I started experimenting with plant-based cooking in 2010. My husband Steven said, “you are going vegan aren’t you? Please don’t, it will be awful. I will divorce you!” He was kind of kidding, but I get it. We all have that stereo-type in our heads of the angry, pasty white, skinny vegan, shaking her fists and dumping paint on ladies with fur coats. Here is a little joke I like to tell; “Who are the most annoying people on the planet? Vegans, home-schoolers, and yoga people.” Why is that funny? Because I am all of those things and I get it! Clearly, it doesn’t have to include anger or paint!
So, fast forward to 2012. Steven and I were looking for another yoga space. My yoga studio in Somerville was, and is, awesome, but it is a big room with a tiny lobby. People wanted to hang out after class but couldn’t so. I imagined them walking down the street and go to the coffee shop, and I wished I had a place for them to hang, right at the studio. We found a space in Cambridge where we could do that, but it was more than we wanted — 6000 square feet! We would have the extra space and then some.
Now equipped with a place to turn ideas into action, I created and ran our VO2 Vegan Cafe for 6 years — developing, testing, and perfecting dozens of recipes there. “I wanted to create a place where my family and I would want to eat! I wanted more than salad, stir-fry, and uninspired pasta with marinara. I wanted more than sprouts and hummus and I imagined others wanted that too.” Well, they did and they still do.
After 6 years, VO2 was super successful, but facing a 400% increase in rent (welcome to Cambridge), we decided to turn the page, and closed the café. We tossed around the idea of a food truck, which still may be in the future. In the meantime, I was invited down to Mexico in December, 2019, to consult on the menu of a high-end resort called Maya Tulum. They already had a vegetarian friendly menu, but it was considered all over the place, and the vegan options were nil. With blessings from management, I worked with Chef Mitch, to restructure their several menus, including a la carte lunch and dinner, bar, and buffet menus, adding plant-based protein options, new takes on vegan cheeses, and sauces to make most of the menu vegan. The results are cohesive, inspired, and super tasty. The new menus are very well received by diners, chef, and management, and are incredibly satisfying and beautiful!
I came back from that trip realizing that there must be so many other restaurant owners and chefs that want to add plant-based options to their menus. Most chefs and restaurant owners are not truly hostile to the customers who come in a request a plant-based meal, so what’s holding them back? Perhaps… they are busy, overworked, juggling so many things. Chefs want to be proud of their creations. When asked to make something without the right tools, ingredients and skills on the fly, you bet they get frustrated. They can end up sending out something that they are not happy with, and the customer, often, isn’t too happy either. Even the other folks at the table aren’t happy to see their friend or family member eating something unsatisfying, and paying as much for a sub-standard meal.
Plant-based food doesn’t need to be complicated, and use weird ingredients, but it is a different style of cooking. When I first started playing with plant-based cuisine, by necessity I became much more creative as a cook. Without meat or dairy in the middle of the plate, you have to look at the dishes you make with a new eye. I also got really good at working within the context of what’s on hand in the kitchen. I’ve spent many months cooking on our family’s sailboat — talk about having to be creative with what you’ve got! In a restaurant, I like to take a similar approach. With Xolo Kitchen, my goal is to really help chefs work with what they have, meaning skills, equipment, space, and ingredients, to make vegan dishes that are beautiful, delicious, and consistent with the vibe and philosophy of the restaurant.