We thank Chef Tigre for helping us debut a new feature, “Make us food,” in which chefs, cookbook authors, and other food industry professionals cook for us, discuss their work, and their activism.
Late last year, to celebrate the Los Angeles premiere of the film The Ghosts in Our Machine,* we hosted a brunch for some friends including Ghosts filmmaker Liz Marshall, photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, whose work is documented in the film, and Kyle Behrend from Edgar’s Mission, Australia’s leading sanctuary for farmed animals.
We hit up Chef Tigre, a popular vegan chef known for deliciously accommodating a variety of dietary desires such as gluten-free, soy-free, low-fat, or raw, and also known for decadent desserts you’d never guess were vegan. He has organized small and large fundraising dinners for numerous animal rights and rescue organizations, and his sold-out supper clubs in his hometown of Toronto are still the stuff of legend. Tigre is also one of Jo-Anne’s oldest friends, but they hadn’t seen each other in four years since he moved away from Toronto. Sneaky people that we are, we decided to surprise her.
Tigre knocked it out of the park with a multi-course brunch menu that was a marathon of eating. While I kept the mimosas flowing, Leigh’s green juice (served in antique champagne coupes, of course) helped people rebuild their stamina for the next course. Here is the menu:
Please enjoy this gallery of food and fun; story continues below:
We gorged ourselves silly, and more recently, had a chance to talk to Chef Tigre about his food and his philosophy.
First of all, thank you for the extraordinary brunch. You’ve worked in many restaurants but your food is always very distinctive. How did you learn to cook, and then how did you ultimately develop your own style?
Cooking the way I do now has been a long journey. People I talk to about cooking are relieved to hear that my early forays into vegan territory were failures. My meals of spaghetti with plain tomato sauce were far from satisfying and diners of ramen with frozen mixed vegetables were demoralizing.
To start with, being able to make the dishes from my favorite restaurants became my first goal. I grew up in a Toronto, a very multi-cultural city, so I had a great variety to choose from. I also had a lot of friends from different ethnic groups, so making their comfort foods vegan became the next challenge. From Italian, to Polish, to Greek, to Chinese, to Indian, I had a lot of work to do. The main thing I keep in mind is to be bold with spices and seasonings.
How long have you been vegan, and what prompted that decision?
I’ve been vegan for almost ten years. I was raised in Toronto, and my roommate Daria started me on the road to vegetarianism. Also, my college commute took me along the same route that slaughterhouse transport trucks took. Looking into the eyes of the cows, pigs and chickens — something just didn’t sit right.
Over the next five years I went back and forth from vegetarian to not vegetarian. During that time we adopted companion animals, fostered rescues and started tying in to local vegan organizations. At this point, Daria was now vegan, but I had yet to make the cruelty connection to eggs and dairy. Every once in a while, Daria tried to drag me to some place called Farm Sanctuary — all I could think of was the six-hour drive and the hassle of a border crossing into upstate NY.
In 2004, the Toronto International Film Festival rejected the documentary Peaceable Kingdom. Forging ahead, the producers had a screening in a local church. I was dragged to the screening, but by the end, I decided to go vegan and asked, “So when can we visit Farm Sanctuary?”
Then you got involved in the animal rights movement coordinating dinners and fundraisers for different organizations. I love that, and I think it’s a great idea for vegan chefs just getting started. Tell us about those events, and do you have some advice for chefs who want to do the same thing?
After attending one too many potlucks with uninspiring dishes, we decided to hold dinner parties in our little apartment. To make the outreach more productive, I made all the food. We did all we could to make sure that the dinner showed how good food could be without animal products. If people insisted, the only thing they could bring was a beverage.
My advice: the dishes were focused around comfort foods, and these get-togethers were simply promoted as dinner parties, not as vegan dinners. When they got there, the food just happened to be vegan. Eventually, dinners started to get crowded to the point were you could only come if you brought someone who wasn’t already vegan.
You have such a following in L.A., but now that you’ve moved to Atlanta, it’s a whole new vegan food scene and activist scene. What are your plans for Atlanta? Any supper clubs in your future? Recipe e-book?
I’m open to see what happens in Atlanta, possibly a dinner club, definitely the odd blog post and maybe a cooking show is in my future.
Would you mind sharing a recipe with Thinking Vegan readers? Perhaps a dessert recipe? Bonus points if it’s something they can actually attempt at home.
2 ripe avocados (1 cup)
4 tbsp of chocolate (cocoa, raw cacao powder or carob powder)
6 tbsp of coconut sugar, maple syrup, or 10 medjool dates (soaked & drained), or 1 tbsp stevia powder, or 1/2 tsp stevia liquid (choose your sweetener based on what you have available or based on specific dietary needs)
1 tsp of vanilla
1/8 tsp of salt
Add all to food processor and blend until smooth. No food processor, you say? Mash super well with fork and stir until smooth and uniform in color. Let set in covered container in the fridge for a few hours. Serve chilled.
Optional serving suggestions:
Chocolate mousse pie: pour into pie crust and top with shredded coconut or sliced strawberries
Chocolate cinnamon mousse: add 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Chocolate mint mousse: add 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
How can people follow you and your work?
* Ghosts is now available in the U.S. on iTunes, Amazon, and Google play, and through cable TV video-on-demand. The visually arresting, consciousness-raising documentary introduces the viewer to the “ghosts” trapped in the cogs of our voracious consumer world – the individual animals living within and rescued from the machine of the food, clothing, entertainment and biomedical research industries – as well as those rescued and freed from it. For viewing options click here, or to host a public screening visit www.lizmars.com/host-a-screening.