Heather Bell and Jenny Engel own and operate Spork Foods, a Los Angeles-based gourmet vegan food company. Their cuisine emphasizes organic, local, and seasonal ingredients. They offer organic vegan cooking classes, in-home healthy eating consultations, private cooking parties, corporate trainings and demos, team-building cooking classes, and more. Jenny is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. She and Heather are the authors of Spork-Fed and the new cookbook Vegan 101.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Heather and Jenny, and we talked about vegan food, cooking classes, and Vegan 101.
Chic Vegan: What motivated you to become vegan? Was it an overnight switch or more gradual shift?
Heather and Jenny: We both became vegan while majoring in Environmental Studies in college. We made the connection between our food choices and their impact on the planet, animal welfare and our own health. For Jenny the shift was from vegetarian in high school to then vegan in college, and Heather’s transition happened faster, but funny enough we both went vegan around the same time, in separate schools and separate cities.
CV: How did Spork Foods start?
H&J: We began Spork Foods back in 2007 because we saw a need for vegan cooking classes in LA and we love the idea of teaching people how to empower themselves through food. We wanted people to come away from the class and meal, feeling that they can master their vegan cooking skills, and proudly make our dishes for anyone. We’ve always been driven towards having our own business, and this idea just stuck out to us as the one!
CV: Tell me a little bit about your new book Vegan 101 and what inspired you to write it.
H&J: Vegan101 seemed like a natural title for us because it’s school themed and great for beginners who are dipping their toes into the world of vegan cooking, just like any intro/101 themed class you’d take in college. We’re always getting feedback from our cooking students about our recipes and which ones are their favorite. Many of our students wanted a book of easy ideas – so we made it happen. But just because a recipe is simple, we still think it should taste great and unique – so we put our own spin on some quicker, easier vegan fare.
CV: What inspires you to create a new recipe?
H&J: We get inspired in so many ways – sometimes we’re driven by what we feel like eating and haven’t had in years, and other times we’re inspired by seasonal ingredients and build menus around that. There’s also the occasional request from family, friends or students that help us come up with some fun veganized recipes that people crave (like our Spaghetti Chef on the cover of Vegan101).
CV: You’re known for your cooking classes. What are your favorite recipes to teach in class?
H&J: We love to keep it exciting and come up with new dishes all of the time, so unfortunately there’s no recipe that we enjoy over another. To us, if the class has good energy and people are engaged in the lesson – that makes each of the classes memorable and drives us to come up with more recipes and themes.
CV: Are most of the people who attend your classes vegan or omnivores?
H&J: Our classes are a combination of omnivores and vegans or vegetarians. Many of our students are trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their lives, and others have been making the same dishes over and over so they come in need of some inspiration!
CV: What advice would you give to a vegan who lives with a family of omnivores?
H&J: The advice we’d give to anyone, especially someone vegan in an omnivore family is to learn how to cook! When you start making meals that are really delicious, we’ve found that your family will want to dig in and share your meal, even if they’re not necessarily vegan. If you’re family is not supportive of your choice, then maybe try to meet some like-minded friends that you can enjoy meals with and cook for.
CV: What’s the number one piece of advice that you’d give to someone who wants to go vegan but doesn’t know where to start?
H&J: Going vegan can feel intimidating at first if you’re alone in this decision, but there are great resources out there to help! The first is to pick up Vegan101 because the whole first chapter is devoted to what to do about dairy, meat, eggs, etc… This will help with shifting your mindset from all that you can’t have to all that you can have! Also there are podcasts on http://www.joyfulvegan.com by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau that give you a great resource for how to start feeling empowered by your vegan choices. There are also tons of forums and meet ups to help with meeting like-minded people. Vegans are out there in all towns and cities – you just have to find them!
CV: What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
H&J: We’re so lucky that there are too many delicious vegan indulgences to count these days. You can have cookies, donuts, pizza, artisanal cheeses, fancy meals, fast food and more – all vegan. So that does make this question tough, but we’d have to say one of our favorites is VanLeeuwen Ice Cream. http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com They have some vegan options that are out of this world!
CV: What can we expect from you next?
H&J: In the new year we’re partnering with some incredible guest chefs and hosts at Spork Foods Kitchen so there will be a ton of fun classes to choose from! And besides that we do have some top secret and really exciting projects in the works, and as soon as those go public – we’ll keep you posted.