Jason Wyrick is the Executive Chef of The Vegan Taste, the first nationwide meal delivery service founded in 2006. He is the author of Vegan Mexico and Vegan Tacos, the NY Times Bestselling co-author of 21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and the food editor for NY Times Bestseller Living the Farm Sanctuary Life. In 2001, Chef Jason reversed Type II diabetes and lost 120 pounds by going vegan. He left his position as the director of marketing for a tech company and became a chef so he could use his experience to help people live healthier, compassionate lives. Since then, he published the world’s first vegan food magazine, The Vegan Culinary Experience, has been featured in the NY Times, Vegetarian Times, and other prominent publications, and has traveled the world leading vegan food tours and classes. He is the first vegan instructor to teach in the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu program and has catered for prominent organizations such as Humana, Google, Farm Sanctuary, PeTA, and the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation. You can learn more about Chef Jason Wyrick and his meal delivery service at www.thevegantaste.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I am Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. How are you today? I am so happy; it’s a beautiful autumn day here in New York City. I’m back in New York, I was traveling last week all around Florida and missed doing this show. And I do miss it, so I’m really glad to be back today, we have a lot to talk about. I’m sitting here with a lovely pot of Kukicha tea, one of my favorites, and I’m all ready to go. I wanted to talk, before I bring on my first guest, I want to talk about the publisher of his cookbook the Vegan Heritage Press. Their about page talks about how they are here to change the world one book at a time, and we’ve had other Vegan Heritage Press authors on this show, especially this year some great cookbooks have come out. Baconish by Leinana Two Moons and Aquafaba by Shoe Dever, really amazing recipes in both these books that are changing the world, not just because they’re showing that we can use plant ingredients instead of animal ingredients, but there’s so much creativity, ingenuity, and great flavors that we should all be experiencing because it’s not hard to do. And I’m glad that these authors are here to make it easy for us and give us inspiration to do more.
And with that I will bring on another Vegan Heritage Press cookbook author and one of my favorite cookbook authors period, Jason Wyrick. He’s got a new book, it’s released today on World Vegan day, it’s called Vegan Mexico, and we’re going to be devouring that in this first part of the show. Jason is the Executive Chef of The Vegan Taste, the first nationwide meal delivery service founded in 2006. He is the author of Vegan Mexico and Vegan Tacos, the NY Times Bestselling co-author of 21 Day Weight Loss Kickstart, and the food editor for NY Times Bestseller Living the Farm Sanctuary Life. In 2001, Chef Jason reversed Type II diabetes and lost 120 pounds by going vegan. He left his position as the director of marketing for a tech company and became a chef so he could use his experience to help people live healthier, compassionate lives. Love it! Jason, welcome back to It’s All About Food.
Jason Wyrick: Yay! Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Now the last time I spoke to you I believe your daughter was about to be born.
Jason Wyrick: Yup! I can’t believe that it’s been two very quick years.
Caryn Hartglass: And tell me, has everything changed?
Jason Wyrick: It has and in ways I didn’t expect, which has been really wonderful.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah that’s what parents always say. Anyway, I’m excited that your new book is out and just like Vegan Tacos it’s excellent. What I love about your books is that number one you really know what you’re talking about, you’re expertise comes out in every sentence. And I love that you share right down to the nitty-gritty the things that we can do to make wonderful great-tasting, not just vegan, but all kinds of food that just so happens to only contain plant ingredients, which is my vision for the world, when the vegans take over. Don’t let anybody know that’s my secret mission, because it’s the most delicious thing. Okay, so, you excited about today?
Jason Wyrick: I’m super excited! My publisher, Jon Robertson, wrote me yesterday to tell me the book had already sold out before it was even released today, and the second printing is on its way to Amazon. So that’s pretty incredible!
Caryn Hartglass: That’s wonderful news! Congratulations! I wanted to say in the opening and you just reminded me of it, vegan cookbooks now are flying off the shelf, there are so many of them, so many different kinds. People always loved cookbooks and now people are opening up to vegan cookbooks, and what I wanted to add about Vegan Heritage Press is unlike other publishers they’re not just jumping on what they see as a hot new trend. Vegan Heritage Press is all about vegan cookbooks, period.
