Interview with Brian Patton of The Sexy Vegan
In this Why I Cook column, I’ll ask Brian some questions about why he cooks! Get know this talented and massively hysterical vegan chef better!
As a food blogger who doesn’t typically cook a ton from cookbooks, I have to say that I actually have made several of Brian’ recipes, and am a raving fan of his unique style and innovative-but-still accessible approach to food. Brian always teaches me something with his recipes, introducing a technique I’ve never tried or an idea I’ve never thought of. Plus, his writing and personality is funny as hell, so it’s always worth a read, even if I am not making a recipe right away. For all of these reasons and more, I’m especially grateful for Brian’s rock-solid contributions to the vegan food community and beyond!
Brian newest venture, 99 Publishing, showcases what he calls “micro-books”: small, digital recipe downloads that showcase one expertly crafted recipe or dish … for 99 cents!
From the site, 99 Publishing’s mission is:
… to bring together the very best chefs, cookbook authors, and food writers, presenting a collection of stellar vegan recipes without all the fluff. It’s all digital, so we save some trees. It’s all vegan, so we save some animals. And it’s all been rigorously tested so you don’t waste your time and money with duds. These collections are truly the best of the best.
Seriously Legit Vegan Neapolitan Pizza is the first in the series, which contains three recipes: one for pizza dough, the sauce and the cheeze. As the weather is cooling down here in Southern LA, this one is on my list to make and, based on my past success with all of Brian’s recipes, I have complete confidence that it’s going to be fun to make, foolproof and delicious!
Click here or on the photo below for more info on Seriously Legit Vegan Neapolitan Pizza or to purchase for 99 cents!
Now, read on below to learn more about how Brian comes up with new and fresh ideas, the real reason why he’d like to invite Trump over for dinner and who his culinary heroes are!
When did you start to cook and what about the process itself kept you interested in it?
The very first time I cooked something for myself (other than toast or pop tarts) was probably around 8th grade. We had a home economics class (are those still a thing?), where we would learn sewing, cooking, and nutrition … well, we learned the food pyramid of 1991, so I’m not sure if that qualifies as “nutrition education.” But anyway, our teacher taught us to make these cheese balls. We would take Pillsbury pizza dough, make it into little balls, stick a little cube of cheese inside, and deep fry it. I have no idea why that was the first thing they wanted to teach us, but I was so excited to show my parents how to make it. I think I felt kind of empowered, that I could make something with my own hands, that would become edible (ok, semi-edible) food. We ate a lot of takeout as kids – mostly pizza, stromboli, and fast food. Our hometown consisted of mainly churches, bars, and pizzerias.
Since my immediate family didn’t cook very much, food preparation wasn’t a thing that I witnessed regularly, or ever took part in, and this little cheese ball lesson opened my eyes. Seeing the transformation of a piece of food when I cooked it – the browning, the change in texture, and size, and flavor – had a science aspect to it that was interesting to me as well. I actually didn’t start getting serious about cooking until after college, but I think it’s those feelings from my 8th grade cheese balls that still keep me interested and excited in the process. It’s empowering to veganize something you missed from childhood, or create something that is completely original, or even riff off of someone else’s idea to make it your own. It’s also pretty darn cool to know all the things that happen inside of a mushroom or a potato when you cook it, and to use that knowledge to add another dimension to your creativity.
When I still lived at home, we never ate out. In my family everyone did cook, even my father, who is a trained chef. And even though my mother never really liked cooking, she did it anyway. So when I moved out, cooking my own food seemed natural even though I didn’t have much experience.
There are only ever a few moments when I don’t like cooking. The minute I started doing it, I was hooked. For me cooking has always been a way to be independent and creative.
Describe your process of recipe development. How do you come up with fresh and new ideas on a regular basis?
Well, I wouldn’t say anything in my life happens on a “regular basis” these days. Toddler, house, dogs, wife, work, toddler, toddler, toddler, toddler … these things need a good deal of attention, and coming up with my own inspiration doesn’t happen all that often. Meals are usually simple, and rushed together. I also have the added joy of trying to guess what a two-foot-tall tyrant is going to decide he likes that day …
Me: “But you ate so much broccoli the other day. This is the EXACT, SAME broccoli. You love this broccoli.”
Toddler: “I like broccoli, sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t like broccoli. Where’s my dinosaur truck?”
Me: “Ok, then. Mac and cheese, it is.”
