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Chef Roberto Martin On 95% Veganism, Cooking For Ellen Degeneres & Portia De Rossi, And The Vegan Police (yes, we asked him about the eggs); Plus Recipes for Chick’n & Mole Tamales and Black Beast Cake!

Remember way way back to last week, when the famous face of veganism, TV’s Ellen DeGeneres, mentioned, while interviewing Ellen Pompeo, that she gets eggs from her neighbors’ “happy chickens”? Well, who better to talk about Ellen, her diet, and veganism than Roberto Martin, her personal chef! Whether or not you subscribe to their beliefs, it’s wonderful of him to share his thoughts with us, dontchathink? Big thanks to Chef Martin for obliging our Qs with some As and especially for sharing his recipes for Chick’n and Mole Tamales and Black Beast Cake (with a crust!) from his cookbook, Vegan Cooking For Carnivores!

SuperVegan: How long have you been vegan and what’s the best change you’ve seen to the state of veganism since then?

Chef Roberto: Not long, three years. It’s hard to tell because I’m in the middle of it all but it seams that vegan food has exploded in last few years. It is being heavily represented in the best restaurants.

Were you a chef first or a vegan first?

Definitely a chef first! I hated cooking vegan food, I made fun of vegans and dreaded a vegetarian guest at the table. I was a successful personal chef for ten years when I was asked cook for Ellen and Portia. I took the job as a challenge to myself and I never dreamed I would start eating this way

How did you come to be Ellen & Portia’s chef? And do you get to eat the leftovers?

My agent Jack Lippman (Elizabeth Rose Agency) set up the interview and they hired me on the spot. Ellen, Portia, and I got along from the start. They were unhappy with the food they were eating at the time. They are all about the animals. There were a lot of non-vegan foods that they enjoyed in the past but their love for all living things made it impossible for them to go back. They wanted GOOD FOOD that was incidentally vegan and that became my approach.

The Vegan Police were all abuzz about Ellen’s comment on her show the other day about getting eggs from her neighbors’ “happy chickens.” I’m hoping that maybe it was just a one lettered mistake and that she meant ‘got’ instead of ‘get’, as in, past tense– especially seeing as they have you! Can you comment on her comment? Do they, in fact eat eggs? And if so, where do you stand on that?

I can’t comment on that as I have no personal knowledge of the situation. What I can say is my personal opinion is that being vegan is not a religion. It’s simply a non-animal based diet that one chooses to follow. I am not ashamed to call myself 95% vegan because I taste non-vegan food all the time (it helps me make better vegan food.) I couldn’t care less what the “Vegan Police” think of me. These so called Police have been at the helm of the vegan movement since its inception and they have done a lousy job of turning people on to veganism. It’s no wonder that folks are defensive about their meat. I like to think that my personality and cooking style is more relatable to the meat eating world. I see the value in individuals and families eating less meat. It’s about baby steps, we first show how a vegan meal can be easy and yummy…then they try a vegan dish at a restaurant or eat vegan twice a week. This is how you cut down over-all consumption.

I hope I didn’t upset you with the “vegan police” line– I called it that in jest, but I realize now it didn’t quite land the way I intended. I think your answer is really interesting and provides insight into an alternative position, I would hate for that to get lost by semantics.

No, I wasn’t upset at all! That’s the problem with print interviews, they can get read so many ways :)

So is what you cook for Ellen & Portia 100% Vegan or more like the 95% you mention?

I make Ellen and Portia 100% vegan food and I label myself 95% because I feel safer that way. I don’t want to give anyone an opportunity to be all, “Gotcha!” on some technicality.

Where’s your favorite place to eat in LA? And what’s your favorite thing to get there?

I know it’s not gourmet but I love Veggie Grill, It’s close by and I know what I’m getting. I always order the Carne Asada Sandwich but I ask them to make it in a burrito instead.

Any plans to open a restaurant in LA or elsewhere?

Huge plans in terms of a restaurant in LA, but it’s too soon to say anything more.

