The Life and Pursuits of a Vegan Chef

What is it to be a chef?

Is it to toil away at crafting the perfect plate while you sweat under the heat and pressure of a fast-paced kitchen in the back of an ever-busy establishment? Perhaps.

It is to make a commitment to work long hours, late nights, and most weekends for a life dedicated to culinary mastery? Perhaps.

Is it to sacrifice a relaxed personal life in order to work your way up from a prep cook to a line cook to a sous chef to a head chef? Perhaps.

But perhaps not.

Chef is taking on new meaning these days. While today’s shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef portray the life of a culinary professional to be one of kitchen domination, there is another way of culinary life, one whose movement is not as glorified (yet) in mainstream media. It’s the life of a chef whose work is focused not on culinary domination, but on environmental stewardship, real nutrition, and community or personal  growth through the foods we eat.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with one such chef.

Laura Fudacz, a personal chef in Los Angeles, specializes in plant-based cuisine, for the sake of creating not only delicious meals, but also healthy environments and healthy bellies.

What is your position/title?

I am a personal chef specializing in vegan/vegetarian fare.

What is your culinary contribution to the greater green community?

As a vegan chef I promote a diet without the use of meat or dairy. The meat and dairy industry contribute heavily to our pollution problem and are eating up our natural resources. Raising livestock overuses our water, food and oil supply. Abundant animal waste from the overproduction of livestock poisons our waterways and groundwater.  The rain forests are constantly being depleted to make more room for grazing land for cattle.  By eliminating meat and/or dairy from one’s diet, not only does it have health benefits but it also is part of the movement to revitalize our earth and create a more sustainable environment.

How does the culinary profession have an influence in the world of green and healthy foods?

These days people rarely cook for themselves.  When cooking for others professionally you are given the opportunity to change people’s minds about what they are putting into their bodies.  You have the chance to show them that healthy, whole, nutritionally dense foods can also be delicious. Vegans aren’t just self-righteous hippies who eat granola and wear patchwork clothing.  I try to create dishes that surprise people when they find out the they are vegan.  I feel that people are scared to try new things but as chefs we have the opportunity to change people’s preconceptions about what they think good food is.

How did your personal journey begin?

From a very young age I began to cut out meat and dairy from my diet for personal and health reasons. By limiting my diet it gave me the opportunity to explore new and interesting fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, and proteins that I wasn’t familiar with. I became even more passionate about food when I began to cook professionally in a vegetarian restaurant in college.  After attending culinary school I was able to combine classic french culinary techniques with what I had learned in the vegetarian community and come up with a cooking style that is all my own.

What is your goal, your vision?

My goal is to teach and nourish through my cooking.  I truly believe that food cooked with love actually tastes better.

What are the pros and cons of living and eating in Los Angeles?

Farmers markets are a big plus out here. I am originally from Chicago and we have great farmers markets but not year round.  It seems like I learn about a new farmers market every week.  The only trouble is getting to them.  L.A. is so spread out it is difficult to be green at times when you have to be driving all over the city.

What are some resources in LA for good, real food?

I am a huge fan of Susan Feniger’s Street. The food is incredibly eclectic and based on street foods from all over the world. Her restaurant supports sustainable seafood programs, purchases product from many local organic purveyors and compost and recycle leaving them with only 3% pure waste being produced by the restaurant.  Green truck which is a lunch truck based out of Culver city, runs on corn oil, bio-diesel and solar power and serves all local organic food.  Aside from lunch routes they provide catering for movie sets, photo shoots, weddings, corporate events and private parties. Fresh in the Box in Venice not only has amazing organic brown rice sushi but also the best customer service I have ever experienced. If you go there ask for Michi. If you go there again she will greet you by name.

If you could teach every home cook one lesson about food, what would it be?

When shopping, buy fresh, buy local, buy organic and buy only what you need for a few days.

If you could teach every home cook one culinary technique, tip, or recipe, what would it be?

If you think there is something missing when tasting what you make, chances are it is either salt or acid.  A dash of salt and some lemon/lime juice, or vinegar (apple cider, white, or red wine, depending on the dish) can be the difference between a good meal and a great one.

Have any advice to those learning to cook?

Having your mis-en-place together before you start cooking is the best way to keep yourself organized.  Mis-en-place is all of the ingredients you will be needing for the recipe measured out and ready to go.  This way you can avoid being stressed and have fun while you are cooking.

Laura Fudacz, Los Angeles chef

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