Wednesday, March 4, 2015

10 Questions: Vegan Foodie Edition with Jennifer Cornbleet

Jennifer Cornbleet is a rocking, energetic pixie, a longtime vegan, best-selling raw foods cookbook author and lead instructor with the trailblazing Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, CA. As someone who has masterfully demystified the often complicated, time-consuming and expensive world of raw foods – and is able to create truly memorable, delicious dishes with accessible ingredients and some easy-to-learn kitchen skills – Jennifer has been bringing the message of vibrant, healthful living to the masses for years, along with some really helpful tools to assist in that journey. I love her message because it comes with no judgments, platitudes or mandates: she just deftly removes the stumbling blocks to incorporating more healthy foods into one diet and, in doing so, helps people to gain access to optimal good health.

I am also completely excited about Jennifer’s free interview series that will be starting on May 11 called, “The Tasty Life: How to Turn Your Passion for Healthy Food Into a Career You Love!” Oh, and I will be interviewed for it along with 24 others. Woot! (We will be sharing the website once it is live.) I love that Jennifer keeps making it easier and easier for people to live compassionately and healthfully while never needing to give up great tasting food. For this reason and more, we are happy to celebrate Jennifer Cornbleet as a true vegan foodie and rockstar.

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?

I’ve loved to cook my whole life. My father was a great cook, and first instilled my passion for cooking when I was seven years old and he taught me how to bake bread. Gradually, I began helping him prepare family dinners.

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?

I became a vegetarian at the early age of ten. My parents weren’t vegetarian, but they encouraged me to explore vegetarian cooking. At first, my diet wasn’t very healthy, and I was living on a lot of bread and pasta. But then I began to check out some vegetarian cookbooks from the library—my first was Laurel’s Kitchen. And I started making everything from lentil loaves to salads to Indian curries. Since my family liked it when I helped with the cooking, my new interest in vegetarianism inspired them to begin eating more vegetarian, too.

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

There have been so many it’s hard to choose! But one on my mind right now is a meal I ate recently at a vegan restaurant called Portobello in Portland, OR.

The appetizer was a simple but delicious salad of tender mixed greens, fennel, pear, and thinly shaved brussels sprouts, with a sherry-mustard vinaigrette.

The second course was a homemade penne-shaped pasta with pistachio-parsley pesto, roasted cauliflower, and braised red cabbage.

The main dish was an incredible roasted portobello mushroom “steak” with a balsamic glaze. It was served over a bed of mashed celery root, with a side of roasted brussels sprouts and baby carrots. It went beautifully with a glass of pinot noir.

Dessert was a chocolate lava cake with coconut vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce. [Ed.: Okay, whoa.]

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 would prepare dinner for Carl Jung. I’m fascinated by Jungian psychology, so the chance to have a dinner conversation with him would be amazing. And I’d serve him finger food so we could play with it the way he played in his sandbox everyday for a year. I always wished I could have been there with him when he did that!

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

1) The flavors are not balanced. For example, a rice bowl that’s drenched in salty soy sauce or a salad that’s drowning in vinegar. To avoid this, don’t add too much of a single, strongly-flavored ingredient to a dish. Balance salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and so on.
2) The meal is too plain and needs a good sauce. I love the taste of veggies, but what transforms mixed vegetables from a collection of ingredients into a delectable dish is often a sauce, such as curry, peanut, marinara, and so on.
3) Relying too heavily on grains, pasta, or soy instead of emphasizing fresh vegetables. Those are all great ingredients, but I like veggies to be the focal point—which makes sense since they’re what our bodies need to consume most.

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

Right now, I’m in Portland, OR and I’m really into the local hazelnuts and marionberries. I also like barbecued tempeh and roasted red peppers. A few months ago, I got really excited when I discovered how to use teff to make a risotto-like stew and teff flour to make gluten-free pancakes.

7. What are your top three cuisines from around the world?
French, Italian, and Mexican.

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

I think cookbooks. I have a collection of a couple of hundred of them, and I read them in bed like novels. They keep me inspired with ideas for new recipes to create, and just thinking about food, which is one of my favorite things to do!

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

It makes me sad that we now live in such a fast-paced world that cooking is mostly seen as a hassle to be avoided. As a result, so many people eat processed food that was made without any love. I wish we could get young people excited about taking the time to cook with whole foods as an expression of creativity. [Ed.: Hear, hear!]

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

The optimum way to eat both for the body and for the planet. Many people are not yet ready to be completely vegan, but having it as an ideal to aspire to is a great thing.

Thank you, Jennifer!

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