I ran into private vegan chef Taliah Tsunis at the Whole Foods Market on Santa Monica Blvd, waiting in line for the bathroom. We were both looking at the bulletin board, and I was putting up fliers for an in-home dog boarding service.
She was standing next to me and I joked, "Do you need someone to watch your dog?"
"Nope!" She laughed, "Do you need a chef?"
"Are you vegan?" I shot back.
And there you have it. Fate had literally shoved us into the bathroom line at Whole Foods so I could shine the spotlight on this talented vegan chef.
Hannah: What were your reasons for going vegan? When did you decide to go vegan?
Taliah: Well, I was born and raised vegetarian.
I think my mother would have raised my sister and I vegan but she didn’t turn vegan until I was about 10 years old. She had always tried to inform us about the cruelty and abuse that animals were put through at the slaughterhouses but I never wanted to hear about it because I knew that If I understood the truth of how animals were really treated, I would have to give up dairy and become 100% vegan, and I loved milk and other dairy products at the time so it was a truth I was always trying to avoid.
Back in 2006, I had picked up a book called Skinny Bitch thinking it would reveal some secrets of how to lose weight but I had no idea I would be reading about the gruesome details of how animals were tortured and treated so unfairly. After being educated by that book, I was in tears and was livid over we can allow such tragedy to go on. That book turned me vegan.
Hannah: Can you tell us about Vegan Babe? When was it founded, and what services do you offer? What is the story behind it?
Taliah: Born in 2012, Vegan Babe is mainly a private chef service that delivers weekly meals for people who want the convenience of healthy delicious food, ready to go for them without the hassle of shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning, affording you the extra time to spend with your family or what you would rather be doing.
Vegan Babe also caters small private parties in your home, making sure to impress your guests with unique, fun and innovating vegan appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Being on a restricted diet my whole life and continuing to improve it by cutting out unhealthy foods like over processed ingredients and sugar to lead a healthier lifestyle, I have always been left to be creative by making fabulous dishes out what it is I have left to eat.
People always think that being vegan and sugar free means having a boring diet left with lettuce and broccoli. This is where my passion comes in with exploring new and innovative ingredients and putting them all together to make “something out of nothing. I still love food and want to feel like I am “indulging” and enjoying life and believe that omitting certain foods for a better cause shouldn’t mean my taste buds have to suffer.
For example, I love pasta with a cheesy alfredo sauce, but instead of a processed flour based noodle, I make pappardelle noodles out of zucchini ribbons and sauté them in a cashew cream sauce with basil and nutritional yeast to give it a thick “nutty parmesan” flavor and texture.
My favorite part about what I do is serving my food to the typical “non vegan skeptics” without telling them that its vegan and having them fall in love with my dishes! That is where Vegan Babe’s tagline “I can’t believe it’s really vegan” came from.
Being able to create all sorts of mock dishes and desserts with the attitude of “what can I have” instead of “what can’t I have” allowed me to reach a market of people still wanting to eat delicious food they thought they had to omit completely form their diet, and I come in by delivering mock and healthy “veganized” versions of their favorite cuisines and dishes.
Hannah: Did you specifically study vegan culinary arts or did you have to adapt your studies to your ethical stance? Tell us about your evolution as a vegan chef.
Taliah: I would have loved to attend the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York and study vegan and raw culinary arts! Maybe I will seize an opportunity some day to further my culinary education there but I received my degree at The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.
It was quite an experience for me to adapt to an environment where no one understood why someone would choose to not eat meat and just couldn’t wrap their heads around why I wouldn’t even taste it by just spitting it out. This is why I majored in Baking and Pastry so I could avoid handling meat as much as I could. I figured that the reason I was here at this school was to learn the proper science and techniques so I could apply them to my already set knowledge and talent to take my skills to a professional level.
Cooking vegan in the kitchen is first nature to me as it’s pretty much all I have known being raised by a vegan mother and Whole Foods Market being our second home pretty much. The evolution lies in the constant hunt for new products and superfoods on the shelves and experimenting new ways to create beautiful dishes.
Having graduated culinary school has given me education of why specific ingredients are in recipes so you have the understanding of how each react to one another giving the finished product a desired result. Having learned this, it allows me to recreate recipes by calculation and substituting ingredients lessoning the “fail factor”.
