Wednesday, August 6, 2014

10 Questions: Foodie Edition with Robin Robertson

A recipe-creating machine come to life, Robin Robertson might very well be one of the vegan movement’s most important players. As someone who has created a profusion of cookbooks over years that span the range from easy, one-pot recipes to elegant, festive party food, slow-cooker meals  to, well, the vegan kitchen bible, Robin brings a true passion to cuisines from around the globe, as well as an endless curiosity, ample respect and a ton of knowledge. Each time I get another one of Robin’s cookbooks to review - and it seems like every other week or so - I am floored by the breadth and the depth of her knowledge as it’s hard to have so much knowledge while avoiding dilettantism. Not only is her culinary knowledge rich and impressive, but she brings to the table recipes that are uncomplicated but rich in flavor, accessible but always interesting. In short, I am an unapologetic fangirl.

With a professional background as a chef, caterer and restaurant industry consultant, today Robin keeps producing cookbooks, writes for other publications and, with the Vegan Heritage Press she runs with her husband, is helping to nurture emerging vegan cookbook authors. Living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and impossibly photogenic kitties, Robin Robertson is the gift that keeps on giving. With another cookbook coming out very soon and who knows how many more to come, Robin is a tireless asset to our community. I’m grateful to have been able to take a little of her time for the following Ten Questions Q&A.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

My mother was a great cook – she never measured anything, and her dishes always turned out perfectly.  She would let me help in the kitchen when I was a child, so my love of cooking started quite early. 

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

Our family meals consisted of mostly Italian food, combined with typical American, and a little Hungarian. My mom always included lots of vegetables in our diet – even as a child I loved Italian-style escarole and white beans with garlic.  I now make all those meals and recreate traditions from my childhood using vegan ingredients, including my favorite – Italian Easter Pie (a special savory pie traditionally made with sausage, cheese, and eggs).

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

I like to think I haven’t experienced it yet – that always gives me something to look forward to!  So far, though, I think I can narrow it down to a few stand-outs: my first meal at Millennium many years ago, because it was my first vegan “fine dining” experience, and I thought this is how all restaurants should be!  Another great food experience were the “accidentally vegan” meals I enjoyed in Tuscany, most notably the grilled polenta sticks with sautéed fresh porcini mushrooms at a little café in Lucca.  Unbelievable.  I also recall the amazing multi-course Thai meal at Arun’s in Chicago several years ago was also stellar.  That’s where I first tasted those little leaf-wrapped appetizers called  miang kham (filled with morsels of coconut, shallot, chili, lime, and  ginger) – a flavor explosion in one bite.  Also, every time I dine at Plant in Asheville, NC I’m inclined to say it’s the best vegan meal I ever had!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and
what would you create?

I’d love to cook a special meal for my mother. She passed away just as I was going vegan, so I never got a chance to cook vegan for her (and she never got to see any of my cookbooks).  I’d probably make some traditional family foods that I’ve veganized, such as ravioli and brasciole.  Maybe I’d make her favorite apple pie for dessert. 

5. What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?


Over the years, I’ve found that many people tend to UNDER-salt the food they cook. Often, all it takes for a dish to go from bland to “wow” is a little more salt!

6. What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Fresh locally grown seasonal produce always captures my attention.  Last week, I had the BEST blueberry pie because it was made with hand-picked local berries, and the most unbelievably good potato salad made with potatoes that we dug ourselves that morning and lightly dressed with Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo – my new favorite vegan mayo. 

7. You are restricted to one ethnic cuisine for the rest of your life. What would you like it to be?

Since I love Thai and Italian food equally, I’d have to create a hybrid cuisine that would allow me to enjoy foods from each of those cuisines every other day.

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included. 

The individuals and organizations dedicated to animal rights and welfare have had the most influence on me personally.  I could never do what they do, but I find inspiration in their selfless dedication to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. 

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about? 

Animal welfare. There are so many ways in which animals suffer at the hands of humans, so it’s important that we do everything possible to tip the balance in favor of the animals.  I’m passionate about helping animals any way I can – the reason I write cookbooks is for the animals – the more people I can help go vegan, that less animals that will be eaten for food.  But we can all do more to help all kinds of animals, even in small ways, from alerting authorities when a dog is left in a hot car, to boycotting products that test on animals, to donating time or money to animal sanctuaries and shelters.  Even something as simple as taking a shelter dog for a walk, or playing with shelter cats for an hour can brighten their lives – and yours too.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

I’ll finish that sentence three – no, make it four -- times:
“To me, veganism is…Love."
“To me, veganism is…Compassion.”
“To me, veganism is…Life.”
“To me, veganism is…Delicious.”

Thank you for all you do, Robin!

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