Jason Wyrick: The Robertsons were in this game long before vegan became popular so they’re one of the warriors to me. They’re one of the guys out there really championing what’s going on.
Caryn Hartglass: And the real deal! Just because someone publishes a vegan cookbook and it happens to be on a bookshelf in a store doesn’t mean it’s the best one you can buy.
Jason Wyrick: Right, I totally agree with that.
Caryn Hartglass: In fact most of them aren’t. I’m glad they’re out there, and I’m glad there are more of them because it supports my secret mission. But Jason your cookbooks are in the top in my collection of many many vegan cookbooks, and I’m not just saying that. Okay, so let’s dive in. One of the things that I loved about Vegan Mexico is there are stories, and we love stories, and there’s history, and history is always fascinating. So one of the things that I was tickled with was the Mole Poblano being created by nuns. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jason Wyrick: So there are actually a lot of great foods that have come out of convents and monasteries, stuff like that. Like beer in Belgium, Belgium beer is wonderful, created by a monk. In Mexico there are plenty of different desserts and dishes that were created in monasteries and convents. The Mole Poblano, it’s hilarious because it was basically something I think a lot of people can relate to. When you have guests coming over and you’re like, “Oh my God what am I going to make?” And that’s basically what they did when one of the higher-ups in the Catholic Church said, “Hey I’m going to come visit you guys and here’s like a day’s worth of notice,” and they were like, “What are we going to do?” So they started kind of with some basic techniques that they had already had, like with roasting tomatoes, the chilies and that sort of stuff, and then they just kept adding to it and adding to it and adding to it. And I imagine one sitting there going, “We have to make this better, okay a dash of oregano. Oh what are we going to put in next? Let’s do some raisins.” And throughout the day these nuns were creating what became the classic Mole Poblano and they served it to, if I remember it right, it was the Bishop. And they served it . And I just imagine the creation of that dish was really repetition of something that almost every house cook goes through, which is, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?”
Caryn Hartglass: Of course, and now sometimes that can go in a good direction and that can go in a bad direction. And I’m thinking of one bad direction in my mind right now but I don’t want to share it. Just sometimes, you know, especially for people that aren’t that familiar in the kitchen but they want to cook and they want to make something special for people, it can be intimidating and that’s why it’s important to have a good cookbook if you’re going to choose a recipe. I always suggest practice before you make it for a group or a special person, to make sure it’s going to be the way you want it to be. And it gets easier to when you practice making a dish.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah, and to me a good book has recipes for all skill levels. So you have recipes for beginners, and then most people get used to the flavors and the techniques used and that style of cuisine, and then they can move on to more advanced recipes like that Mole Poblano.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright so the next thing that popped out from the history was the impact that the Spaniards had in Mexico; two things being meat and wheat.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah it’s interesting; I did a lot of research. I just love history and anthropology and that sort of stuff so I always do research on the recipes that I’m looking at even when I don’t have to because I’m just curious, and I always find myself going down that rabbit hole. So I knew that meat was used sparingly pre-Columbian times but I didn’t know just how sparingly it was used and how much that changed once the Spanish came because they brought chickens with them, and they brought pigs, and they were pretty heavy meat-eaters at the time. So a lot of the meat-heavy dishes that we see in cuisine now are a direct result of that Spanish influence.
Caryn Hartglass: I missed that last part.
Jason Wyrick: Oh and I was going to say the wheat, wheat wasn’t around in Mexico before the Spaniards brought that, but the Spanish used the Northern part of Mexico as kind of their colonial bread basket and so that’s why if you go to Northern Mexico, the Southern U.S., and those areas you’ll find stuff like wheat tortillas used as much as corn tortillas.