Wow! Please let us know more about your SUPER EXCITING restaurant news when you can! In the meantime, what’s your favorite recipe from your cookbook, that’s good enough for some Super Vegans?

It would have to be the tamales!! The mole is awesome and easy and The Black Beast (chocolate cake) will blow your mind.

CHICK’N AND MOLE TAMALES
Don’t be discouraged by what you hear, tamales are easy to make and delicious any time of year. The simplest way to prepare tamales is in three steps.
Step 1: Make the filling.
Step 2: Prep the masa.
Step 3: Assemble the tamales and steam them.

Step 1: Make the Filling
2 Bags of Gardein Chick’n Scaloppini, defrosted, diced medium and browned in 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil.
1 Batch Dark Red Mole
One Bag Dry Cornhusks (If dry cornhusks are unavailable in your area you can buy them on-line or use parchment paper cut into 6” x 8” rectangles.)

In a large bowl, add the Gardein and just enough mole to coat.
Thin out the remaining mole with a cup of broth and set aside to enjoy later with the cooked tamales.
Place the husks into a large bowl and cover them with hot water. Set a heavy item on top of the husks to keep them submerged. (As you go through the cornhusks, some will be cracked or too small. Save these unusable husks for the steaming process.)

Step 2: Prep the Masa.
4 cups masa harina
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
4 cups warm water
1 cup vegan butter, melted
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Using a stand mixer and the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients in the order in which they are listed. Mix at a low speed until the ingredients are well incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium for a few minutes to fluff the masa. NOTE: This process may be done by hand if necessary. Cover and refrigerate the masa until needed. Masa can be made up to 3 days in advance. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to assembly.

Step 3: Assembly & Steaming.
Assembly:
Have the dry corn husks, Masa, and the filling on one table, ready to go. Remove a large husk from the water and pat dry. Lay the husk on a flat surface with the long end at the top. The husk will resemble a rudimentary triangle with the narrow end pointing toward the bottom. Place about a ¼ cup of masa onto the husk. Starting from the upper left hand corner, spread the Masa about 3.5” across and 3.5” down. Try to keep the masa approximately 1/8” thick. Spread about 2 tablespoons of mole filling down the center of the masa. Fold the husk in half vertically (from left to right), encasing the filling in a pocket of masa. Roll any excess husk around the tamale. Take the bottom of the excess husk and fold it up towards the top. Lay the tamales flat, seam side down until you have enough to steam. It depends on the size of your steaming basket, but I usually can fit about 2-dozen tamales in one basket.

Steaming: 
Set the tamales upright in a steamer. They need to be crowded enough to stand on their own. You can buy large steamers made just for this purpose, or you can rig something up with a large pot and a good-sized steamer basket. The idea is to have simmering water on the bottom of the pot and a steam basket full of up-right tamales secured above the water. Cover the tamales loosely with the wet, unusable cornhusks, then cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Steam for 1 Hour and 15 minutes over medium-low heat. When the tamales are done, carefully remove them from the steamer and allow them to rest at least 15 minutes. Remove 2 tamales from the husk and spoon a little excess mole over the top and serve. Tamales are good for 5 days in the fridge or 2 months in the freezer. To maintain freshness, it is best to freeze them the day they are made. They can be defrosted and re-steamed until warm if desired, however, I can’t think of any food that can handle being microwaved better than the tamale. Microwaves should come with a “Tamale button” right next to the “popcorn button”.
Makes: about 24 tamales.

Dark Red Mole
4 Cups Better than Bouillon “No Beef” Beef Broth or Vegetable Broth
6 Dried Pasilla or Ancho Chiles
1 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large White Onion, chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 tsp. Dried Oregano
2 Tbsp. Ground Cumin
2 oz. Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate, chopped
½ Cup Slivered Raw Almonds
2 tsp. Kosher Salt

Chile Preparation: Gas Range
Using a small saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer and remove from the heat. Rinse the chiles individually in cold water and shake them dry. Using metal tongs, roast each chile over a high flame. The chile will burn fast. Move the chile quickly over the flame and blow it out if it catches fire. Roast all sides of the chile. When the chiles are cool, cut them open with scissors, and cut out the stem. Remove the ribs and seeds and soak them in the pan with the hot broth to soften for 15 minutes.

