At just 32 years old, Chef Chloe Coscarelli’s list of accomplishments is impressive. She’s been at the forefront of vegan cooking for over a decade and even became the first vegan chef to win a national culinary competition in 2010 at Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”
Coscarelli went on to create “by CHLOE” — a chain of restaurants that brought vegan fast-casual cooking to the mainstream. On top of that, Coscarelli, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, has authored four cookbooks, and appears regularly on several cooking shows.
The success, however, has come with challenges, especially as a woman leading the march for a type of cuisine that is typically (and incorrectly, as Coscarelli is happy to point out) thought of as more feminine. “It’s so interesting that we’ve gotten to a place where people have a view of what a chef is supposed to look like and act like,” Coscarelli told NBC’s Know Your Value.
She’ll be heading to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in February, along with her team of all female chefs — and she’s excited to be featured on an all-female show at the festival called “Giada’s Italian Bites on the Beach” with Italian chef Giada de Laurentiis. “I think it’s really cool that they have an event that’s hosted by a female chef that features other female chefs,” said Coscarelli. “I’ll be there with my girl team.”
Because there is so much confusion surrounding plant-based diets, Know Your Value spoke with Chef Coscarelli about the five biggest myths surrounding vegan cooking:
Myth 1: Vegan food just doesn’t taste as good as non-vegan food
If you believe there’s no way vegan food can live up to the taste of meals containing meat, eggs or dairy products, Coscarelli, who has been a vegan since 2004, wants you to know that you’re wrong.
"There’s still some people that assume that if it doesn’t have animal products in it then it’s not going to taste as good, but that’s not true,” said Coscarelli. “Now there’s been such a growth in culinary innovation around plant-based food.”
In fact, as Coscarelli has proven through her restaurants and her popular cookbooks that “vegan food can taste just as delicious, exciting, crispy, saucy, spicy and flavorful as non-vegan food.”
Myth 2: Vegan diets don’t offer enough protein
Skeptics often believe there is not enough protein in a vegan diet. They’re wrong, said Coscarelli.
“People think they need more protein than they actually do — and that’s based on marketing campaigns that are funded by the meat and dairy industry,” said Coscarelli. "So, we have a big job to kind of break those down — similar to how the tobacco industry used to put out lots of advertising and marketing campaigns to make smoking seem more attractive and like it wasn’t bad for you.”
Coscarelli named fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains as plant-based protein options. “There’s a ton of protein available for us in plant-based food,” said Coscarelli.
Myth 3: Vegan cuisine is more attractive to women
It’s likely that you’ve run into at least one person who thinks of vegan cuisine as feminine. This odd stereotype is something that Coscarelli as all too familiar with.
“I think that some people think that vegan food is a cuisine that’s more attractive to females,” said Coscarelli. “I think that is not true at all.”
Coscarelli excitedly described a documentary she just watched called “The Game Changers,” which follows elite-level athletes who are on vegan diets. “That’s really eye-opening that being vegan is not about getting like a thin or lean body type,” said Coscarelli. “It really can be used as an advantage for any desirable body type, including really bulking up and developing more muscle.”
Myth 4: Veganism is all-or-nothing
While it’s easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mindset when following any diet — that’s typically a way to face burnout. Especially if you’ve been eating meat multiple times a day for years, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to easily give that up.
“Some people get really bogged down by the label and thinking that they have to eat 100 percent vegan food or none at all,” said Coscarelli. “I really think that vegan cuisine is so delicious and it’s available for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re eating it once a week, on meatless Mondays, or you’re incorporating more vegetables onto your dinner table. It’s all good for you, it’s all good for the environment, it’s all good for the animals, it’s all positive.”
Coscarelli wants people to feel free to start small just by eating more vegetables.
Myth 5: Vegan food is too expensive and inaccessible
If you live in a smaller town, it can be easy to assume that the local grocery store might not carry the latest — or even healthiest — ingredients. Coscarelli wants people to know that even if that’s the case, delicious vegan food can be created from common ingredients.
"While there are some incredible, fancy, high-achieving restaurants on the culinary side, veganism is a cuisine that is available to people who live in all different types of areas with all different types of food budgets,” said Coscarelli. “Some of the most inexpensive foods to make are available in bulk —whether you’re buying bulk of a whole grain or barley, or buying bulk of a lentil or black bean — those are foods that are so rich in nutrients and so inexpensive and easy to buy in bulk. They are also easy to meal prep if you have a large family that you need to feed throughout the week.”
Even going back as far as the winning recipe from “Cupcake Wars,” Coscarelli has taken great care to make sure that her recipes use ingredients that are easy to find. Her mantra? “Use very simple foods and flavor them fantastically.”