Caryn Hartglass: What I love about history, especially bringing history forward to present-day, is that things that we think are hardcore traditions things that we think oh you can’t change it because it was always made that way. We know in cuisines it’s a dynamic process and it’s continually changing, I’d like to think continually improving but that’s not always the case. But as different groups of people move around the world for different reasons, some of them good and some not so good, as refugees or whatever or when things are difficult in one country and they can’t grow food enough anymore or there are droughts or maybe people just want a better living or they’re adventurous and want to find riches somewhere else, the cuisines adapt. And here we are in the 21st century and the one way our cuisines are adapting is by making traditional foods, traditional dishes with plant ingredients instead of animal ingredients.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah, it’s amazing, and I see vegan cuisine takes foods from different cultures and a good one will escort its flavors out. So that’s why in Mexican cuisine you’ll see a Lebanese influence, you’ll actually see a Chinese influence in some parts of Northern Mexico, you’ll see a Japanese influence in parts of Baja California and Baja Sur places like that. Then of course you see Mexican food all over the globe, but what I think is interesting is when a cuisine, a culture of a cuisine, exports itself somewhere and then brings new ideas back from the place it was exported to. So we’re talking about with vegan cuisine obviously in the United States. Mexican cuisine got very popular and there was a pretty strong contention of vegan chefs doing a lot of good work in the U.S. and Mexico started to sort of doing that too. But pretty soon afterwards it caught on to the vegan movement that was really growing here in like Germany and Britain and the United States, and so in a way they brought their cuisine out of Mexico to some of these places and then imported vegan versions of that back into Mexico or to vegan Mexico or great Mexican chefs started taking those vegan ideas and creating wonderful vegan Mexican dishes. It’s a really complex, beautiful process.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, and Mexican food it’s just a natural to be entirely plant-based. It’s just bursting with plant flavors, and I think you say it somewhere in the book but in many ways the flavors, the sauces, those are the things that are the stars and replacing the meat, the animal meat, with the plant meats. That’s just like the chewy vehicle that you can smother with all these great flavors.
Jason Wyrick: Right, and you can make a great Tamale just out of Masa and black beans, and then you cover it with an amazing sauce and no one can miss the meat.
Caryn Hartglass: No, absolutely not. I can’t pronounce it but can you tell us, I always love when I learn about new ingredients and one of the ones that I’ve learned about in your book is this fungus that grows on corn?
Jason Wyrick: Huitlacoche.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes! I’m curious about that.
Jason Wyrick: It is just a fungus that grows on the outside of corn. It has a really pungent, earthy taste to it. Here in the U.S. it was considered a problem, it was blight for a long time. In Mexico it was cut off the corn and eaten as a delicacy used in tacos and chile relleno and stuff like that, and now that Mexican food has gained prominence in the U.S., corn growers in the U.S. are now selling huitlacoche as a delicacy and not calling it a blight anymore, pretty funny.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s just like so many weeds; things that were called weeds are now expensive grains in farmers markets. Do think it can be used to make some kind of vegan cheese?
Jason Wyrick: I’m not sure. I guess if you do the right thing with an ingredient you can turn it into basically anything, so I’m sure there’s a way to turn that into a vegan cheese or use it as a flavor-agent for vegan cheese but I can’t tell you how to do it right now.
Caryn Hartglass: Who knows? Okay, stay tuned. Now you give some really great detail about the importance of pan-roasting and charring and how much flavor is gets. I just want to share a quick story. This is not the way to do this; don’t try this at home. I was just in Florida for a week, my partner Gary and I were there, we were staying in one of these little time-share resorts, it had a tiny little kitchen with not the best kitchen supplies. And I thought I would just quickly heat up some peppers to put with some other things, we got some great produce from Josh’s Organic Market in North Hollywood, one of the best farmers markets on the planet I think. I had no oil; I didn’t want to cook with oil, so I just sliced the peppers and put them in this little frying pan. Now I started doing other things and all of a sudden the smoke alarm went off, and I had perfectly charred these peppers. Gary grabbed the pan, he deglazed it, everything was fine, but the peppers were great. Let’s just talk about how wonderful pan-roasting and charring can be for flavor.
Jason Wyrick: See food isn’t just the part you put in your mouth, it’s the entire experience, and I mean sometimes smoking out your partner!
Caryn Hartglass: But yeah, it can be really wonderful just lightly blackening the vegetables, can do so much for flavoring food.
Jason Wyrick: And I love leaving those charred bits on there instead of peeling them all off. Most people will peel off the entire skin of a blackened chili, but I always leave a little bit of that charring on there because it has a primal raw flavor, even if you just throw it on the grill.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely! It just looks appetizing, it looks so primal is just the best word for it. Okay, some recipes I want to point out in the book that got me excited, I love chorizo and Chorizo Tempe is just the best.