Chile Preparation: Electric Stove Top
Using a small saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer then remove from the heat. Rinse the chiles individually in cold water and shake them dry. Working on one chile at a time cut them open with scissors and cut out the stem. Remove the ribs and seeds and open up the chile. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Using a spatula, flatten out the dried chiles skin side down on the hot skillet. Press down long enough for the chiles to soften and scorch. Remove the ribs and seeds and soak them in the pan with the hot broth to soften for 15 minutes.

Mole Preparation:
Heat a medium sauté pan over high heat. Add the olive oil and wait until it shimmers. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and cumin, and cook 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate. Allow the residual heat to melt the chocolate. Remove the chilies from the bowl and place them in a blender. Strain the broth into the blender and add the onion mixture, almonds, and salt. Purée until the sauce is completely smooth.

VEGAN LA BÊTE NOIRE “THE BLACK BEAST”
For the crust:

2 cups blanched almonds
¼ cup organic all purpose flour
¼ cup melted vegan butter
¼ cup organic brown sugar
One 9”-10” spring form pan

Toast the almonds in a large pan over high heat. Keep moving the almonds around (jiffy pop style) until the almonds begin to darken. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to agitate the almonds until they are a uniform light brown. Place the nuts on a plate to cool. When the almonds are cool, place them in a food processor and chop them into a fine meal. In a medium bowl mix the ground almonds, flour, butter, and sugar with a fork. Secure the sides of a 9”-10” spring form pan. Using the back of a spoon, spread the crust mixture over the bottom of the pan. This crust does not need to be pre-baked.

For the cake:
1.5 cups extra strong coffee or espresso
½ cup organic white sugar
1/3 cup vegan butter
1 lb. chopped bittersweet chocolate (use the best chocolate available that contains no milk and is 70%+ cocoa)
1 (14oz) block silken tofu
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350°. Wrap 3 layers of foil around the bottom outside of the spring form pan. Be sure the foil covers the entire outside of the pan (This is to prevent water from penetrating). Using a double boiler whisk the coffee and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chocolate and butter and stir until the mixture is combined and the chocolate is fully melted. In a food processor puree the tofu, cornstarch, and chocolate mixture until smooth. Pour the batter into the pan with the prepared crust.

Place the foil-wrapped spring form pan in large roasting pan or hotel pan. Place the two pans inside the oven. Using a pitcher, carefully add enough hot water to the outside pan to come halfway up sides of the cake. Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Using a wooden spoon or wearing an oven mitt, carefully push the cake pan. When the center of the cake is no longer wobbly the cake is done. Carefully remove both pans from the oven. Then remove the cake from the water bath, and carefully remove the foil as well. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan.

For the Chocolate Ganache:
1 cup soy or almond milk (unsweetened)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli chocolate chips are perfect)

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the soy or almond milk to a simmer. Remove the milk from the heat. Add the chocolate chips and whisk until completely melted and smooth. Leaving the cake in the pan, pour just enough Ganache to cover the top of the cake. Save the remaining Ganache for another use, like truffles. Refrigerate the cake in the pan until Ganache is set, about 2 hours. The cake can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Cutting the Cake
Run a warm knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake before releasing the sides. Score the cake in half and then into quarters. Warm a thin knife under hot water and dry the blade. Cut one quarter of the cake, and then cut that quarter into 4 equal pieces. Serve with fresh berries.
Makes 1 9-10” round cake, which serves about 16 individuals. The cake is good for 2 weeks refrigerated.

15 Comments

  1. Comment by

    Dan

    on #

    “I am not ashamed to call myself 95% vegan because I taste non-vegan food all the time (it helps me make better vegan food.) I couldn’t care less what the “Vegan Police” think of me.”

