Saturday, October 20, 2012

Interviews with Ahimsa Lifers: Food w/ Chef Christine Oppenheim (#3) + Vegan MoFo #8

Mushroom = stuffed.
Now stuff yourself with this 5 star dish!
If your life is not a healthy life, why not? If your life is not a delicious life, why not?  If your life is not an easy life, why not?  Well, healthy, delicious, and easy is just what today's Ahimsa Lifer brings to the table.  Literally, she brings it to the table in the form of Avocado Nipole Timbales, Seitan Piccata, White Bean Bruschetta, Pecan Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gluten-Free Pizza, Stuffed Mushrooms, Fresh Fruit Tarts and Cupcakes and Savory Crepes and... and... whew, sorry, I think I got a bit carried away.  Talk about a typing-induced food coma.

These tasty dishes - and more! - are the creation of Chef Christine Oppenheim, of Veggie Fixation.  If you love food, Chef Christine is definitely a go-to resource for your next meal or two or ten.  She brings out the best in food and will wow you with creative, exciting, mouthwatering plant-based eats - for both the vegan and "omnivorous" eater.  Good food is good food, right?  Well, then regardless of what you choose to eat, this spectacular chef will be pleased to serve you up some spectacular food.

To celebrate Vegan MoFo, I'm so excited to introduce you to Chef Christine, so all of you Ahimsa Lifers can get to know her, all of you LA-based Ahimsa Lifers can connect with her for catering, classes, or other meal services, and everyone can find greater Ahimsa in what you eat every day.

Home field advantage. In uniform.
Chef C is ready to cook.
Ten words that paint us a picture of who Christine Oppenheim is: 
Caring, Creative, Dedicated, Determined, Friendly, Fun, Inspiring, Passionate, Snuggly, Teacher 

When did cooking/baking come into your life? What role does it play now? 
I've been cooking and baking since I was a child; I was always at my dad's side growing up, watching him while he prepared our meals and eventually started to take the reigns. Over time, my creativity in the kitchen developed and I would often use food as an excuse to bring people together. Realizing that my true passion was found in preparing delicious meals for friends and family, I decided to attend culinary school at Bauman College in Berkeley, CA for a more "formal" training. I've also worked in a couple of different vegan restaurants (as a chef, a baker, and in front of house) in Los Angeles.

How long have you been vegan?  What does eating plant-based and living compassionately mean to you?
I went vegetarian at the age of 15, so to reveal my age, that was over 16 years ago! I started gravitating towards a more organic, plant based diet after seeing Woody Harrelson's documentary, Go Further, in 2003, which heightened my awareness of the health benefits eating in such a manner. I tend to stay away from the label of "vegan" to describe myself because to me it has a sense of activism attached to it.  While I am an advocate for plant based eating and try to encourage others to live compassionately through preparing delicious meals and introducing people to amazing vegan restaurants, I am not what would be defined as an activist. I like to encourage people to come to their own conclusions with a little boost in the right direction. Eating even one plant based meal a week is good for your health, the animals and the environment. 

What separates "gourmet" from any other meal?
I think "gourmet" is really all in the terms used to describe the food, perhaps the sauces, the added ingredients and definitely the presentation. A basic dish like macaroni and cheeze can become gourmet with a different presentation. Pasta shells with creamy cheeze sauce garlic crouton topping. Then it's maybe presented with sauteed lobster mushrooms, or tomato and roasted broccoli. At the end of the day though, it's still mac and cheeze. 

How is food preparation different for: meals for yourself vs. meals for a client vs. meals for a group of 10 vs. meals for a group of 100?
Simplicious.  You know... simple and delicious.
Unless I'm recipe testing, I eat pretty boring at home most of the time. I'm perfectly content with sliced avocado next to a plate of steamed sweet potatoes and kale, with a drizzle of flax oil and sprinkle of nutritional yeast, where as I generally amp it up for my clients. As far as the services I provide, for a group of 10, I may do a multi-course plated dinner with appetizer, salad, soup, entree and dessert, where as for a larger group, it may be more along the lines of tapas style or finger foods. As a private chef, I work out of people's homes, so I really don't find myself doing parties that are larger than 25 or 30. 

Tell us about Veggie Fixation.
Veggie Fixation provides plant-based, eco-friendly private catering and seasonal cooking classes, as well as personal chef services to prepare delicious and healthy meals to clients on a regular basis. Chef Christine works to break down common misconceptions that vegan food is bland or boring through the preparation of food that is flavorful, nourishing and fun to eat, to satisfy all palates.

What are Christine's Top Tips on:
Making Food Healthy & Fun?
Find ingredients you like and experiment with them!  Eating your produce locally and seasonally is great for keeping your meals healthy, and giving you fun, changing variety. 

Buying organic/conventional?
Buy organic as much as possible. Since this can get expensive, I always encourage people to, at 
the very least, refer to the "dirty dozen" - produce with the highest amounts of pesticides - when selecting fruits and veggies.

Meals in 15 minutes or less?
Chef C in action. Don't Mess With The Chef.
If you use one day out of the week as your cook day, you can chop all your veggies, cook your grains and beans and any long cooking items so that you can prepare a quick meal when you're ready to eat.  When you're short on time, go for quinoa, pasta or quick cooking grains, simple veggies and focus on a tasty sauce! 

Shopping cost-effectively?
Buy from the bulk bins if it's an option for you; saves you money, allowing you to buy only what you need at the time. Farmers' markets often have better prices than the grocery stores, and if you go regularly and get to know the growers, they'll often be eager to give you deals. 

Ahimsa Quickfire:
Favorite whole plant foods?
Avocado, kale, broccoli 

No cow's milk/cheese needed & I still get my tasty,
gooey, Mac N Cheeze? That's a winner in my book!
Favorite meals?
"Comfort Foods": soups, Shepherd's pie, mac n cheeze, anything Thai

Favorite quotes?
I'm a fan of the Ghandi quote: "Be the change you wish to see in the world..." and Virginia Woolf's "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well."

Favorite resources?
Anything written by Isa Chandra Moskovitz and Terry Hope Romero (; CIA Professional Chef books; VegNews

My dad. :)  Local vegan chefs: Dave Anderson of Madeleine Bistro; Sanae Suzuki and Eric Lechasseur of Seed (they are so wonderfully talented, supportive and inspirational!) 

Don't forget about dessert! Bon Appetit!

Here's Chef Christine's contact info:

Be sure to check out her website, blog, and keep an eye out for upcoming classes/events.  Your next new favorite meal may be a Veggie Fixation!

All the best and yummiest to you.

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