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.
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.
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.
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.