If there's anyone in your life that needs a little convincing that vegetarian food is as cool as the people eating it (ahem, YOU), grab him or her, hop on a subway, plane, boat, spaceship—whatever it takes—and head straight to by CHLOE., a new vegan restaurant in New York City's West Village, stat. This dream spot for young vegetarians was the mastermind of 28-year-old smart girl Chef Chole Coscarelli, a lifelong vegetarian and vegan for more than a decade, along with restaurant group ESquared Hospitality. And in case you fear the world isn't ready for vegan food—lines are routinely out the door, and gossip sites have spotted celebs like Miley Cyrus, Anna Kendrick and more there to chow down on deliciousness like vegan mac n' cheese with shiitake bacon and nondairy kale cookies and cream ice cream (what? trust us!).
The author of five vegan cookbooks, Chloe also happens to be the first vegan ever to win a TV food competition (Food Network's Cupcake Wars), and is busy opening more by CHLOE. locations as we speak. We were fortunate enough to score an interview with Chloe herself and just loved chatting with this bubbly personality about her journey to veg, challenges along the way, her must-have ingredients for can't-miss-it vegan cooking, and what she's doing to help bring delicious veg food to the masses (thank you thank you thank you!!!!). Here's a transcript of our conversation.
SmartGirlVeg (SGV): Tell us your vegetarian story! How did you go veg? And did you go straight to veganism, or did you take a while to transition there?
Chloe Coscarelli (CC): I grew up with several pets and have always been an animal lover, so once I made the connection between eating meat and animals it was easy for me to go vegetarian and, ultimately vegan.
SGV: Did your family give you a hard time about changing your diet?
CC: I was so lucky to have a supportive family when I went vegan. When I was vegetarian I was excited to learn about the incredible things vegans were eating—it wasn’t all tofu and vegetables! But I was able to take the home cooking I grew up with and turn it into hearty vegan dishes, hence my book Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen. Why wouldn’t anyone want to eat delicious, healthful food?
SGV: How did you decide on being a vegan chef as a career path?
CC: I wanted to make vegan cuisine easy, healthy, happy and most-importantly, accessible to those interested in it and even those curious about it! Opening by CHLOE. here in New York was the best way to go about that. It’s incredible to come into the restaurant every day and see it filled with diners enjoying the dishes that took years to perfect. We’ve been completely overwhelmed by the amazing response from our customers. Making it my life was a natural decision!
SGV: What challenges did you have as a young vegetarian and vegan—did your parents or any other adults in your life have a hard time with your dietary choices? What about your friends or other kids at school?
CC: My family was incredibly supporting of my love for animals and wanting to become a vegetarian and then a vegan! While learning new recipes and getting creative in the kitchen I had the best critic—my “meat and potatoes” dad. He now is a huge fan of vegan cuisine and a vegetarian himself. And my mom was the one who helped me make the decision to go to culinary school. I was hesitant, but she told me I could do anything I dreamed of doing, and she was right!
SGV: Congratulations on your awesome new restaurant! The design and style of by CHLOE. (not to mention the food!) blows preconceived notions many people have about vegan restaurants out of the water. What are some misconceptions do you think people have about people who are vegetarian, and how do you—as a vegan and a chef—set them straight?
CC: Thank you!!! We had so much fun designing the space with the girls at Dekar. They’re such a creative team and we couldn’t be happier with the look and feel of it. I feel a common misconception is that many think vegetarianism and veganism is just tofu and vegetables… but it is so much more. One of the best-sellers on the by CHLOE. menu is the pesto meatball sandwich, made with a mushroom-based meatball. It’s surprised even the biggest carnivore so far and has such a hearty texture and flavor. With ingredients like beans, nuts, heathy grains, fresh vegetables the possibilities are endless when it comes to creating healthy, delicious food.
SGV: And speaking of misconceptions...so many people don't have high expectations for vegetarian food (boo!)! What's your favorite vegan meal or food to feed someone who is doubtful about vegetarian food?
CC: Honestly, if it’s your first time at by CHLOE. I would say to have one of the burgers—if they’re like me and a fan of avocado then definitely the guac burger. The pesto meatball is also another great option for a first-timer… and nobody can go wrong with a vegan chocolate chip cookie. They won’t even know it’s vegan!
SGV: What about something our readers can make at home?
CC: As for a dish for at-home, I’ll use my dad as inspiration. He’s Italian and my go-to dish is my stuffed shells from Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen. I don’t think I have had a dinner party in the last two years where I haven’t made those. You can even make the dish the day before and just heat up as guests are arriving – they’ll think you were slaving away all day!
SGV: What five ingredients could you not live without?
CC: Avocado, avocado, avocado! Kale. Macha anything. I’m recently obsessed! Chocolate—I have a sweet tooth.
SGV: Yum. Clearly we have similar taste in food. Any plans for more restaurants? Can we expect to see a by CHLOE. in any other cities any time soon, for our readers that don't live near New York (pretty please?!)?
CC: Actually, we’re going to be opening another by CHLOE. here in NYC on 22nd street near the Flatiron building so stay tuned for that! [Editor's note: Since our interview, another blog broke the news that a third by CHLOE. restaurant is also coming, in New York's Soho).
If you're in the New York area, get yourself to by CHLOE. now. And if you're not a local, put by CHLOE. on your "must see in NYC" list along with the Empire State Building and that street corner from Friends.
Have you been to by CHLOE. or cooked from one of her books? What would you recommend to other SmartGirlVeg readers?