It’s funny because people tend to think that culinary school is all baking chocolate chip cookies but they don’t realize what immense math and chemistry is involved!
Hannah: When you started out was it challenging to find vegetarian or vegan ingredients?
Taliah: Having being raised with only vegetarian/vegan ingredients in the house, it has been all I have known which is why my vegetarian childhood payed off to serve me in my vegetarian business today!
I am grateful that vegetarianism is first nature to me because I always get approached by aspiring vegans asking me “how I do it” and “it’s so hard” but my answer has always been “it’s all I’ve known”.
Hannah: Are your ingredients organic? Locally farmed? Tell us about where you acquire your produce.
Taliah: The majority of my produce is local, sustainable and organic coming from the farmers markets. I like to know where the food I am putting into my body is coming from.
The whole experience of the farmers market from walking around, seeing and tasting the abundance of what is in season, the unique and beautiful fruits and vegetables you don’t normally see at a supermarket, and getting to know the local purveyors is an overall satisfying experience.
Hannah: Describe a typical breakfast, lunch, and dinner you might cook for a client.
Taliah: My menu is always changing as it depends on the inspiration I bring back from the markets and depending on whether my client eats soy, or gluten.
It's very custom but a typical breakfast might be a hot bowl of sprouted quinoa with sautéed diced apple in coconut oil with cinnamon and almond milk garnished with coconut cream (quinoa is such a perfect food for vegans as it contains more protein than it does carbs!)
If my client involves soy in their diet I might make them scrambled tofu with grilled onions and bell peppers served with veggie “bacon” on a toasted buttery spelt English muffin buttered with fresh avocado and daiya “cheese” melted on top.
A typical lunch might be “fajitas” made out of taco spiced ground tofu, grilled summer squash, peppers and onions, topped with refried kidney beans and salsa wrapped in lightly steamed cabbage cups.
A typical dinner may be curry mock mashed potatoes made from pureed cauliflower stuffed in roasted bell pepper and garam masala chunky lentil soup.
Hannah: Do you cook for yourself, or do you save it all up for your clients? What do you typically make at home?
Taliah: I do cook for myself but I have to admit, I’m a notorious compulsive Whole Foods addict. I stop in that store for a snack at least 3 times a day, its bad, I know.
When I do cook for myself, a typical lunch might be roasting an eggplant and making babaganouj and dipping it with fresh cucumber slices or if I am feeling for something heartier I’ll make myself some kelp noodles with marinara, lots of nutritional yeast and basil.
If I have time to make breakfast at home, depending on how hungry I am I might make an avocado smoothie with unsweetened almond milk, flax, chia, hemp protein, coconut oil, spinach, maca and stevia.
I find that shakes are a great way to pack in a lot of nutrients that you normally wouldn’t be motivated to eat them alone.
Hannah: What is your favorite vegan dish to create?
Taliah: I don’t think I have one particular favorite but I do like to experiment with baking in the kitchen always trying to create something sweet with no sugar.
I do love to repeat my sugar free berry cobbler sweetened with stevia. I make the crust out of ground blanched almonds, coconut oil, raw cacao nibs, and fresh berries reduced with lemon; the crumble out of almond flour, coconut oil, coconut butter and cinnamon. Then the top layer is a large cloud of whipped “cream” made from coconut milk fat stabilized with chia seeds and topped with toasted macadamia nuts.
Hannah: Any favorite vegan culinary destinations in LA?
Taliah: When it comes to eating out, you can find me in the salad bar section at Whole Foods everyday but if I’m feeling for a special outing I love indulging in raw food.
Café Gratitude and Julianos Raw are two of my favorite vegan restaurants!
Hannah: Please give us a closing statement; your thoughts on being a private chef, any projects you are currently working on, veganism, and cooking in general.
Taliah: My passion comes not from the experience of cooking the actual food but the meaning it brings to serving it with love. To me, cooking and food is more than a substance of nourishment, it sets an ambiance to bring friends and family around the table to bond and share an experience over a meal.
Being a private chef, I feel good that I have the honor to be able to provide the meal to be shared without any bi-products of animal cruelty, just pure organic ingredients.
Vegan Babe can be found on her new website: http://www.theveganbabe.com/, or contacted at (310) 913-2812.