Vegans are sexy—there’s no disputing that. Take a glance around your local health food store and then at the fish market, and decide for yourself which has a babelier populace and staff. But if you need even more insight into the sultry stylings of vegan cuisine, look no further than Brian Patton, compassionate chef extraordinaire and formally dubbed Sexy Vegan. Patton released The Sexy Vegan Cookbook this spring, garnering plentiful fans for his tongue-in-cheek voice and accessible (but gourmet) take on plant-based cooking. He also recently contributed to a New York Times online debate about veganism with the compelling essay “We Are Not Grizzly Bears.” We grilled Patton on all of his darkest secrets, from his secret weapon for converting omnis to his number-one vegan crush.
VegNews: For starters, how did you get so sexy? In other words, how and why did you go vegan?
Brian Patton: In 2006, I had just started working for Vegin’ Out, the company where I’m executive chef now, which is a vegan meal-delivery service. I was the only non-vegan, non-vegetarian guy working there. I ate steak, potatoes, burgers, fish, chicken, you name it. If it was walking around, I pretty much ate it. I had been working there for a few months and I was very overweight, pushing about 260 lbs, and I was not eight feet tall. That is a bad weight for a guy who’s five-foot-nine. Not much muscle going on either. So I thought, okay, I’m working for this vegan company, I have access to all this great vegan food, and I also cook for myself so it shouldn’t be that hard. I’ll be vegan for a month and maybe it will be a nice little kick-start to a healthier way of eating. As this month went on, I experienced greater energy than I had ever felt. I’d wake up in the morning and sort of pop out of bed instead of rolling clumsily and stepping on things and tripping all over everything. I was more aware, my mind was clearer, and I had lost some weight. I was just feeling good all around and I thought, well, this wasn’t that hard. I thought I’d do another month, and that wasn’t that hard. So I did another month, another month, another month, and before I knew it, it was 10 months later and I’d lost 60 lbs. And it wasn’t until then that I really felt like how I always should have felt.
VN: What’s your background in cooking?
BP: I didn’t have much. I didn’t grow up around food being cooked. I never even learned to cook spaghetti until I was a senior in college. It was pretty sad. I lived off of pizza, mostly. Pizza’s great. I still love pizza. But it should not be the cornerstone of one’s diet. So after college, I had a job for a little while and then I became unemployed and was living at my parents’ house. I happened upon this local access cooking show with this large Italian guy who made this really simple pasta dish. I thought, I can do that. So I cooked that recipe for my parents the next day and they liked it and I felt like they were a little less disappointed in me than they usually were, since I was an unemployed bum with an expensive education sitting on their couch. And then from there I just started … I loved watching cooking shows, I loved looking up recipes. When I wanted to try something I would try it. Sometimes it would be terrible, sometimes it would be really terrible, and then sometimes it would be just okay. And I started to get better at cooking. And after about three or four years of cooking at home, I found myself once again unemployed. This time I was living in Los Angeles, and I thought, let me try to go do this for a living. So I got this job at this little café where it was just sandwiches, salads, soups, breakfast, that kind of thing. And that’s sort of where I learned how to prepare food and everything about running a kitchen basically on a professional level or commercial level.
VN: What is your absolute, hands-down favorite recipe in The Sexy Vegan Cookbook?
BP: Throughout the writing of the book and since the book’s been released, my favorite recipe has sort of changed from one thing to another, but I know that the best recipe, my favorite, is the Lasagna Fauxlognese, which is a lasagna with a faux meat sauce. And I think that one is the best because it attacks all five senses. It comes out of the oven and it has the smell of your favorite lasagna from when you were a kid. I make a cashew ricotta cheese that if you taste on its own, you’re like, okay, I could see how that sort of resembles ricotta. And then I make this tofu sausage crumble and you’re like okay, that sort of tastes like sausage. But when you take these separate things and put them all together in this lasagna, it comes together beautifully, and all of these smells and textures and flavors come together, and you feel like you’re eating a super meaty cheesy lasagna. But I think that that one is really what vegans should be presenting to the non-vegan world to say look, this is what we eat.
VN: What’s the sexiest part about being vegan?
BP: When I became vegan, I started to connect with the environment and make a connection to where my food used to come from, and you sort of become more one with the world. The way that the vegan diet affects your body and your mind, it gives you a new confidence about yourself, or a new overall vibe. I’m way different now than I was before I was vegan. I was basically the same person, but I didn’t feel as good about myself. Having a confidence and knowing that you are a full, complete person and you show compassion to your surroundings, I think that that is what makes veganism sexy. It’s a profound change in the way you see the world and in the way you carry yourself and in the way you see yourself. And your body gets better too.
VN: You describe yourself as an “ordinary dude.” What advice would you give to other ordinary dudes thinking of adopting a vegan diet?
BP: I think that dudes are a little standoffish when it comes to veganism because they think maybe it makes them less of a man if they’re not tearing apart a carcass with their hands, but the thing is, the tip that I would give anyone, but especially dudes, is learn how to prepare your own food. Take an interest in the food that you eat. Chicks dig when dudes cook, and that used to be great for me. Since I cook all the time now, it’s not that big of a deal anymore. I shot myself in the foot because now I have to do other awesome stuff for the fiancée. But taking an interest in food is a great first step for making this kind of change. And even though I did it overnight—I ate a steak on Sunday and then became vegan on Monday and I haven’t eaten any meat or anything since—I was in unique circumstances where I had easy access to this sort of world. But I think just pick a different vegetable each week and learn how to prepare it expertly. And then put that next to your piece of chicken. And then the next week learn a different vegetable. Maybe that piece of meat gets smaller, and maybe it disappears, and you feel good because you’re like look, I can make this bright green kale and these beautiful tomatoes and put it all together! Because otherwise, if you just say “Okay, I’m going to become vegan right now, and I’ll just load my fridge up with veggie burgers, and then I’m vegan and I should feel great, right?” Of course that’s not the case. You have to do it right. It’s the most important thing! Other than breathing, which takes care of itself, eating is the second most important thing to make us not die!
VN: Recently, you had the opportunity to debate with some other smart people for The New York Times website. What did you learn from that experience?
BP: If you look at the comments on any vegetarian or vegan article, they will bring out the trolls. It was an interesting lesson, because I always thought that if by some miracle I was ever in the position to speak my word to a large number of people, that I would be the one who didn’t get any negative comments and everyone would be like, “Oh my god! He’s right! He’s a reasonable man!” So by a miracle, I happened to be able to contribute to The New York Times and I thought that would be it—oh man, he’s the reasonable vegan! But no, that wasn’t the case. But I think that there is a perfect combination of information and presentation that would make veganism palatable to the masses. There are extremes on both sides. There are the extreme animal-rights people showing slaughterhouse videos to everyone and trying to change people that way. I don’t think that’s successful. And then there’s sort of the other side, just talking about the pure health benefits. I think that that’s probably a little more successful, but I think there’s somewhere that these things meet in the middle that could make this perfect way to present the vegan world to somebody.
VN: So, who is the sexiest vegan in the whole wide world besides you?
BP: See, if my fiancée was vegan, she would be a slam dunk. But she’s a pescetarian, so she’s out of the running. Sorry babe, you would have had it! Let me think now. Well, Natalie Portman was vegan, but now she’s not? I like pre-pregnancy Natalie Portman.
VN: What’s next for you?
BP: Just got a dehydrator. Making some kale chips. Can’t wait to eat them on Thursday.
Enjoy this exclusive recipe from the Sexy Vegan, just for VegNews.
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