A plant-strong diet

Karen PageA lifelong omnivore, Karen Page coauthored with her chef-husband Andrew Dornenburg such influential food books as The Flavor Bible, What to Drink with What You Eat, Culinary Artistry, and Becoming a Chef, each of which has sold more than 100,000 copies.  She has just come out with her first solo book, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, to which Dornenburg contributed more than 100 four-color images for his first book as a photographer. We asked Karen to expound on her new release. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.)


What prompted you to embrace a plant-strong diet? 

At the end of 2009, I lost my father to cancer – on the heels of losing my stepmother to cancer in 2006.  In 2000 and in 2004, we’d lost my husband Andrew’s mother and father, also to cancer.  No longer could we ignore the headlines linking diet and wellness, nor the research of Michael Pollan that “In all my interviews with nutrition experts, the benefits of a plant-based diet provided the only point of universal consensus.”

As a Midwest native who grew up eating meat at least twice a day, vegetarianism was foreign to me – but at the end of 2009, I ended up meeting Oscar winner Marketa Irglova (who starred in the indie film “Once,” and co-wrote the music for the movie and the hit Broadway musical based on it) through our mutual friend Chef Jose Andres.  As Marketa moved to New York City and our friendship deepened, her vegetarianism was yet another influence on my decision to eventually embrace a plant-strong diet in May 2012.  In 2013, I earned a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell in conjunction with the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and the work of Dr. Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. Joel Fuhrman were especially influential on me.

Have your taste buds suffered?

As award-winning culinary authors, Andrew and I have always believed flavor to be paramount — and it continues to be so.  Now, however, we believe healthfulness should be its equal in priority.  While we used to think – mistakenly — that the two were mutually exclusive, we now know better!  Leading restaurant critics are discovering this, too:  Even 15-time James Beard Award winner Alan Richman wrote in GQ that “I had a hard time understanding how vegan cuisine had advanced this far this fast without an accompanying outpouring of acclaim.”  Andrew and I agree – and have actually been amazed to discover the flavor benefits of plant-strong cooking, aside from the health and other benefits.

What have been some of the health and other benefits you’ve experienced as a result of a plant-strong diet?

Food professionals – chefs and writers alike — can often have a difficult time managing their weight.  However, Andrew and I discovered that after switching to a plant-strong diet (eliminating meat and reducing our consumption of eggs and dairy, while increasing our consumption of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains), we each dropped more than 25 pounds rather effortlessly.  Also, I used to have digestive aches and pains every night after dinner, which I’d thought was normal until I discovered they completely disappeared when I stopped eating meat.

Most importantly, we both found that instead of feeling depleted from any sense of lack, as we’d feared we might, we both felt great and with more energy and vitality. 

KCRW’s Evan Kleiman described The Vegetarian Flavor Bible on her public radio show “Good Food” as a “deeply-researched book.”  What was your research process like?

Over the several years that I spent creating this book, the research was deep indeed: For Chapter 3 alone, I studied more than 100 of the most influential vegetarian and vegan cookbooks of the past 50 to deconstruct how they combined flavors, pouring through classics by Mollie Katzen, Deborah Madison, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and others.  I also studied the dishes mentioned on restaurant menus and in restaurant reviews of some of America’s leading vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and interviewed dozens of their chefs and owners – from Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen in NYC to Crossroads’ Tal Ronnen in LA — about how they composed flavors.  In addition, I studied vegetarian and vegan nutrition to be able to write the Introduction to the book, and vegetarian and vegan history for Chapter 1, not to mention trends in contemporary gastronomy to be able to write Chapter 2.

What were some of your favorite flavor discoveries along the way?

I had a surprisingly great vegan latte at Pomegranate Café in Phoenix, whose mother-daughter owners Marlene and Cassie Tolman told me that the secret was using half hemp milk (“for nuttiness”) and half coconut milk (“for great richness”), which foam up better together than any other of the dozens of blends they tried. 

And the chef of Winvian resort in Connecticut, Chris Eddy, taught us a ridiculously simple technique he’d learned while working with Chef Alain Ducasse for making a creamy vegetable sauce for pasta with vegetables other than tomatoes, using just steamed vegetables, a Vitamix, some ice, a hint of cayenne or chili pepper flakes, and an optional touch of brown butter.   I can attest that it’s ridiculously delicious, too.

Photo above of two-time James Beard Award-winning author Karen Page with Oscar winner Marketa Irglova after her NYC concert while on tour with her new album MUNA


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