Be the change you wish to see in the world...

- Gandhi

Friday, January 17, 2014

Meet Spork Foods Sisters, Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am a huge fan of Spork Foods sisters, Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg.  My husband gifted me with one of their cooking classes for a birthday present a couple of years ago and I have been hooked ever since.  Their food is delicious and their enthusiasm is contagious.  Their business has grown since I first met them - have been featured in VegNews and Vegetarian Times, launched a cookbook, and currently serve as ambassadors for Go Veggie!.  They are two ladies definitely living the good life.  I was beyond thrilled when they agreed to let me interview them for VeegMama.

VM: For those of my readers new to Spork Foods, can you give us a quick overview of who you are and what you do?  

SF: We are sisters.  We started Spork Foods about seven years ago.  We offer vegan, organic cooking classes, in-home healthy eating consultations, pantry makeovers.  We are the chefs to two different corporations, so we travel for them, go on the road.  We are cookbook authors.  And we actually are going to be offering catering this year, so things have changed and grown.  

VM: I am a huge fan of your classes and cookbook.  Do you have another cookbook planned in the near future?

SF: We don't.  We have so many projects going on that a cookbook will have to wait for a little while longer.

VM: Tell me about the catering.  That's very exciting!
SF: It's very new.  We haven't actually told anyone yet.  You are the first to know!  So, we have partnered with a company called Eco Caters, and they use all organic, sustainable ingredients, so we are currently training their chefs, teaching their chefs to make Spork Foods recipes.  So, we are going to be able to do catering from between 5 people to 10,000.  We can do full service catering.  It will be all original Spork Foods recipes through their company.  So, it's a partnership we have formed with them.  

VM: Adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle can feel a bit overwhelming at first.  Do you have any advice for those looking to make that switch?  
SF: Yeah, we have a few things that we always recommend, which one of them is doing some easy swaps, so for example using Earth Balance Buttery Spread instead of butter.  That's an easy swap.  It works great in recipes just like butter would.  1 for 1.  Or the Go Veggie! cheese shreds.  They taste so great.  They are melty.  Just pop them into your recipe instead like regular cheese and see how you like it.  So, that's #1, just some easy swaps.

And the second bit of information, which, you know is a little harder, but sometimes it really works.  Sometimes, we recommend the buddy system.  So, if you have someone you can go vegan with, or at least try it out or someone who is willing to support you through the process, it makes it so much easier.  So, we actually didn't even go vegan together.  We went vegan separately with our best friends in college.  So just having a roommate you can have meals with and talk with about your experiences, or a husband or a best friend, someone to do this with.  That's the best way to go about it if you can do that.

VM: Why did you decide to go vegan?
SF: Both of us were environmental studies majors in college, and so at first we were making the connection between our food choices and the impact they had on the environment.  When you look at how much deforestation is being cause for meat consumption.  When you look at factory farming and the runoff.  When you open your eyes to these things, it really makes you aware of your food choices and it is something we do three times a day, and it can be very powerful.  And then what happened is that we learned more about animal welfare, how animals are treated when they are in these factory farms.  It just broke our hearts.  And then from there, that was it.  That was about 14 years ago, oh 15 now.  And then, never looked back.  Just wanted to move forward.

VM: What are your top 3 favorite vegan products?
SF: Our first favorite vegan product is the Go Veggie! Cream Cheese.  The reason we love it is because it tastes like regular cream cheese.  It's a coconut oil base.  Coconuts are an anti-microbial, an anti-bacterial food.  There are all sorts of health benefits that coconuts have.  We are able to create dishes like cheesecake and strawberry cream cheese stuffed french toast, and we are able to eat a bagel and cream cheese!  We've introduced it to our students and we have seen how relieved they are that they can have cream cheese.  We use it in so many contexts.  You can do savory.  You can do sweet.  It is so much fun.

As far as products go, it's not a food product, but we love the Tofu Xpress for pressing tofu.  It's a lifesaver if you are going to be in the kitchen and you don't want to press your tofu between plates and all that stuff.  This is a very handy tool, created by someone who is very passionate and it's a family owned business, which we obviously appreciate very much.

The other really important tool we have our are spices.  We love the Frontier brand, organic spices because they add flavor to our dishes and flavor is where it is at.  If vegan food didn't taste good, then no one would eat it.  So, that's another tool that we have.  

VM: What are your favorite ingredients to cook with?  
SF: Yeah, there are a bunch.  I mean, when you ask us what we eat when we are not teaching, one ingredient that we love and use over and over and over is tempeh.  Tempeh is a soy food that originated in Indonesia.  It's a cultured food so it has natural probiotics in it.  It makes us feel good.  It's really easy to prepare.  We steam it for a few minutes and then we flavor it.  It's very versatile.  There are 44g of protein in a block of tempeh.  That is a protein packed little thing right there.  

