Del Sroufe, Better Than Vegan


Part II: Del Sroufe, Better Than Vegan


Del Sroufe’s passion for cooking began at eight years old and never faded. In 1989 he went to work for one of Columbus’ premier vegetarian restaurants, the King Avenue Coffeehouse, where he honed his craft as a baker and chef. Sroufe opened Del’s Bread, a vegan bakery, before beginning vegan meal delivery service in 2001, serving eclectic plant-based cuisine to Columbus residents. During this time, he developed what became a very popular cooking class series, sharing many of the delicious recipes he had created over the years.

In 2006, Sroufe joined Wellness Forum Foods as co-owner and chef, where he continued the tradition of delivering great tasting, plant-based meals to clients in Columbus as well as throughout the continental U.S. Sroufe also joined The Wellness Forum as a member where, after a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, he has lost over 200 pounds on a low fat, plant-based diet. He continues to teach cooking classes at local venues like Whole Foods, Community Recreation Centers, and The Wellness Forum. Sroufe is the author of Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook, a vegan cookbook companion to the acclaimed documentary Forks Over Knives.

Glen Merzer is coauthor with Pamela A. Popper, PhD, ND, of Food Over Medicine, with Howard Lyman of Mad Cowboy, with Howard Lyman and Joanna Samorow-Merzer of No More Bull!, and with Chef AJ of Unprocessed. Merzer is also a playwright and screenwriter, having most recently completed a screenplay from Mad Cowboy. He has been a vegetarian for 40 years and a vegan for the last 20.

Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass, we’re back with It’s All About Food on a very cold and chilly and wet, December 17, 2013 here in New York City. Gosh, it’s looking pretty dreary outside, but that’s good; I like change and I’m sure that we need the snow for one reason or another, so I’m just not going to resist. I am going to put on my warm clothes when I go out and enjoy it. Now, we’re going to bring on Chef Del Sroufe, who has a new cookbook out called, Better Than Vegan: 101 Favorite Low Fat Plant-Based Recipes That Helped Me (meaning Del) lose over 200 pounds. Del Sroufe has worked in vegan and vegetarian kitchens for more than 23 years, most recently as chef and co-owner of The Wellness Forum Foods: a plant-based meal delivery and catering service that emphasizes help, minimally processed food. He teaches cooking classes and is the lead author of the best-selling cookbook: Forks Over Knives. The cookbook is also contributing recipes to Food Over Medicine by Dr. Pam Popper and Glenn Mertzer. Welcome Del! Welcome back to It’s All About Food!

Del Sroufe: Yeah! Thank you for having me back! It’s good to be with you.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so first I wanted to tell you, do you know where I am today?

Del Sroufe: Well,I know that it’s cold there. It’s not much warmer here by the way.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m sitting in Linda Long’s home.

Del Sroufe:(gasps) Linda, I love her! Tell her I said hello.

Caryn Hartglass: yeah, she was very excited when I said I was going to be talking to you.

Del Sroufe: Awwww, I’ve never had that opportunity. I want to sit in Linda Long’s home.

Caryn Hartglass: (laughs) Well, if you do come here sometime, she’ll make you some really wonderful soup.

Del Sroufe: No, I know that.

Caryn Hartglass: So I just want people to know, Linda Long’s been on my show before, she’s the author of Great Chefs Cook Vegan a ground breaking book where all of these highly renowned chefs -conventional chefs- cooked vegan, presented lovely vegan meals in her cookbook Great Chefs Cook Vegan. And then she came out with Virgin Vegan,and your baked tofu recipe is in her Virgin Vegan.

Del Sroufe: That’s right! Yes it is.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right.

Del Sroufe: I got to test the recipes for her Great Chefs Cook Vegan, it is a gorgeous cookbook.

Caryn Hartglass: It is a gorgeous cookbook, and it’s also in French.

Del Sroufe: Ah, mais oui!

