Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Vegan chef sees ‘a backlash against bacon’

Chef Cindi Avila started as a TV journalist and anchorwoman, but found her true calling in the kitchen. Her television career now centers on vegetarian food.
Chef Cindi Avila started as a TV journalist and anchorwoman, but found her true calling in the kitchen. Her television career now centers on vegetarian food. Veggie Patch

Think of Cindi Avila as a green voice of reason or, in this case, the anti-bacon advocate.

“2015 is not the year of bacon,” predicted Avila, the first vegetarian chef on Food Network’s “Chopped” and winner of TLC’s cooking competition show “Dinner Takes All.” “We’re seeing a backlash against bacon. Bacon will be out.”

And vegetarian options will continue to be on the rise, added Avila, a mother of two young children. “People are getting more and more aware. … People say, ‘I never eat vegetarian,’ but I ask, ‘What did you eat for breakfast?’ Most people already eat vegetarian one meal a day.”

Known as New York City’s “Green Goddess” thanks to her NYC-TV show, Avila combined her journalist chops with vegan gusto and created her own niche in food television. Expect to see more of Avila on the national stage as vegetarian dining – both at home and in restaurants – stays on the rise.

Q: You started as a television newswoman. How did you become a vegetarian chef?

A: I was a TV anchorwoman originally. I kind of went into the field of journalism because I wanted to make a difference. But news – especially here in New York – is just so depressing. I asked myself, ‘What is my true passion? Vegetarian cooking.’ I’ve been a vegetarian since (age) 15. I applied to be on a TLC show (“Dinner Takes All”), and I ended up winning. I found what I should do. Now, I can make a difference through vegetarian cooking. And I love my job.

Q: Many people are thinking about trying a vegetarian or vegan diet. Why?

A: I’ve seen so much growth in interest in just the six years that I’ve been (on the Food Network). There are two main reasons.

Health is a big one. I equate it to smoking. People didn’t know smoking was bad for them. It took years and years for people to realize that. Now, the same thing is happening with diet. Doctors are telling people: Eat less meat. People used to eat red meat for breakfast. How many people do you know that still eat steak for breakfast?

The other reason is animal rights awareness. People finally realize how badly (many farm) animals are treated. We live in a society where people want to be connected, and they want to know where their food comes from.

Q: Do you see this trend gaining momentum?

A: Definitely. That’s the major trend for 2015 – the vegan diet. A lot of people already have Meatless Monday; they’ll take it further and extend it another day or throughout the week. Or they’ll go vegan for lunch every day or three days a week. People want to discover something new and (vegetarian options) are very new to a lot of people. I don’t see a lot of trends with (more) meat.

Q: The cost of meat also continues to rise, which must make vegetarian alternatives appealing – not only to home cooks but restaurant chefs.

A: Vegetarian meals make budget sense. There’s a huge misconception: People think eating vegetarian is expensive. It’s actually much cheaper than eating meat. When you replace your protein, you start saving so much money. You can build a meal for a family of four around a can of beans; it costs 79 to 99 cents. There also are a lot of new products on the market such as Veggie Patch (in the produce section) with meatless meatballs, falafel mix, Buffalo “wings.” They cost around $5; how much is ground beef? …

Chefs are discovering this, too. Almost every menu has some vegetarian food. We’re actually seeing some restaurants catering to vegetarians with full-out tasting menus and nightly specials. It’s no longer seen as just a niche; it’s mainstream.

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Cindi Avila

Chef and TV personality

New York City’s “Green Goddess” has become an outspoken proponent of more vegetarian options on restaurant menus and in our daily lives.