Dustin Harder from YouTube’s ‘The Vegan Roadie’ talks to Vegan Life about food and his first vegan cookbook
Dustin Harder works in recipe development alongside celebrity chefs including Chloe Coscarelli where he helped to develop the menu for the fast casual vegan chain, By Chloe. As well as helping chefs and companies to create delicious vegan food, he is working on his first cookbook called Easy Vegan which is set for release in early 2018.
Dustin is also the face of The Vegan Roadie, a plant based television series, available on Youtube. The first season was filmed in 2014 and Dustin is now filming the final season, set in Italy. The Vegan Roadie will visit Sicily, Amalfi Coast, Naples, Puglia, Tuscany, Florence and Rome to share the rich culture, and delicious vegan food, on offer in Italy.
We spoke to Dustin about recipe development and the future of vegan food.
Tell us about your own vegan journey
I was raised a meat and potatoes guy. In 2009 I started exploring ways to maintain my weight and when I started eating less meat I was not only finding it easier to maintain my weight but I also felt better in general. I was a little turned off by the vegan scene at the time, it felt very aggressive and I often felt judged for the life I had led up to that point in terms of my food choices. But eventually I read Skinny Bastard. It was funny, educational and entertaining and that resonated with me, so I put meat and dairy products down for good and I’ve never looked back. As time passed, being vegan became about much more than health, I’m a kind and compassionate person (I think anyone who eventually is vegan is), but we all have our own path to that and I think it’s important we respect and encourage each other.
How did you learn to cook great vegan food?
After I went vegan food became exciting for me in a way it had never been before. Suddenly I was faced with the challenge of recreating staples I grew up with and I loved it. I always felt such satisfaction when something turned out the way I had hoped or even better, and I loved cooking for friends. This eventually led to me attending The Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC to take my culinary aspirations up a notch using real whole plant based foods and not relying on processed food so much.
How do you develop recipes?
I research the flavour profiles and build from there. If it’s something like mac and cheese, burger or pizza I always try and outdo the last recipe I did. Whether that is by the sharpness of the mac and cheese, the texture of the burger or the crust of the pizza, I always try and take it another step and make sure I give each client something different than I created for the last client.
Sometimes something going differently than you had hoped opens up the door to the secret ingredient to send that recipe into completion. Sometimes you work and work and work on a recipe and it just won’t get to the place you are trying to get it to and you have to take a step back and leave it alone for a while. Patience is the hardest/worst part, creativity is the best and most rewarding part. I’m creative by nature so working in one restaurant with the same food every day would bore me to tears.
Did you find it difficult writing your first cookbook?
It’s actually been easier than I anticipated. I’m writing it with my sister in mind and she loves to say: “I would go vegan but it’s too hard, I don’t know what all this stuff is”. So I have made a conscious effort to not use nutritional yeast throughout the entire book, except for the staples section to make some sauces. And I did everything I could to stay away from specialty ingredients as much as possible so that if a first time vegan curious consumer picks up the book they aren’t overwhelmed and hopefully have most of the stuff in their pantry already.
What do you hope to achieve with the book?
To feed the curiosity of non-vegans and help people feel comfortable in the kitchen. I want people to have fun; we all take things too seriously in life. Every recipe in this book was created from joy whether it was me dancing around my kitchen belting Beyoncé as I wrote in “1/4 teaspooon salt” or creating a delicious meal for friends, I developed all of these recipes with enthusiasm and joy. I hope that transfers to people’s homes.
What do you think is the future of vegan food?
We are there. It’s trickled into the mainstream in a way that is inventive and all encompassing, it doesn’t alienate anyone, it’s welcoming. And when it comes to the food it all comes down to that one thing that I think everyone can agree on, delicious food. Who doesn’t like delicious food? Vegan or not. Most importantly, vegan food is being created for the non-vegans which is who it should be created it for; if we want the message of vegan food to reach everyone, we have to make vegan food that resonates with everyone.