About Robin Asbell, The New Vegetarian

The short version is:

I am the author of The New Whole Grains Cookbook, Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Other Delicious and Nutritious Grains, and also the author of The New Vegetarian Cookbook, More Than 75 Fresh, Contemporary Recipes for Pasta, Tagines, Curries, Soups and Stews, and Desserts. Both published by Chronicle Books.

I have written for many national magazines, including Vegetarian Times, Veg Life, Health Magazine, Today’s Health and Wellness Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, Taunton’s Fine Cooking Magazine, and others (see www.robinasbell.com for a full list.)

I have spent many years cooking in conventional restaurants, natural foods restaurants, a few vegetarian places, and now I cook for private clients in their home.

I teach cooking classes in the Minnesota region and occasionally around the country, to spread the word about just how delicious and sustaining real food can be. (see www.robinasbell.com for a list of classes, if you are interested.)

The longer version is:

I am a spy in the house of meat.

Like most food people, I was into it from an early age. I baked alongside my Mom, using her battered Pillsbury and Joy of Cooking books. I really got into bread. We had some hippie vegetarian friends who had a big impact on me growing up. I made whole wheat bread and light sponge cake with fruit, even selling loaves of bread to our small-town health food store in high school. I gave up meat at the age of 17.

While I attended college with a major in Fine Arts, I worked in various food jobs, cooking, making pizza, and baking cookies. I graduated Magna Cum Laude, won the Art Major of the Year Award, and went on to Graduate School. After a year in the sculpture program, I decided to drop out and cook full time. I honestly thought that making healthy, environmentally friendly vegetarian food would have a bigger impact on the world than making sculpture. So I convinced the owner of a small, mostly vegetarian restaurant/Jazz bar to give me a job. I took to it like it was my life’s calling, getting there early in the wee hours to bake the day’s bread, making soups, coming up with my own recipes for new menu items. I got into that “zone,” when cooking, a zone that was elusive when I was sculpting and painting.

That was a long time ago.

I do think that I have had the chance to nudge people toward a way of eating and cooking that contributes in a positive way. I don’t think I could have reached as many people with painting.

Fast forward to now. I left that first veg-friendly job and set out to work while learning and creating. I have traversed the boundary that seems to exist between the meaty, gourmet world and the healthy, veggie world for some years now. I break bread with, and cook for, some of the most carnivorous people you could want to know. I write about meat, develop recipes with meat, and cook it several times a week. I don’t eat it. Once in a while I have a little fish.

This revelation seems to shock some people, who think it is not possible. Others don’t see any issue.

There was a time when it bothered me to handle flesh, I can’t lie. But I had to come to terms with it, in my mind, to both make a living, and to reach the meat eaters. There was a time when going veg was the only alternative to factory farmed meat, and protein was just another of the things in food. Then grass fed and organic meat came along, right about the time of the Atkins/Sears/Protein power craze, and suddenly folks who might have given up meat got into clean meat instead.

They have a powerful argument. The locavores who insist on local meat are keeping local farmers alive. After much consideration, I agree that a small amount of carefully sourced, clean meat can be part of a healthy diet. I just don’t want to eat any myself, and I’d rather that everybody cut way back and ate theirs with some awareness. So, I buy the best possible meats I can for my clients, prepare them with the utmost respect and care, and stretch them with my true love: plant foods. After years of amping up the flavors of tofu and tempeh, I can really make a piece of chicken interesting. I often compare the many years I spent cooking pure vegan to the year I spent in life drawing class using only black and white, and a little sienna red. The discipline of making flavor, and shades of grey, with a limited palette makes an artist a better artist, when they get to use all the colors. Being a vegetarian makes me a far better chef.

On the flip side, making high-end desserts and omnivorous food for people has also improved my work with plants. All the techniques I learned from chefs, and all the methods and seasonings I use in the meat kitchen are very useful in veg cooking, and staying abreast of the latest cooking trends and flavors only feeds the creation of inventive vegetarian recipes. The fact that I make an ethereal éclair and a bitchin’ bison bulgoki makes me a better veg chef.

So if you wonder why I am publishing vegetarian, vegan, and also meat recipes and articles, this is how it came to be.

I hope that I can use my time as a spy in the house of meat to learn how to lure the meat lover to my side of the fence. This is just plain delicious food.

Robin Asbell


9 responses

13 05 2009
Yukari Sakamoto

Congratulations on finally starting the blog! I look forward to learning more from you.

We love eating vegetables, including a wide variety of sea vegetables. We have learned a lot from you about grains and more. Good luck with the blog.

From the house of meat (and fish),

24 12 2009
betsy shipley

Hi Robin. If you ever get out to the Ventura county area of California, come by and have a tempeh burger with us. We produced Betsy’s Tempeh in Mich. for 9 years and developed the newest technology for making a user friendly tempeh that everyone loved. We now make it for ourselves and friends and do group presentations showing our easy method for making tempeh. Our hope is to see small groups of people producing tempeh for the local market and work with the local organic soybean grower to grow the beans.
elizabeth shipley

24 12 2009

Elizabeth- what a great idea. I once worked at a Coop where we made our own tempeh. Volunteers managed to keep the whole thing sanitary and proper, and produce it month after month. I’d love to visit, if I am out that way, I will look you up. Right about now (we have a foot of snow) it sounds really good!

26 03 2010

I love the recipes in this book. I also love your blog posts.

7 04 2010

Hi Robin, I heard about you through one of my great teachers and friends, Fran Costigan, and I was fascinated the moment I hit your blog. Your passion and enthusiasm comes through in your writing, and I some how find there is a kindred spirit in what I have been trying to do with my restaurant, classes, and just changing my life to be who I am and make an impact, even in my own small way. I will keep following and listening to you, and I hope our paths cross one day. Just compelled to write as you never know what can be the result of one small action, or a series of small actions, as you know. Caroline

7 04 2010

Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for reading!

22 06 2010
sharon kitchens

Hello Robin.

Interesting about the melt of the cheese like products. Have you tried any of the stuff by Galaxy Nutritional? I have been eating their soy and rice based “cheeses” for a decade. The cheddar shreds are yummy on chips with salsa.

22 06 2010

Dear Sharon, Maybe I should be blogging about why the local stores don’t carry the brands I read about online. I don’t think anyone is all that attached to the bad ones, but we don’t have Galaxy Nutritional around, as far as I know.
Beautiful blog, BTW!

4 03 2011

I recently found your books and love them I would love to become a better cook not only for myself but to teach my parents who have health problems. I would like to focus on learning to build flavors and discovering all there is without having to necessarily use books. Although I would like to build a library. Could you help me? i am a vegetarian and my parents would probably be going vegan. They have a background from the Caribbean so bland food is not a friend of theirs. Where should I start?

Thank you

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