It’s an exciting time in the world to eat (and be) vegan and Jenny Engel and Heather Bell of Spork Foods make it easier for all of us to do so! Between their cookbooks, teaching cooking classes in the Los Angeles area, working with plant-based companies to develop new products (and more!), these plant-based foodie sisters know the ins and outs of the vegan world and are making a positive contribution to it.
I hope my readers enjoy this interview as much as I do (secret confession: I started crying when Jenny and Heather sent me their responses to my questions); this just might be my favorite interview to date! I have met these gorgeous ladies in person and I can attest they are just as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside– always bubbly and smiling. It is an honor to welcome to my favorite vegan sisters to Cowgirls & Collard Greens for the very first time! As a longtime fan, I am so honored to have them here to share today!
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: First off, can you share your vegan stories starting with why and when you both became vegan?
Jenny & Heather: We went vegan close to 20 years ago in college as we were both Environmental Science majors and made the connection between what we put in our body and how that directly impacts our planet. It was soon clear we needed to be vegan for life. We started Spork Foods because we always wanted a sister business, where we could eat lunch together every day. Not only that, but we love the idea of empowering people to feed themselves with nourishing, delicious vegan foods. We wanted to teach because we get to explain not only how to make the recipe, but what the ingredients are doing in your body, and where they come from. For example, did you know that all citrus originated in Asia, or that basil can help cure a tension headache? These are the things you don’t learn if you are in a restaurant setting, so a cooking class is a great way to convey this information and also feed people delish vegan food. We knew that Spork Foods had to combine all of our passions, so we opened up shop – teaching and feeding people vegan cuisine 10 years ago.
When we went vegan, there were very few delicious alternative foods, like vegan cheeses and plant-based meats out there – so if we wanted any of those comforting substitutes – we had to get cooking. We didn’t want to sacrifice the flavors and textures that we loved just because we chose a compassionate lifestyle, so we dove in and started experimenting in the kitchen.
C&CG: Do either of you have any formal chef training? Was cooking a large part of your family growing up?
J&H: Jenny went to the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC for culinary school and later worked at numerous restaurants and as a private chef. Heather worked in kitchens starting on her 15th birthday. We feel that formal training is nice to have, but not essential to having a culinary business. It’s really having a passion for cooking and some creativity in the kitchen that make peoples’ food special.
We have always loved to cook, and when we grew up, the kitchen was the focal point of our house. We constantly hung out in at the kitchen table while our family prepared meals and because of that we realized that food was such an important element in bringing a family together. Our grandpa used to make delicious pasta sauce that took him days to prepare (and days to clean up) – and they were the best tasting sauces we’ve ever had. It’s memories like those that gave us such a strong connection to our food. Almost everyone you talk to probably has a similar story about how food was a part of their childhood memories and we think learning how to cook is crucial so that one can pass along those traditions.
C&CG: Your background with vegan food is vast and varied– from eating consultations to teaching cooking classes, to television demos, hosting foodie parties, catering and even writing your own vegan cookbooks (Spork-Fed and Vegan 101: A Vegan Cookbook). What keeps you both busy these days?
J&H: These days quite a lot keeps us busy! We work on all that you mentioned above as well as raising two vegan babies. We work 6 days a week and we love every second of it.
C&CG: You’ve collaborated and partnered with many plant-based companies to create new products and recipes– your latest being the Follow Your Heart Rocket Cakes (a gluten free, organic, egg free, dairy free, nut free, soy free pancake batter) that launched at Natural Products Expo West earlier this year. Do you have any new and exciting projects that you are working on?
J&H: YES! Rocket Cakes are a product coming out late this year and you did a great job explaining them so thank you! We worked on this product for the past few years so as you can imagine, we’re still wildly excited about them. We have some other things in the works that we need to keep a secret for at least a little bit longer!
C&CG: There are an abundance of vegan-friendly eateries in and around Los Angeles where you both live. Do you have an all time favorite restaurant?
J&H: We really are lucky that we have access to so many vegan restaurants that cover all types of cuisine from Mexican, to Japanese, to Southern, and more within a few miles of where we live. We can’t say we have a favorite restaurant of all time, just because we’ve had memorable meals at so many places, but close to us we really love Cleo at the Redbury Hotel in Hollywood, Crossroads for an elegant meal, as well as Bar Ama in Downtown LA.
C&CG: What are your favorite go-to vegan meals?
J&H: We make pasta on the reg in both of our houses for dinner along with a great big salad or roasted kale. We create our own sauces with cashews or different veggies, and then top it with the new parm from Follow Your Heart. YUM!
C&CG: You both are new vegan moms! Does your entire family share in eating plant-based and living a vegan lifestyle?
J&H: YES, of course! Jenny has a 1 1/2 year old and he’s just starting to love animals. It feels right to us to share our love for animals with him and say that because we love and respect their lives, we don’t eat them.
C&CG: Outside of vegan cooking and recipe developing, what other passions and hobbies do you have?
J&H: We have a passion for spending time with our families. We married the best guys in the universe and thank our lucky stars every day. We truly want to spend every waking moment together. We also see our parents at least 3 times a week, going for walks together, eating vegan deep dish pizzas or having slumber parties.
C&CG: What inspires you both to stay vegan?
J&H: We’ve never considered not being vegan. Every day that passes there are more reasons to be vegan and stay vegan. The fact that our own government is denying that climate change is directly linked to how we eat is so irresponsible and unbelievable. We truly believe that if more people don’t change their ways of eating there will be some serious consequences for all of us.
C&CG: Do you have any advice for those who are new to veganism or eating plant-based?
J&H: Invest in a few cookbooks like Thug Kitchen 101 and maybe even Vegan 101 (our new cookbook) and don’t go back! Those will get you started with enough recipes and knowledge to give you a big kick-start. There are also great resources through PETA and Mercy For Animals websites, so check those out! Don’t be hard on yourself and think that you have to attain perfection. Just try to incorporate vegan meals into your life as much as possible and see how you feel, and then when you’re ready dive into replacing all other animal products in your home and wardrobe as needed. Keep in mind why you’re choosing to make this change and it will make you feel so good to live by your beliefs.