Cochran: Yeah, for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay that’s good to know.
Craig Cochran: Well you know I created the menu myself with some people and there’s other things I could cook that aren’t appropriate for Terri and this is a way for me to showcase those things. It’s fun.
Caryn Hartglass: What did you have for lunch today?
Craig Cochran: Oh my god I had half of my menu at PS. It was awesome. I had the Buffalo Hen of the Woods, I had the Colombian Potato Soup, I had the Orzo Alfredo…
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, that’s good.
Craig Cochran: With the sun dried tomato and Chile compote. I had the crispy artichokes and I swear I’m not plotting, I literally had all these things, I was just in another interview and they wanted to taste some things so, yeah. A couple other things. The burger as well. We had the Banh Mi Burger, which is incredible. Oh god that’s so good. It is. It’s just so good and you have to recognize brilliance when there’s brilliance.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I had the ginger congee and I was just talking about it because I made some congee at home but my congee is like not real congee because I used whole grains so the rice doesn’t really melt.
Craig Cochran: Oh right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: But it was still quite good and I just love ginger and can’t have enough.
Craig Cochran: Good, thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well now I am really suffering here because I’m hungry.
Craig Cochran: Oh I’m so sorry.
Caryn Hartglass: No, that’s what happens on this food, on this show when we talk about food. So what can we expect from you next?
Craig Cochran: Well, I want to, you know, I’m taking the training wheels off PS Kitchen a little bit and then I will focus my eyes on other projects.
Caryn Hartglass: I just remembered what it was that I forgot before…
Craig Cochran: Oh sure.
Caryn Hartglass: I was talking to Pedram Shojai about the work he has coming out called Prosperity. The theme of the movie is about how we can actually have profit by having businesses that have a purpose and a social benefit and then I was following up with you which is one beautiful and delicious example of businesses that have a beautiful purpose and make delicious food that’s good for us and good for the planet and kind of giving people access to make healthy choices that aren’t going to be bad for the planet or their families. So you have a business that is profiting with a purpose.
Craig Cochran: Thank you. And we’re trying to create a social business here in New York. Not only do we, are we giving the profits to charity but we’re also working with organizations here in New York that, I guess, you know just helping people locally so we work with The Doe Fund, Restore, and the Bowery Mission, here locally.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. We’re out. We’re done. Thank you. I wanted to wrap up with that very bit of last information. They give their profits to charity and they’re helping very worthwhile organizations. Beautiful.
Craig Cochran: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you Craig Cochran for joining me on It’s All About Food and go and visit PS kitchen today!
Craig Cochran: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: All right everybody thanks for joining me, I’m Caryn Hartglass and this has been another episode of It’s All About Food. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Lori Kim 11/11/2017