These are the types of daily roadblocks that throw a blanket over my brain. But I excel when I’m given a challenge. That’s why I love writing the VegNews Veganize It column, or writing my new series of micro-books. When I’m put on a mission, either by myself or by someone else, the creative juices start flowing and I can really focus. I’ll type a little brainstorm of notes into my phone with ingredients and methods. If, by the end of this flurry of ideas, I have something that I can test, I test it. If I feel like I’m missing something, then I’ll go and research some similar recipes, and see what other people have done, to at least fill in the gaps, or send me out on a tangent of other ideas. I like to exhaust what will come out of my own brain first – whether it’s a lot or a little, absolute gold, or total crap – before going to any outside influences.
Sometimes I’ll even start with a name of something, and work it backwards. For example, for my second book, I wanted to make a cocktail called “The Bloody Vulcan”. I just thought it was a great name. As we all know, vulcans have green blood, so it would have to be green. What’s green? Tomatillos are green. Then, how about, Instead of vodka like in a Bloody Mary, maybe tequila would work with the tomatillos? Then I added lime, agave, and jalapeno to get some flavor and balance, and boom, we have The Bloody Vulcan!
Define your own style of cooking.
I’m kind of all over the place. I don’t know that I really have something I’d call my own “style” yet. I think, even a decade into professional cooking, and being vegan, I’m still exploring all types of cuisines, and haven’t fully developed my own culinary view. I am crazy about soups, though. I’ll eat a steaming bowl of soup when it’s 105 degrees in the heart of summer. Is “Soup Nazi” a style of cooking? Maybe I’m that.
Describe the best dish you’ve ever made.
Both the Miyoko’s Kitchen Vegan Mozz and Follow Your Heart’s Vegan Egg came out around the same time. And I hadn’t had a proper eggplant parmesan in a very long time. So I used both products to construct this monster casserole, and they took it to another level. The egg held on to the breading exactly as a chicken egg would, and the mozz was cheesier and meltier, than anything else on the market. It was absolute perfection. I’ve also got a seitan and mushroom based filet mignon au jus recipe that I’ve almost perfected. It’s tender, and rich, with a fluffy horseradish aquafaba cream. I’ll be sharing that recipe in the Sexy’s Best series around Valentine’s Day.
If your current self could give your past self one piece of sage cooking advice, what would it be and why?
Get into everything! Experiment with all different types of cuisines as fast as you can, because once life becomes more complicated, and you have more responsibilities, your pace is going to be slowed. When I first cooked out of Kittee Burns’ Teff Love, I just wanted to cook Ethiopian every single day until I mastered it. But my wife and kid definitely didn’t want to eat Ethiopian every day, so I couldn’t do that. I’d have to wait a few weeks before I could try out another dish, and learn something new. If I was 25, with nothing else to do, I’d have cooked the whole book in a few weeks.
Do you have any culinary heroes?
I think that the Sarno brothers over at Wicked Healthy are extremely prolific, and they are innovating vegan food at breakneck speeds. They also keep it fun and accessible for the home cook, and they present it with passion, which I think is highly effective for pushing the movement forward. I think the unsung heroes of the vegan food movement, however, are the bloggers. I feel like they’re in “the trenches”. When something new comes along, they have their fingers on the pulse, and they jump right into it. And bloggers have that knack for tinkering. Once the aquafaba phenomenon hit the scene, it was the bloggers who experimented tirelessly, to figure out how it worked. When a restaurant chef, someday down the line, decides they want to start using aquafaba, they’re going to lean on the work that has already been done by the blogging world. How awesome!
If you could choose anyone to cook with in the kitchen, who would it be?
That’s easy… my grandmother and great grandmother (a.k.a. “Little Nana” and “Big Nana”). Two Italian ladies who died when I was young. I remember big Sunday dinners for 15 people. Everything from scratch. The pasta, the sauce, meatballs, bread, I remember it so vividly, but I can’t imagine how they made fresh pasta and everything else for that many people every Sunday morning. I’d love to be able to travel back in time and mix it up in the kitchen with them.
If you could throw a party for anyone, who would be there and what would the menu look like?
It would be a little party for two … just me and Donald J. Trump. First, I’d feed him the best, most tremendous food … and I do make the best food, that’s what a lot of people are saying … ummm … and then I would hypnotize him and make him drop out of the race. I would also learn hypnosis first, then after that, that’s when I would have the party. Totes good plan, right?
Name one ingredient and kitchen gadget you can’t live without.
Gadget: My little 3-cup mini food processor. It the right size for small family cooking. I use it several times a day.
Ingredient: Smoked paprika. I should really have it in a holster on my hip, or on a “Taxi Driver” sort of contraption that slides out of my sleeve, right into my hand.
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