Last weekend, history was made. The new vegan cooking show, How to Live to 100, kicked off its 2014 series on The Cooking Channel–the first-ever veg program on the mainstream cable network. Hosted by the illustrious, vivacious, and hysterical Jason Wrobel, his expertise in making healthy food fun and accessible will have you (and America) clamoring for more. Jason will be whipping up such recipes as Cilantro-Lime Pesto Pasta, Pineapple Mango Salsa, Nacho Cheesy Popcorn, and Malt Milkshakes—and is known by many in the culinary world as the “king of superfoods.” A former restaurant and celebrity chef, count on TV’s newest vegan personality to provide inspiration, information, and techniques you won’t find anywhere else. I chatted with Jason this week as he prepares for the big launch, and we discussed everything from his favorite celebrity gig to what he’s cooking at home these days.
Colleen Holland: Jason, congratulations on your new television show. Tell us a little bit about your food background.
Jason Wrobel: I’ve always been a hard-core foodie and grew up in a family of supremely talented and creative cooks. After going vegan 15 years ago, I started to learn a variety of new cooking techniques and discovered ingredients and recipes I’d never heard of. In 2005, I graduated from the Living Light Culinary Arts institute as a certified raw foods chef and instructor. Since then, I’ve been doing YouTube videos on The J-Wro Show, instructional DVDs, personal chefing for celebrities—and even started a Los Angeles-based vegan catering company.
CH: What is it like cooking for a celebrity?
JW: It’s always fun and always surprising, that’s for sure. I’ve been fortunate to work with (and feed) some fantastically talented and appreciative people in Hollywood. My favorite project was working with Woody Harrelson on the set of the movie Rampart (one of his best performances ever, by the way). After a few weeks on location, there was a line of more than 10 people coming to the tour bus to eat my raw and vegan goodies. We were doing some crazy, creative culinary stuff on that bus. After we wrapped, the director and some of the producers even went vegan.
CH: Have you always wanted to be in front of the camera?
JW: Totally. It’s always been something that came naturally to me. My father was an actor and my mom is incredibly outgoing and vivacious. I started doing theater at a very young age and studied film and TV acting in my teens and 20s. I feel totally at home on stage or in front of a camera, even if I have a tendency to ham it up sometimes (soy ham, of course).
CH: What can viewers look forward to with How to Live to 100?
JW: The program is an awesome mix of comedy, healthy recipes, and longevity tips. I want to inspire people to make healthier, plant-based substitutions in their current recipes; start having more fun in their kitchen; and to choose the most joyful, energized, compassionate, and healthy life possible. To share the message that if you feel good, look good, and do good, you naturally want to live a long time.
CH: What are three tips for someone who wants to start eating healthy?
JW: Start by making easy, simple, affordable substitutions to your current recipes. For example, use coconut-palm sugar instead of white sugar, or ground chia seeds as an egg replacer, or coconut oil instead of butter or margarine. Be willing to experiment with new foods you’ve never used. Download some new recipes and then visit a farmers’ market to buy some fruit or vegetables you’ve never tried before. Then start playing with new techniques and new foods; you’ll never get bored in the kitchen if you keep it fresh and lively. Make easy, gradual changes for the best long-term success.
CH: You talk a lot about superfoods. How do you define superfoods, and which ones should we be eating every day?
JW: Superfoods are nutrient-dense, energy-enhancing foods that are grown in pristine, highly mineralized natural environments. Many of them are grown from heirloom seeds that indigenous cultures has been using for centuries. My top superfoods for sustained energy, antioxidants, heart health, and hormone balance are hemp seeds, goji berries, cacao nibs, chia seeds, and maca powder. I’ve been eating these superfoods consistently for more than six years now, and they’ve become true staples in my kitchen. I use them all the time.
CH: What are you favorite dishes to make at home these days?
JW: This is almost as hard as choosing which ‘80s dance mix I would take to a deserted island! My top three vegan dishes right now would have to be my gluten-free pimento mac ‘n’ cheese, spicy raw pad Thai, and butternut squash tamales. For dessert, I’d go with my mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae, jungle peanut krispie bars, and gluten-free lemon creme cookies.
CH: In your opinion, what’s the number one vegan food city?
JW: I’ve got mad love for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, and London. But hands-down, nothing tops New York City. I go there twice a year and have to set aside a separate budget just for the restaurants. The vegan chefs in NYC are ferociously talented and doing things with food I’ve never seen before. My mind (and stomach) are consistently blown away every time I visit.
CH: Jason, where do you hope to be in five years?
JW: The last time someone asked me this question I said, “I want to have my own TV show!” So I had better choose this answer carefully. In 2019, I hope to be a best-selling author and five years deep into a successful run of my TV show bringing humor, consciousness, and amazing plant-based food to a worldwide audience. I also hope to be in a position to influence more institutions like hospitals, airlines, and major corporations to shift toward healthier, plant-based food options.