    He said it all right there. He’s not even CLOSE to being vegan is he thinks it’s all about keeping other people happy. It’s really more about the animals, and if he has no problem contributing to the suffering and death of animals simply to perfect a meal, then his heart is not in the right place. His ego needs to take a step back and think about what vegan really means. He’s embarrassing those of us who truly sacrifice to make the lives of others better.

  2. Comment by

    Alex

    on #

    I think it’s incredible that this dude went from making fun of vegans to eating primarily vegan himself. Good on him for doing that. It’d be nice to see him be 100% vegan, but at least he’s up front about that instead of those who “vegans” who really make us look bad and are the reason I still have to, after identifying myself as vegan to people, explain how I don’t eat fish (or honey or eggs or whatever).

    I’m also way more curious than I should be about whether Ellen is vegan, and it would’ve been nice to get a definitive answer here. Oh well. It’s like that riddle: how do you keep an a-hole vegan in suspense?

  3. Comment by

    CBB

    on #

    Hurray! He sounds like a wonderful guy, and actually I had the opportunity to briefly correspond with him early on and bought his book before any other cookbook. Knowing NOTHING about how to prepare vegan foods before making the switch, but being a grill master, I found his methods and flavor palette very familiar and easy to follow with my own background. I actually made “The Black Beast” and had a real chef ask me where I went to culinary school and that really made me feel great. I really appreciate him making the sacrifice to taste non vegan foods so that he can translate those flavors to those of us who are real food snobs. I couldn’t do it, so I’m grateful that he can. What a great heart this guy has, and his book has really made our lives better as we learned to adapt to an unfamiliar world of food in a short period of time. I’m sure that Ellen and Portia really appreciated him coming along when he did and enabling them to adapt as well as they have. Eating vegan shouldn’t have to be about sacrifice and personal suffering. There is no gain for ourselves and others by virtue of self deprivation. We have certainly eaten 5 star foods consistently since making the switch, due in large part to not just specific recipes, but the techniques and substitution ideas he puts forth in such a homey friendly way in his book. I embrace everyone for what they are able to do. If they can do meatless Monday, then I love that. If they can do meatless all the time, even better. If they can drop the dairy and eggs too then all the rest is gravy.. err, mushroom gravy of course. You know he doesn’t have to be vegan at all to contribute to animal welfare. Just by making vegan eating accessible, he’s helping make it easier for others to make the switch, and that counts for a lot. Way to go Chef Martin!

  4. Comment by

    woop woop

    on #

    Dan, he said he didn’t care about what the vegan police think of him so your point is moot.

  5. Comment by

    Catherine

    on #

    I’m so glad I have a non-vegan to tell me that veganism is “simply a diet.” Ethical veganism may not be a “religion” but it is at the very least a philosophy, and it bugs me that he throws these terms around without understanding what they mean.

    (and yes, I intentionally said he’s a non-vegan. You’re vegan or you’re not, enough with this percentage crap. If you don’t eschew animal products, you follow a strict vegetarian diet. There’s a difference.)

  6. Comment by

    CBB

    on #

    The problem with holding to the word in the purist sense is that nobody really is as vegan as they think they are. Producing edible vegetation by definition means that some creatures are inadvertently (or intentionally in the case of insects) killed. Unless you select all your edibles via wildcrafting, there is death attached to it. If you ride in a vehicle of any sort, driving or not, you are participating in the unintentional killing of things. If you select shoes and belts and so on made of vinyl, you are contributing to the pollution of our earth and death of fish and birds in droves. The death of a cow to make a pair of shoes is really sad, and I’m not saying it isn’t. But guaranteed more than one creature died as a direct or indirect result of a pair of vinyl shoes. By our very existence, every single day, like it or not, we contribute in a direct and indirect way to the death of other creatures. All we can do is reduce that as much as possible. As far as that goes, all of us using computers.. all that plastic alone contributes to death and suffering of things that are alive. Anybody who does not understand that is fooling themselves or is just an outright hypocrite.

  7. Comment by

    Dan

    on #

    CBB, you don’t understand what veganism is.