Jason Wyrick: Ohhh, I love that stuff. Did you the Chorizo Verde, the green chorizo, or the red chorizo?
Caryn Hartglass: That was like the next thing I wanted to talk about, but yeah, red! I love that, it was just awesome. I guess the green will be next. I love that Tempe. I mashed it before and it looks like ground beef, it’s just such an easy replacement, easier.
Jason Wyrick: It is, and it has a really nice nutty flavor that goes along with all the other chorizo flavors; I love the way that they play with each other.
Caryn Hartglass: And for people that don’t naturally like Tempe because it has this mushroom-y fermented flavor to it, when you drown it in spice that goes away!
Jason Wyrick: It does!
Caryn Hartglass: And then it’s just this lovely vehicle, again, for sauce and spice. Okay, the next thing that I’m very grateful you pointed out, I remember your Queso Fresco in the Vegan Tacos book, and you offered a faster trick, which is not entirely fast but it’s easy, just takes time, and that is using Kite Hill as a Ricotta.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah, you can just taste Kite Hill’s ricotta cheese and then just spread it out and let it dry a little bit and you have Queso Fresco. And it tastes amazingly like Queso Fresco, because it has a little bit of that acidity to it and the flavors that you get from a culture because the Kite Hill cheese’s are cultured unlike some of the other almond ricottas that I’ve seen, and so they give you that real cheesy flavor.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m always telling people to find their kitchen for so many reasons. I happen to love to cook, I know many people don’t. I have a feeling that some people don’t like to cook because they don’t have the skills and they feel intimidated or they just don’t know where to began, and on top of that so many people are busy today they don’t have the time. But I still keep insisting for so many reasons because I think we should all experience the best things possible, the best foods possible, the best flavors possible, and the way to do that when it comes to food most of the time is to make it yourself unless you’ve got someone like Jason Wyrick who can cook for you all the time. Still I think if people aren’t going to cook, I know people like to watch food shows and they love to read cookbooks, and this is a good cookbook to read because you learn so much about what goes in to food and what goes in to sauces, and we need to know what’s in our food.
Jason Wyrick: We do, and I think we need to see excellent too. I mean there’s something to be said for a 10 minute recipe but there’s a lot more to be said about a 10 minute great recipe.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s frustrating, I’m sure you’ve heard it many times, but you know people keep insisting on recipes that are quick, they want to make food that’s quick. Now you’ve probably taken advantage of that because you created a meal delivery service ten years ago.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Because so many people don’t want to prepare their food.
Jason Wyrick: They don’t, or some of them don’t have time, I mean we have a lot of people that are doctors and are putting in these insane workdays and they want to have good food but they don’t necessarily have the time to come home and do it or they don’t have the emotional energy to do that kind of work and then come home and do that stuff, or they’re doing other things. We have one client that does this but then also runs an animal sanctuary; she’s a doctor and then runs an animal sanctuary on top of that.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, wow!
Jason Wyrick: Yeah, we help those people out. And of course people with health problems that are used to eating the standard American diet and they’re like, “What am I going to do now that I have to go vegan?” So we help those people out, because we give them great food and then it’s easier for them to stick to their vegan diet. They get healthier, when they get healthier they inspire other people, and then more people go vegan; it’s such a great circle.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there’s another circle. The other recipe I wanted to point out which I haven’t made, and again it’s all about the sauce, is the Bacalao?
Jason Wyrick: Oh yes, that’s a fun recipe!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah so, I haven’t ever had the real version, the fish version but I imagine it’s very flavorful, spicy, saucy…
Jason Wyrick: So there are actually several different versions, because there’s Spanish Bacalao, which is, you know there’s the Indonesian version of Bacalao, the Basque version of Bacalao, there’s the Mexican version of Bacalao, Portuguese version of Bacalao… And the one that I did of course is the Mexican version and it’s based on kind of a Salsa Veracruz, which is this tomato chili salsa with raisins and olives in it, which has that heavy Spanish influence. In Mexico you basically turn that into a soup and then you add the Bacalao which is the fish to it, so my version, of course I’ll use something else in there and you get the same great soup. It’s an incredible experience and I love that it’s a versatile recipe because you can use it for salsa or you can set it out and use it for a few days.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, if anybody’s tired of the way they’re eating there are so many recipes in this book that are going to wake up your pallet, and I think it’s worth taking a couple of weekends, maybe one weekend to read the recipes, kind of figure out what you don’t have in your pantry and get the ingredients you need, and then take another weekend to dive in and make some of these recipes. The last ones I wanted to bring up, and they may actually be my favorite because I haven’t seen anything like this, are the beverages.