One other ingredient that we love and use pretty regularly is brown rice syrup.  We love the Lundberg brand brown rice syrup.  It's a great alternative sweetener, and it's one of those sweeteners people don't really know about.  People get agave.  People get maple syrup.  They have heard of stevia.  When we are teaching our classes, a lot of times, people have never heard of brown rice syrup.  It's brown rice that is cooked down with these different enzymes.  It's really great way of sweetening up a dressing or a sauce, very naturally.  

VM: Do you see any trends in vegan cooking these days?
SF: Definitely what we see and love so much is the fact that this type of cuisine is getting more modern every day.  It's being able to run with the big boys.  It's getting a gourmet context.  People are seeing vegan cuisine from a gourmet standpoint and seeing it for a cuisine rather than a diet.  We love that.  We love that it's shifting in people's minds into something that is less of a hippie bland diet to something that is exciting and new and fresh.  We love it.

VM: What is your favorite vegan restaurant (or dish)?
SF: We love cooking and we also love going out to eat, so it's a great question.  We discuss at length where we are going to, but also what we are going to eat when we get there.  There is a restaurant called Mudhen Tavern that used to be Street.  It's run by Susan Feniger and the main chef is Kajsa.  Susan Feniger and Kajsa have created some innovative and super flavorful, delicious recipes at their restaurant.  There are things like pierogis that are so flavorful you want more.  My husband said he could eat a bathtub full of these things!  They are so incredible.  This restaurant opened maybe two weeks ago.  

They mark what's vegan on the menu, so there's no guessing games.  They are very respectful there of anyone who has a vegan diet.  Everybody knows the vegan word.  You don't have to say I don't eat eggs and dairy and go through that little rant.  

VM: Do you have a favorite recipe you could share?
SF: I think with the cold weather, we would direct you to Go Veggie!'s website.  We have a Blue Ribbon Cream Cheese Chili (click here for recipe).  The chili is really easy to make.  It is quick and simple and  super flavorful.  It's warming and kids love it.

VM: I am on a mission to live the "good life" in every sense of the word.  What does the "good life" mean to you?
SF: One thing that we definitely think is the good life, as cheesy as it is…is being able to work together every day.  To have lunch with your sister.  That is really one thing that makes us so happy and that we are grateful for all the time.  

Our business is so incredibly meaningful for us, but so are the men in our lives, Jenny's husband and my fiancĂ©.   The good life is spending time and traveling with them.  That makes us really happy.  We are really inspired when we are on the road.  We are inspired to come back and create new things in the kitchen.  We love enjoying time and looking around at the sun, and the sky, and the stars.  It is always important.  

Everyone always says it, but maintaining a balance in your life is something that everyone strives for and we do too.  We really try to keep in mind, valuing the time we have with our friends and our family, balancing that with work, and just kind of keeping a clear head about it, as much as possible.

VM: Do you have a favorite quote you could share?
SF: "Necessity is the mother of invention."

When we went vegan 14 years ago, we started cooking out of necessity.  There weren't as many products and things like that, and then look at what has happened to the vegan movement.  All of these products have become available.  So, I think that is something that is just a really interesting thing to keep in mind.  It can create a really great ripple effect.

We should tell you about one other thing.  We are going on a national tour of Whole Foods with Go Veggie!  We are going to be touring all of these cities and teaching cooking classes at Whole Foods on behalf of Go Veggie! as their Chef Ambassadors. We haven't actually announced it to anyone yet!  

Lots of exciting stuff, ladies.  Thanks, Heather and Jenny!  To learn more about these great gals, read below, and to visit their website, click here.

Spork Foods sisters and chefs, Jenny Engel and Heather GoldbergSpork Foods is a Los Angeles-based gourmet vegan food company owned and operated by sisters Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg.  Our delicious, innovative cuisine emphasizes organic, local, and seasonal ingredients.  We offer organic vegan cooking classes, in-home healthy eating consultations, private cooking parties, corporate trainings and demos, team-building cooking classes and more.

Jenny and Heather are available for cooking demonstrations at schools, corporations, festivals and parties.  Other services include vegan recipe or menu development, video content and television representation for vegan food companies as well as vegan non-profit organizations.

Jenny and Heather are the Chef Ambassadors for GO Veggie! Foods.  As the Chef Ambassadors, Spork Foods creates original recipes and unique, high quality cooking videos to demonstrate how to use the GO Veggie! vegan product line.  They also travel the country to trade shows and festivals, produce cooking demonstrations on television, organize and throw product launch parties, and host demonstrations and lunches at corporate events to engage consumers.  Jenny and Heather give customers a chance to be inspired about GO Veggie! products and how to creatively use the products in their everyday lives.