Caryn Hartglass: Ah mais oui parce qu’il faux avoir un livre comme ça, en français.

Del Sroufe: Vraiment, vraiment.

Caryn Hartglass: So anyway we’re having a little vegan love fest here and I just wanted to let you know that and if you came here, what I wanted to say is I’m sure Linda would make you a lovely soup. She made me a energized kale soup today that was very, very nice.

Del Sroufe: Very good.

Caryn Hartglass: Alright Del, you have a story.

Del Sroufe: Probably more than one, but one big one.

Caryn Hartglass: A big story, so let’s just get a review of that because I think people’s eyes pop wide open when they hear things like this.

Del Sroufe: I think one of the most amazing thing that really surprised people you know, I was vegan back in 1997 and by the year 2001 I had gained over 200 pounds. Now I can’t blame vegan diet per say, but I can blame the kind of vegan diet that I was on. I ate a lot of high-fat food and processed foods and there’s several food that you don’t even really think about. You know, beer’s vegan, potato chips can be vegan, donuts can be vegan, avocados are vegan and full of fat, lots of concentrated calories and it added up pretty quickly for a guy that was already a big guy.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

Del Sroufe: I weighed over 475 pounds at one point and I did it pretty much on a strictly vegan diet.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow, I’m just like how do you get around when you have all that to bring around with you?

Del Sroufe: Well, I am a strong guy.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, you do develop a lot of muscle.

Del Sroufe: Yeah a lot of muscle going on there. But you know, it was actually hard. I remember in 2001, I had a vegan bakery, I closed it because I was exhausted of course, and I started a personal chef service, but I remember I would get up in the morning and cook for two hours and then go and sit down for an hour, go and lay down for an hour and that was my life. And so you know, it was a very difficult life and, well, the funny thing is it kind of creeps up on you and you don’t realize that you’re doing less and less, you’re less social, you’re less out in the world. I wasn’t exercising like I used to. I wasn’t doing any of the things that I used to do and then all of the sudden one day I realized, all I did was sit and watch TV when I wasn’t working. I was recovering from being overweight.

Caryn Hartglass: Now you found Dr. Pam Popper and it’s between the two of you, you got on her plan for food and you lost a whole bunch of weight.

Del Sroufe:I did. I lost over 200… I lost the 200 that I put on.

Caryn Hartglass: And how long did that take?

Del Sroufe: The first 200 pounds came off pretty easily I’d say, I did it slowly so it took me about 3 or 4 years and then the rest of it is coming off a little more slowly. One thing you have to remember is losing weight is about 70% diet and the rest of it is exercise, so I’ve had to really kick in into the exercise. I’m in the gym with a trainer 4 days a week now and I’m losing about a pound and a half a week and I think in the next four/five months, I’ll be down to my ideal weight and a much happier guy.

Caryn Hartglass: I can’t wait to see the photos!

Del Sroufe: They’ll be out there, I promise!

Caryn Hartglass: Now when you’re very large; over 400 pounds. Can you exercise? Can you move around once you decide you want to be on the path to lose weight? When can you start to really move?

Del Sroufe: Well, if you work with a good trainer, I did start exercising some 6 years ago, but I had to go at the pace that my body could handle it. In fact what started the whole thing in the first place is I fell and I broke a bone in my foot and it just wasn’t going to heal so I actually started just doing as little as possible so I did more stationary bike than actual walking up and down the stairs or a treadmill kind of activity more upper body weight training and you slowly add to that as you can. Just recently, I added boxing, fitness boxing, to the mix and it’s really been amazing, the difference it makes in terms of not only weight loss but my energy.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well this is all very inspiring, now there’s another piece here then I want to get to the cookbook but the other piece about weight is if there are emotional issues.

Del Sroufe: Oh yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: I mean we don’t just put on weight, there are reasons behind it and I think we’re all individuals and everybody’s got their own story but clearly you have to address those emotional issues too.