Jason Wyrick: Ohhhh, yeah those are good.
Caryn Hartglass: They are, they are good! Now I’m a big fan of Agua Fresca and I just like blending up a melon or tropical fruit, I don’t even add sugar to it, I just mix it up and pour it over ice and it’s amazing, but what pointed out to me, I haven’t had a chance to make it yet, it’s actually savory, the cucumber Agua Fresca.
Jason Wyrick: Yeah that was a pretty interesting experience. I went down to my local Mexican market and they have all these jugs of different Agua Frescas, and there was a cucumber Agua Fresca. I’d never tried it so I got it and I took a sip and I was expecting it to be sweet like every other Agua Fresca that I had had, and all the sudden here was this jolt of salty cucumber with these chilies in it. I was like, “What did I just eat? This is incredible! I have to figure out how to make this.” And so I just went and I talked to those people working there and asked them how to make it and they told me and that’s the recipe you’ll find in my book. It’s this really nice, refreshing, slightly salty drink with a little shot of chili to it that’s fun.
Caryn Hartglass: Is it almost like a soup?
Jason Wyrick: It’s… eh… no, it’s this weird unique thing which is why it totally caught me off guard when I had it because it’s really thin like a drink should be and it has a refreshing cucumber taste, like if you have ever had cucumber water then you have a pretty good idea of what Aqua Fresca tastes like, but then it has this little bit of saltiness added to it and the heat from the chilies to wake your pallet up. Yeah it’s completely unique.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I’m going to definitely try that. And then the last one I wanted to talk about, even though there were so many I could talk about, the corn ice-cream.
Jason Wyrick: Oh yeah that was pretty good.
Caryn Hartglass: It makes sense because corn, if you have good corn, it’s naturally sweet. So why not make ice-cream with it?
Jason Wyrick: Right and I love that you get different textures of corn with it. So you get an ice-cream made with a corn base but then you also get a pop of fresh corn kernels right in the ice-cream.
Caryn Harglass: So let me just ask you, this isn’t related to Vegan Mexico, this is related to another Vegan Heritage Press book, have you toyed at all with Aquafaba?
Jason Wyrick: No I haven’t. Not because I don’t want to but because I’m actually pressed for time myself.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I bet, but it’s like, I just can’t get over it, it’s the craziest thing.
Jason Wyrick: I’ve looked through it. Actually it’s one of the most interesting cookbooks I have in my collection too, and I’ve got a lot. So it’s kind of on my list once December hits and everything kind of slows down around Christmas for us.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, well you’re going to have fun. I don’t know… how long have you been vegan?
Jason Wyrick: Fifteen years? And I was a vegetarian for five years before that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well for me, you know egg whites they didn’t exist for me for like the last thirty years, so to have a new ingredient to play with it’s like my new toy.
Jason Wyrick: That’s funny because I accidently had some chickpea water spill on my stove because it over-boiled when I was making chickpeas and I looked down and I saw when it cooked it had that meringue-like texture and was like, “Why didn’t I think of that before?”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah we’re all thinking the same thing Jason! When beans cook and they get really hot and they’re boiling, they get that white foam on the top, its right there. Okay, anyway, let’s get back to Vegan Mexico. Thank you for writing it, I’m real excited to dig in a little more about it, looking forward to what comes next from you, and good luck with your release today, I’m sure there’ll be many many many printings, and it helps support my secret mission, thank you.
Jason Wyrick: You’re welcome, thank you very much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, take care!
Jason Wyrick: You too, bye!
Caryn Hartglass: Bye! That was Jason Wyrick everybody, author of Vegan Mexico and also the author of Vegan Tacos, both of them are great cookbooks and if you like Mexican food, and the Mexican food that we have here in the United States it’s almost like a bland version of all of the exciting recipes that are in these books. Highly recommend them!
Transcribed by Lydia Dearie, 11/22/2016