    I would suggest to you that there is a huge difference between eating animal products, like the chef does, and unintentionally killing insects while driving. It’s all about intention.

    Veganism is not about perfection, because living causes death. But in the example of this non-vegan chef pretending he cares while not making an effort to at least stop eating animals is insulting.

  8. Comment by

    CBB

    on #

    With all my heart I love and appreciate Chef Martin and people like him who are moving people away from a death and decay based existence. I don’t care if he does it 95% of the time or even 50% of the time, and I don’t care if I have to re-educate some people he may confuse along the way. He has already influenced many to reduce or eliminate meat and therefore, he is way more valuable to the effort than someone ranting about the proper use of the word vegan and waving posters of animal cruelty in people’s faces, driving them away from the idea of giving it a try.

    I truly deeply and completely understand what veganism is, as it is applied to food, lifestyle, intention, ethics, humanism and spirituality. I do avoid all animal products, down to the chemical components, whenever it is feasible and reasonable for me to do so, in my food, drink, home and personal products. And yet I do not find it in any way insulting if someone says they do that 95% of the time because I don’t tie up my personal self worth in a word. I would suggest that if your ego is so attached to a word that you are literally insulted by someone else’s imperfect reflection of said word, that you have a lot to think about. If your first reaction is ‘not good enough!’ when someone says they are “95% vegan”, then there is a lot that you “don’t understand”. And I would say, if he is not eating animals 95% of the time, that is a great thing and he is saving a lot of animals. 95% of the time is hardly not making an effort. In school, 95% is an A grade. It is pointless to adopt a compassionate stance on animals and not include the human animal in your circle of compassion. If you use the podium of veganism to throw eggs (pardon the sideways pun) instead of a place of empathy, love for all fellow creatures, and a platform of generous and gentle teaching, then I would say, from the standpoint of someone who has adopted this lifestyle specifically for spiritual reasons, that is it you who does not understand what the word means.

    More people need to stop participating in the killing of animals. On that we all agree. But when we stand on our high and mighty throne of perfection and spit on everyone who doesn’t meet our standard, we drive people away. When someone says my roommate is vegan and she eats eggs why don’t you, I have that choice to say Well your roommate is a stupid jerk baby chicken murderer who doesn’t even know what vegan means, followed by a rant about baby roosters destroyed by the millions in hatcheries. Or, I could say, well you know, there are a lot of people who use the word vegan in place of a more correct term “vegetarian”, and here are some differences. That gives me the opportunity to open the mind and awareness of someone who has possibly the spark of interest, and encourage them to give it a try. Then I have not created an enemy or created the image in one more head of the crazy ranting vegan, but have cleared up some confusion and educated someone from a place of love and tolerance. Big difference.

  9. Comment by

    Insufferable Vegan

    on #

    @CBB,

    FYI that was a pretty high and mighty way of telling someone they’re high and mighty.

    Also, I wish I loved anything in this world as much as you love Chef Martin.

  10. Comment by

    CBB

    on #

    I hope so too, because I love you just as much even if you are “insufferable”. And I am not high and mighty at all. I am terribly flawed and full of gaping holes, which I am working on patching but in the meantime simply have to hold a sense of humor about. But I also don’t have to be perfect to point out something very wrong when I see it. I love all the vegans who rant and rave about the word vegan too, even if it drives me crazy. I appreciate anyone, anywhere who, for any reason, significantly reduces (or even better eliminates) the killing and torture of our fellow living things. I love them if they do it in an imperfect and misguided way and have not fully gotten it yet (maybe 95%), and I love them if they believe they are pure to the core and are rabid about their label and their self identity, even if it drives people away. Because all along the spectrum, it reduces to some small extent the killing, suffering and disease of animals and humans. My point is not that I am better than you or am preaching from on high, but that you are not better than me, and I am not better than anyone else, and neither are you because we are all the same. When you reduce yourself to a label and defend that, it is sad and unfortunate for you and for me and for all of us,because you are so much more than that. The animals deserve more than that. We cannot do this by fighting over five letters of the alphabet as if it is a holy magic word. There is nothing wrong or particularly difficult about clearing up the confusion and helping people understand that veganism has a deeper meaning when they are ready to hear it. The error comes in rejecting the principles in defense of the word. I think I was pretty clear about that. If I wasn’t, then my apologies and I hope you got me now. If you believe that defending a purists vision of “vegan” is truly that precious, then by all means have at it and I’ll love you along with all the rest; I just might avoid having a very long conversation with you. However, not from a place of “high and mighty” but from a place of rational pure common sense, I know, and have observed in real life, that people who can make a vegan diet accessible and attractive, even while being imperfect in their own attempts, do more direct good for the animals (including humans) than those who are excessively attached to the label to the point they cannot see beyond it.