Del Sroufe: Yeah, in fact I teach classes now to help others do just that very thing. It was sort of a big light that came on when one day I sat down with a therapist because I was just tired and depressed and we started digging in to all of that and it’s pretty amazing how strong the emotional drive for eating can be you know so if you’ve used eating as a way to do several things. For me, it was eating pushed back emotion, a way to hold down emotion. It was a way to keep me quiet . You know growing up at the time when that was what you were expected to do. And it was a way to deal with boredom or frustration. I mean almost every situation became a situation for eating. Family celebrations are all about food and when I was bored, I would eat; when I was angry; I would eat, so you know you have to learn to recognize what’s going on with your emotional being as well as your physical being and start having different conversations with yourself.

Caryn Hartglass: now do you know or do you have an opinion about if you want to lose weight, if fasting, juice fasting or water fasting would be a good way to jumpstart it or do at any point during the weight loss period.

Del Sroufe: You know, I did it actually. I did a five days fast early on and ended up having some physical problems with it because when you do a fast, if you don’t do it correctly you can end up killing the beneficial gut floor which is all over the news right now and so I ended up two years later finally realizing what was going on and getting on to a regimen probiotics to sort of address that issue, but we recommended only under a strictly supervised condition so you can be monitored because it can actually be dangerous especially for people who are on medication, imagine if you are on high blood pressure medication or even diabetes medication, for some of us, it can be really dangerous to do a juice fast cause it really does change what’s going on in your body when you do that.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, you have collected all kinds of toxins in your body and your fat and you’re letting it go at a very accelerated rate when you’re fasting and sometimes all of that can really be overwhelming if it gets released in the blood. It gets released in order to come out as you’re detoxing and for all kinds of stories.

Del Sroufe: Yeah and again, going back to the emotional thing that goes on, I mean when you change your body’s blood sugar composition for example, it’s a mood changer so you’ve got to be willing and able to pay attention to what’s going on realize there’s a couple reasons you’re feeling what you’re feeling both physically and emotionally and be ready for that so I did it under supervision. I did it with dr. Popper but we didn’t think about the gut floor issue until much later when I was just having problems with energy so be ready for that and do it very carefully.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes, be ready but don’t be disappointed just keep on and if you want to get to your ideal weight the best way to do it is with these great nutrient-dense vegan foods.

Del Sroufe: I think the other side of it is you know this is a long term, for me a life time thing and so the way that I’m eating now is the way that I’m going to eat for the rest of my life and part if what aren’t into most of the time is if they do a diet, they think they’re going to do it, lose the weight and go back to the way they ate before that’s not going to happen because what happens is the weight comes back.

Caryn Hartglass: Right.

Del Sroufe: So you’ve got to find a permanent solution and this diet I think is it because the nice thing is I don’t go hungry.

Caryn Hartglass: And the food is delicious so let’s jump into your cookbook!

Del Sroufe: Sure!

Caryn Hartglass: One thing I noticed about a lot of the offerings in here is they are the comfort foods that a lot of people want to go to which you don’t typically see in a book that’s going to encourage weight loss.

Del Sroufe: I made it a goal when I started this whole project that I wanted food to taste good and I love the food that I grew up with, I just didn’t want the fat and the animal fat and the animal protein and all of that. I don’t need that anymore so there are other ways to make food taste good without that and that’s kind of of what I look for. The spices I grew up with and those kinds of flavors and those ingredients and you know there’s a corn bread stuffing in there with a baked tofu and it’s one of my favorite holiday dishes.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, does that looks good!

Del Sroufe: It’s comfort food at its best and the mushroom gravy is rich without fat, so it’s doable and possible to have a lot of the foods that we talk about, but we can have them in a healthy way.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so you’ve got pizza recipes in here and burritos. You’ve got a mushroom bourguignon.

Del Sroufe: And ice cream! Ice cream!

