If you’re interested in vegan food, you may already be familiar with Chef Mark Reinfeld. He was the founding chef at the Blossoming Lotus restaurants in Hawaii and Portland, Oregon, has authored eight cookbooks and was inducted into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame in 2017. For more than 20 years, Reinfeld has trained everybody from home cooks to top vegan chefs and consulted with corporations around the world. Now, he’s opening a brick-and-mortar vegan culinary school this fall (pandemic permitting) in Boulder, Colorado. Reinfeld took some time to talk with Inhabitat about his new Vegan Fusion Culinary Academy.
Inhabitat: What kind of students will attend your culinary school?
Reinfeld: So the main program is we want to train people for a career in the plant-based culinary world. So we’re calling that the aspiring chef. We’re looking to have that be a four-month nationally accredited culinary program. We’ll offer job placement and support and help people get gigs out in the real world with the training.
And then we’ll do consulting, like professional chef trainings. So if you’re a chef out in the real world but you didn’t know anything about vegan or plant-based, you could come and take anywhere from a one- to five-day training.
Then we’ll also be offering evening classes for date nights and vegan desserts, or vegan holidays, as well as kombucha-making and cheese-making, all-day and weekend workshops. The idea is to have it be a real community center where we’ll have movie screenings and we’ll be able to do benefit fundraising events for vegan and other environmental organizations to raise awareness and funds for some of those.
Inhabitat: Besides yourself, who will be teaching the courses?
Reinfeld: We’re going to have guest chefs come to teach. Fran Costigan is on the books to be the first visiting chef to do a course on vegan desserts. Miyoko offered to do a cheese-making class. If you look on the website on the Our Team page, you’ll see a lot of the leading voices in the plant-based culinary world will be passing through to do either a presentation or a cooking class with their expertise.
Inhabitat: What else are you planning for the school?
Reinfeld: My wife is a vegan naturopathic doctor, so she’s developing an eight-part Food is Medicine component of the aspiring chef program. We want to empower students with a basic knowledge of the health of a plant-based lifestyle.
We’re also going to be working with the local medical community to create a CME, continuing medical education credit, for doctors and nurses to learn about the healing qualities of plant-based foods. Dr. [Michael] Greger and Dr. [Joel] Kahn have agreed to come to the school and teach. We’re bringing in the medical community that way, too.
Inhabitat: Are you getting more acceptance now from the medical community about plant-based eating?
Reinfeld: Yeah. Definitely, the movement is growing. And Dr. [Kim] Williams, who was the president of the American College of Cardiology, he’s also expressed a willingness to come to the school. He said cardiologists are either vegan or they haven’t seen the data. He’s a well-respected person there.
Inhabitat: Tell us more about your motivation.
Reinfeld: I like to consider what I do as food activism. Basically, by educating people on the how-to part of plant-based cuisine, like how to bring plant-based food into your daily rotation, I put in the activism category because you’re empowering people with the gift of their own health. Then, if they’re aware of the environmental impact or the animal welfare components, well, those benefits will occur whether people are aware of them or not. If they are aware of them, then it goes even further, I think.
Inhabitat: What is your vision for the future of veganism in general and your students in particular?
Reinfeld: I’ve been plant-based for 20-plus years, so I’ve seen a lot of changes occur — more recently than in years prior. It just feels like it is reaching a tipping point where it will be considered more mainstream to eat more plant-based.
I would love for the students to be innovators and leaders. As far as where they wind up, whatever type of food service sector there is now will become more and more plant-based. Opportunities in any of those emerging plant-based industries like food trucks, restaurants, personal chefs that are able to help people have a foundation for a healthy, plant-based lifestyle. I could see them writing cookbooks and developing recipe formulas for major companies or consulting with companies on how to bring more plant-based foods into their food service. Part of what we think is cool is the people that come here to train will go back to their communities around the world and have their plant-based knowledge there.
Inhabitat: What’s the best thing about being a vegan chef?
Reinfeld: I like to show people that you can have food that’s amazing and still be plant-based.
Inhabitat: What else should readers know about you, your work and the academy?
Reinfeld: We’re really striving to create the best environment that we can for people to learn about the plant-based lifestyle and the cuisine in whatever way people are wanting to go with it. Whether it’s a home cook who wants fresh ideas for her family or a chef who’s been in the restaurant business for 20 years but needs training in plant-based cooking or a deep four-month immersion into cuisine and lifestyle… everyone’s welcome.
Images via Mark Reinfeld