  11. Comment by

    Catherine

    on #

    @CBB — (a) tl;dr. (b) There is a cost involved with him muddying the waters. You attach the term “label” to “vegan” but it’s actually a word, plain and simple. I don’t know about you, but I like to think that words have meanings. His incorrect use of the word causes a lot of us to have to spin our wheels and look stupid and inconsistent as a group. Is it good that his work involves mostly vegan stuff? Sure, given he could be doing lots of less animal-friendly stuff. I’m mostly concerned as a matter of semantics, which in this case eventually reflects on the cohesiveness of veganism as a philosophy. Case in point: he clearly doesn’t think it is one.

  12. Comment by

    alexa

    on #

    He said he won’t label himself as vegan so that ‘vegan police’ wouldn’t attack him. From some of the comments, he made a good choice.
    I also like that words have meanings, but I think not many people are 100% vegan, so if you exclude people who don’t follow the diet and belief system 100%, then vegan is almost not-existing.
    If you read his cookbook, what he does is replacing the non-vegan ingredients in popular food with vegan equivalents, so that people would see that they can have the same quality food and same tastes even with vegan food. So he is making vegan more approachable and friendly to ordinary folks. So as a cook, if he travels to Chile and there is a meal everyone adores, he will try to make it vegan. But in order to do that, he’ll try the meal to compare tastes. If it’s matter of intentions, his intentions are good.
    So when someone it the comments says ‘He’s not even CLOSE to being vegan” – I believe it is totally inaccurate. He is still not entirely vegan is more accurate. and I “like” this part of Dan’s comment (talking about focusing on the positive); “he has no problem contributing to the suffering and death of animals simply to perfect a meal, then his heart is not in the right place. His ego needs to take a step back and think about what vegan really means. He’s embarrassing those of us who truly sacrifice to make the lives of others better.” What a nonsense obseervation. From all the things going on in the world in terms of treatment of animals judging his heart or his ego and calling him an embarassement and that he pretends he cares just because he is not 100% vegan, but 95% is plain ridiculous. I like the confidence of people claiming to represent the whole vegan movement when in fact not all vegans share the same perspective. And, Dan, if you are a vegan it’s not a sacrifice, like you said, it’s beautiful.

  13. Comment by

    CBB

    on #

    @alexa, well said. I explain the difference between my lifestyle and that of mostly vegan or vegetarian probably at least once or twice a week and it isn’t a burden, nor am I in any way embarrassed for myself. In any case, I appreciate and applaud your points. I’ve got to say I would rather explain why someone who regularly eats chicken is not a vegan a thousand times than answer “where do you get your protein” one more time…

  14. Comment by

    You're not vegan

    on #

    You’re either vegan or not. There is no such thing as “I am 95% vegan” just like there is no such thing as “I am 95% against dog fighting.” You don’t get to stuff your face with non-vegan foods for whatever reason (and in his case, he justifies it by saying it helps him come up with vegan recipes) and then have the honor of calling yourself a vegan. If you’re not vegan, say, “95% of my diet is plant-based.” Problem solved. Veganism is a philosophy; it’s not a diet.

  15. Comment by

    Toney

    on #

    Great interview! Loved it. I am just new to becoming a vegan and this is very helpful!

    Toney.

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