Caryn Hartglass: Ice cream! You’ve got gnocchi, scalloped potatoes. I mean, these are things that you don’t normally think are even on a vegan diet even on a celebration, occasional foods.

Del Sroufe: Yeah, but you know we have a thing, take scalloped potatoes for example, we think potatoes are this evil demon carb, bad carb and if you look into Dr. John […] 12:57 and anybody in the plant-based world, it’s not the potato that’s bad, it’s what we do to it. By the time we soak it in fat and fry it and add avocado with sour cream or butter and all those things, of course it’s an unhealthy food, but the potato itself is a life giving nutrient-dense food that’s filling without being calorically dense and so I found a way to see from that and make it taste good and remind me of a dish that I grew up loving.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay now, let’s talk about cauliflower.

Del Sroufe: Yeah, I know one of the most popular things I’ve got, the feedback I’ve got is about the cauliflower purée in the book.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I mean, I’ve seen all kinds of different ways to veganize or reduce fat in creams and I’ve never see cauliflower purée and you’re using it for so many dishes in here. Amazing!

Del Sroufe: You know where it came from? I used to make this roasted cauliflower bisque back in the day it had oil in it, but we roasted cauliflower with shallots and whole garlic cloves and olive oil, and then puréed that all and added soy milk to it, i think I was making it vegan by then. I added soy milk to it to make it a bisque. One day I was tasting it before I had really done a lot to it and it tasted amazing, just with the cauliflower with some salt and pepper and you know, you could use this for a lot of things and I can’t eat a lot of soy, my body kind of doesn’t tolerate it very well so I was looking for other ways that had the cream sauces without the fat and it’s fat free.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, now I love cauliflower just the way it is. Not raw but I like it steamed or cooked.

Del Sroufe: Yeah, me too.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s delicious plain so, on one hand I think why would want to do just to cauliflower, but one the other hand I mean, it’s just genius you make mayonnaise with it and all kinds of creamy bases for soups and sauces, it’s just cauliflower!

Del Sroufe: It’s just cauliflower! Yeah, I know.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s good for you, cauliflower is so good for you.

Del Sroufe: It’s a very healthy healthy food but you know it’s also, I call it health by deception so if you’ve got kids at home that just don’t like to eat their vegetables, you can purée it and sneak it in there and tell them, “it’s cream sauce honey, it’s cream sauce.”

Caryn Hartglass: Right, well that’s genius.

Del Sroufe: Well, thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Now you’re not eating a lot of soy foods but you do have a wonderful baked tofu recipe. I mentioned the one that you have that’s in “Virgin Vegan.” Your baked tofu recipe is here in this book as well. Making your own baked tofu is the only way to go.

Del Sroufe: Yeah. Yeah, I think most people have a bad experience with tofu in restaurants and some of the pre-package cooked foods that you can buy. I’ve been making my own tofu dishes. If I could, I would eat tofu just about every day. I love it that much and I’ve really am rarely disappointed with the dishes I make with it, so it really is and it’s not that hard to do.

Caryn Hartglass: Exactly! That’s the point, it’s not hard.

Del Sroufe: If you have the recipe, it’s 5 minutes to the oven and that’s it.

Caryn Hartglass: You can marinate it with anything you like and just bake it. It’s genius!

Del Sroufe: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: I was hooked for a while on these baked tofus that you find in the store, Whole Foods has them, Trader Joes has them. I’m really dropping back on the amount of salt that I consume and those are really too salty for me.

Del Sroufe: That’s the joy of cooking it for yourself is you get to choose the amount of salt. I’m the kind of guy that’s not a religious cook in terms of if you don’t like something about the recipe, I tend to play with the recipe more than to be so strict about them and I think that’s how people should look at food and it makes it much more exciting.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! Make it your way.

Del Sroufe: Make it your way.

Caryn Hartglass: I will say, that the French are provably having some heart attacks over your sweet and sour ratatouille.

