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To Vegan or Not To Vegan

Chrissy Tracey Will Convert You

I had a vegan hot dog once. It was the color of a tongue with the texture of a moist cushion insert. It went uneaten next to its equally disturbing “bulgur confetti” sidekick.

So, no. Not interested in going vegan.

Then I learned about chef Chrissy Tracey.

If the 2020’s didn’t have Chrissy, we’d have to invent her. She’s a young black woman in a traditionally white industry creating innovative dishes for a modern diet. Oh - and she recently became Bon Appétit’s first vegan chef.

She makes a stack of vegetables look like something I want to survive on for the rest of my life. She creates a fiddlehead fern (fiddlehead fern!) dish I never knew I needed.

And her Artichoke Oysters?

“Artichokes are steamed in lemon and vegetable broth, plucked, and filled [with] maitake mushroom slow-cooked with kelp flakes, butter, olive oil, chili flakes, garlic, and onion. They’re then served with parsley, lemon, and smoked salt.”

Now I want to be a vegan.

How does she come up with these dishes? “I think about the foods I crave,” she explains, “I’m quite literally inventing as I go.” Plus, she’s “A little edgy and experimental, that’s what makes cooking fun for me.”

Before I drastically alter my diet, however, I had two major queries for her:

1. Like that creep of a hot dog, why do vegan dishes try so hard to mimic standard fare, like cheeseburgers and pizza, in which they epically fail? Why not create something new and different?

Chrissy responds, “A lot of people become vegan because of animal compassion, then they miss the flavors and want what they’re used to getting.”

To this end, she encourages people to find food they enjoy eating instead of expecting it to taste like something it’s not.

However, she concedes it’s important to “meet people where they are.” She makes a vegan “burger” from the berry of wheat plant mixed with chickpeas or white beans. “It looks like a burger, but it’s not.”

Although she was raised vegetarian and is now vegan, she visited her parents’ native Jamaica and ate every meat to better understand her culture. “It was interesting to see how fat and texture plays a role in good food,” she points out.

She doesn’t often re-create dishes, but she did devise an “oxtail” soup for her grandmother.

She also makes a vegan “lobster roll” from lobster mushrooms which have an “orange reddish lobster-y color.” Full disclosure, they aren’t actually mushrooms. They’re a parasitic fungi that grows on other mushrooms and sort of… takes over… freaky. Anyhoo, it’s supposed to be delicious and it shares the crustacean’s “dense” texture and appearance. She describes them as “pleasant in flavor and slightly nutty.”

2. Being vegan is labor intensive - all of that cleaning, peeling, chopping. Even foraging, if you’re like Chrissy. Who has the time?

“I prep for three hours* on Sundays,” she says, which includes planning the week’s menu and a trip to the farmers’ market for vegetables or buying local produce, which lasts longer.

Then she stores her prepped ingredients in air-sealed containers so they last even longer. (Google “air sealed containers.”)

When she’s not prepping, foraging, inventing recipes, cooking, or creating video and print content for Bon Appétit, she’s working on her first cookbook. It’ll center around seasonal ingredients and how-to’s for finding ingredients-in-the-wild like berries, mushrooms, and other plants.

But if you scour Winslow Park and still can’t find Lamb’s Quarter - don’t worry. She’s including common swaps (spinach, available in all grocery stores).

One last thing - vegan doesn’t mean “diet.” She has plenty of fattening (can I still use that word?) and satisfying recipes of all sorts, including amazing desserts.

One more last thing. I asked for one of her favorite recipes. She smiled and promptly replied, “Chickpea cutlet! It has a nice, light flavor.”

Bon Appétit!

@EatWithChrissyy (two “y”s)

Chickpea Cutlet 

I like to prepare it like chicken picatta after making the chickpea cutlets, but feel free to sub this recipe for chicken parm, too! You can also use the cutlets in place of chicken in salads and it’s a high protein alternative that is also tasty.

  • 1 cup chickpeas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest 
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten  
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs 
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp all purpose seasoning of your choice 
  • 1/4 tsp oregano and thyme 
  • 1/4 tsp of the following — paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Additional olive oil for frying


  1. Mash chickpeas in oil in a large mixing bowl until very smooth and no whole chickpeas remain. 
  2. Add breadcrumbs and vital wheat gluten to a separate bowl and mix. 
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together spices, vegetable broth, lemon zest, soy sauce. 
  4. Combine marinade with mashed chickpeas, then add in your dry mix and combine with a rubber spatula.
  5. After your ingredients are combined, knead by hand for 3-5 minutes and roll into a ball. Allow your cutlet mixture to rest for 15 minutes. 
  6. Separate your cutlet mixture into smaller balls— it should yield about 4-6 cutlets.
  7. Take each ball and pound it until thin. This will allow for a crispier, tastier cutlet.
  8. Fry until crispy and golden. 
  • Foraging for chanterelle mushrooms. (Photo: Levon Offgang)
  • Chrissy Tracey (Photo: Kelsey Cherry Photography)
  • With Jacque Pepin and Michel Nischan.
  • Wild blueberries.
  • Raw lasagne with fermented almond ricotta, sundried tomato marinara, and ramp pesto. (Photo: Shakir Nieves)
  • Hearts of Palm Calamari.
  • Artichoke Oysters.
  • Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
  • Chrissy Tracey (Photo: Kelsey Cherry Photography)
  • Chrissy Tracey (Photo: Kelsey Cherry Photography)
  • Chrissy Tracey (Photo: Kelsey Cherry Photography)
  • Summer Balsamic Pasta.