Del Sroufe: Well I know, but the cauliflower sauce in my first cookbook Forks over Knives cookbook is a vegetable sauce so they’re probably not speaking to me to at all. I’m unapologetic about it because you know, if you look at the fact that two-thirds of us are having the weight problems that we’re having, I think we’ve got to do whatever we need to do to not only make food taste good, but to make it healthy.

Caryn Hartglass: Well this is get thing about French cuisine and I think there’s something really to good about it is when food has a name, it’s usually made a certain way.

Del Sroufe: You’re right

Caryn Hartglass: So the traditional ratatouille is made a certain way and it has a certain amount of ingredients and that’s it and if you change it, then it’s not ratatouille.

Del Sroufe: Not ratatouille, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: And I made a tarte tartin, which is like an upside down apple pie for those of you who don’t know and I’ll be posting that recipe very soon on my website. It’s a treat it’s very decadent, and it’s sweeter than most things that I consume but I just had to make one and I made it glutton-free and vegan, but I just remember reading about it on some French website where it said if you serve it with ice cream, if you serve it with whip cream it is no longer a tarte tatin. You can not call it that and they’re really strict about the ingredients in food which I can appreciate because when you serve something in France with a name, you can pretty much be guaranteed if it’s a vegan dish like ratatouille that it’s going to be that way.

Del Sroufe: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: And I always take comfort in that when I’m traveling.

Del Sroufe: Yeah I’m probably not a popular guy in a lot of places because I believe in making everything your own.

Caryn Hartglass: Well yeah, well that’s just not French. Now I make a cassoulet all the time. I hear them screaming at me cause my cassoulet is not a traditional meat-laden cassoulet, it’s just a lovely white bean dish with a mustard sauce.

Del Sroufe: Well the first and only cassoulet I’ve ever made was actually a Daniel Boulud’s recipe. He makes a white bean cassoulet that’s vegan and absolutely delicious I set up the olive oil, I leave it alone and make it as it is. It’s a very healthy dish.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay let’s get back to comfort food, you have a parsnip mashed potatoes recipe here and let’s just talk about parsnips for a moment.

Del Sroufe: Okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Parsnips don’t get a lot of press.

Del Sroufe: Right

Caryn Hartglass: And they have so much flavor!

Del Sroufe: They have a lot of flavor and when you’re going for the fat free thing, when you’re looking for ways to make food creamy, mash potatoes by themselves without the butter without the cream can be a little starchy, so I try to find ways to cut back on that and parsnips do a great job of it and it adds flavor, tons of flavors to mash potatoes, so you could just do purée or mashed parsnips or you could add it to any recipe you like but they do a really go job of sort of helping the potato along.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I’m sure you’ve told people to do this but it’s so good to go to a produce section and if there are things that you don’t know what they are just bring them home and figure out what to do with them because it will only add so much interest and diversity and there are a lot of interesting roots out there that can turn into some really flavorful things.

Del Sroufe: Yeah the potato is not the only root vegetable. There are amazing, amazing foods out there that deserve your attention that’s for sure.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah yeah well, Del thank you so much for talking to me today. I really enjoyed it and I’m going to tell Linda that I had a nice time with you.

Del Sroufe: Well thank you for having me and tell Linda I said hello and I look forward to some soup.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay let’s have her make you some of that so you’ve got to get to New York some time.

Del Sroufe: All righty.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay take care

Del Sroufe: Take care bye bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Bye bye. All right just before we go, I wanted to mention that we were talking about genetically modified food and for all you New Yorkers out there you might check out the campaign GMO free New York so there’s a genetically engineered food labeling campaign and we really need to contact our New York assembly members and senators to push the passage of the bill a-3525 and s3835. This is really important and wouldn’t it be great if we had a law to label food here in New York. If you need to know more about it you can email me at or contact the New York get food labeling campaign other than that, thanks for listening to ” Its All About Food” today and have a delicious week bye bye!

Transcribed 12/28/2013 by Jeanina Savannah Co

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